Ramen Pho? Phooey!

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L to R: BaBar's hybrid ramen pho, oxtail pho, ramen at Little Tokyo's Ramen Champ in LA

One of America's greatest taste combinations, in my experience, is the ballpark hot dog with yellow mustard. Seriously. No cream cheese, no onions, no peppers. Time-tested satisfaction

Now, we can have a legitimate debate about gustatory preferences. French fried potatoes with mayonnaise (Hollard), with Dijon mustard (France), with curry ketchup (Germany, Italy), with sweet ketchup or even barbecue sauce (USA).

We can also make a list of classic food combinations that most Americans would agree on. Peanut butter and jelly, for example. Bacon and eggs. Cookies and milk. Mac & cheese. Ham & cheese. Some might add buffalo wings and blue cheese. New Yorkers go for lox, bagels & cream cheese. The Italians would opt for tomatoes and mozzarella, or prosciutto with melon, or biscotti dipped in Vin Santo.

So here's the latest fad, ramen pho, a noodle soup that (supposedly) combines the best elements of ramen and pho in one bowl. It sounded so intriguing: a pho beef broth that tastes like it's been injected with a steroid of salty pork fat, served with wheat noodles and topped with a soft-boiled egg, smoked pork belly, roasted brisket and the umami punch of enoki mushrooms and seaweed. Well, I had to try it.

We're not talking about "instant" (two-minute) ramen in cellophane wrappers, but real ramen served at lunch counters all over Japan and along the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Bellingham. I've had great ramen recently at both Kizuki locations, in West Seattle and on Cap Hill. Last month I slurped a fine bowl at Ramen Champ in the Little Tokyo enclave of Los Angeles. My friend Jay Friedman, one of Seattle's most experienced connoisseurs of Asian food, inveighs against pseudo-ramen (inauthentic ingredients, weak broth); he recalls watching a TV show in Japan where three judges visit ramen shops unannounced. Served a bad bowl, the expert would simply rise, say "Gomen na" ("I'm sorry") and walk out.

So let's shift over to pho. Readers of my column know that I have nothing but admiration for Eric and Sophie Banh, the siblings behind Monsoon and Ba Bar. My favorite noodle soup in Seattle is Ba Bar's oxtail pho, which seems to extract every drop of flavor from the meaty bones.

Somehow, Eric got it into his head earlier this year to try hybridizing ramen and pho. To create something like a cronut, in other words. (The cronut, a pastry "invented" by New York baker Dominique Ansel, combines elements of the croissant and the doughnut.) Now, ramen noodles are wheat-based and thickish, and served in a rich stock made with pork bones and flavor enhancers like dashi. Pho noodles, on the other hand. are made from rice; the fragrant beef broth is seasoned with star anise topped with aromatic basil leaves; the meat is thinly sliced beef occasionally augmented with tripe and tendon. They are the cheese and chalk, if you will, of Asian noodle soups.

Well, the $12 ramen pho combo served at Ba Bar comes topped with a clutch of enoki mushrooms and a savory hunk of nori (seaweed), some brisket, some smoked pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, and wheat noodles. How is that not ramen? The only thing that makes it pho is that it's served in a Vietnamese restaurant.

So despite all the hype, I've gotta say "no" to this effort.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on June 23, 2017 9:38 AM.

Pasta Fazool: That's Amore! was the previous entry in this blog.

Fries with that Chardonnay? Wineries pay tasting-room staff fast-food wages. is the next entry in this blog.

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