The kitchen at Ramen-Ya Hiro is a steam engine, with constant triple boiling going on. And the other side of the bar bubbles with customers slurping and gobbling up concoctions that simmered overnight for ten hours. Hiroki makes it clear that they only cook up three kinds of ramen because they want to specialise in quality and speed. Here you'll find classic recipes: soy (with a broth made with chicken and pork, and soy sauce), miso (the same thing as the soy recipe but with miso instead of soy), or seafood. The noodles, home-made onsite (you can spot the noodle-making machine at the end of the bar), are a knockout: you can put them on your plate and smoosh them to see how the broth comes out yet they don't break. As I inhaled the soy one, amazed by the density and the mixture of the two types of broth as well as the tenderness of the bit of pork, I noticed the subtle aftertaste of seafood and immediately was reminded of my mother's famous 'mar i muntanya'.
Not long ago ramen was something only poor university students ate to get by on a study night. How things have changed, with several restaurants in Barcelona wholly dedicated to the delicious noodle-based soup. But ramen bars aren't likely to start sprouting up daily like the rate of burger joints around town. That's because, unlike the pre-packaged noodles you remember from your uni days, ramen is actually a dish that requires more skill and dedication than just slapping together some ingredients and whacking them onto the grill. While it is a humble dish served and eaten quickly, it's simmered slowly and can be enjoyed as a delicacy. So what's in the bowl? Home-made broth – often with chicken or pork, but it can also be made with different kinds of seafood or dried fish (and there are vegetarian options) – seasoned with 'tares' (sauces or flavours that define the type of ramen you're getting and can include soy, miso, etc.), wheat noodles, and toppings, among which you might find bacon, marinated boiled egg or bamboo. Ramen is a starter, a soup, and a main course all in one.