It's been another tonkotsu-crazed year, with a fresh burst of ramen joint debuts all over town—Hinomaru in Astoria, Ganso in Downtown Brooklyn and Jin in Harlem. But how familiar are you with this Japanese noodle soup? Bone up on the four main styles (tonkotsu, miso, shio, shoyu), plus lesser-known varieties (mazemen, abura soba, tantan-men, tsukemen).
RECOMMENDED: The best Japanese food in NYC
THE BIG FOUR
Shio style: The lightest of the traditional broth styles, “salt” ramen, along with its soy-based sibling shoyu, can trace its history back to ramen’s origins: the late 1800s food stalls of Chinese immigrants in Japan (the dish was known as shina soba, or “Chinese soba,” until the ’50s). Now a specialty of the northern port city Hakodate, shio features a stock of chicken and vegetables, plus pork bone for additional depth—think of it as soul-warming Asian chicken noodle soup.
Where to find it: Harlem ramen-ya Jin’s rendition gets an unexpected, brightening boost from yuzu rind and pepper, paired with thin, straight noodles and topped with chashu (braised pork belly), nitamago (soft-boiled egg), nori and scallions. $11.
Shoyu style: Characterized by dark, clear broth, shoyu can be found in cities throughout Japan. The soy-sauce base provides a savory canvas for diverse regional varieties that enhance the broth with chicken, pork or seafood stock (or a combination) and additions ranging from seaweed to lard.
Where to find it: Downtown Brooklyn joint Ganso takes a subtle approach with its eponymous bowl, allowing the flavors of the components—clean, tangy broth; slow-braised pork shoulder and belly, ajitama (soft-boiled) egg; and thin, firm, straight noodles—to shine through without overpowering one another, a far cry from the packaged salt-bombs of your college days. $12.
Tonkotsu style: Milky white tonkotsu has its roots on Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu, and emerged as a national dish in the early 20th century, as each region began leaving a unique culinary stamp on the increasingly beloved bowl. Among New Yorkers, the mouth-coating, deeply porcine, almost funky soup (the result of pork bones boiled for so long that their opaque, buttery marrow suffuses the broth) may spur more three-hour lines and fierce debates than any other style.
Where to find it: Joining the fray is the first NYC outpost of a Tokyo chain, Jinya—already an L.A. cult favorite—whose recipes (including a “tonkotsu black” that emboldens the straight-noodle-laden bowl with roasted-garlic oil) are sure to fan the ramen-war flames. $14.
Miso style: Though it was preceded by shio, shoyu and tonkotsu, miso may have cemented ramen’s Japanese identity. The fermented seasoning paste, a hallmark of the island nation’s cuisine for centuries, first found its way into the dish in northern metropolis Sapporo in the ’50s, and the cloudy, nutty-salty base quickly earned a spot in the ramen pantheon.
Where to find it: At Astoria newcomer HinoMaru, the familiar flavor gains new complexity thanks to three variations (white, red and brown), blended with chicken, pork and fish broth, and finished with classic wavy and thick noodles and Sapporo-style toppings such as ground pork, corn kernels and menma (dried bamboo shoots). $11.
THE MAJOR MINORS
Abura soba style: A soupless variation dreamed up in the ’50s, the Sapporo style’s name translates to “oil noodles.”
Where to find it: At Williamsburg spot Ramen Yebisu—the first in the city to serve traditional abura soba when it opened last August—the dish starts with toothsome, lightly blanched wavy noodles, and gets its flavor from a coating of lobster oil, soy sauce and (once you break its fragile, soft-poached exterior) creamy egg yolk, accompanied by chashu, scallions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. $8.
Mazemen style: In recent years, a hearty “dry” style of ramen—a modern descendant of abura soba, perhaps—has gained a foothold in Tokyo, marked by thick noodles and eclectic, even wacky toppings such as cheese.
Where to find it: Stateside, Yuji Haraguchi’s creations upended the NYC ramen landscape when they first popped up at Yuji Ramen in Kinfolk Studios. Over a year later, his creative combinations are still drawing crowds into various temporary locations, with a permanent home due to open soon. The bacon and egg mazemen, a signature offering, complements the springy, pleasantly alkaline strands with slow-poached egg, crumbly bacon, smoky bonito flakes and kale. Whole Foods Bowery, 95 E Houston St at Allen St (646-262-1358). • Smorgasburg, 90 Kent Ave at North 7th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sat 11am–5pm. • Smorgasburg, 30 Water St at Dock St, Dumbo, Brooklyn. Sun 11am–5pm. $9–$10. • Twitter: @yujiramen
Tantan-men style: Just as New York is currently enamored of Szechuan cuisine’s bold heat, Japan embraces the region’s fiery flavors in tantan-men, a riff on Chinese dandan noodles. In ramen lore, the dish is widely attributed to Chen Kenmin, a Sichuan-born chef whose restaurant introduced his homeland’s cooking to Japanese palates in the late ’50s (and whose son, Chen Kenichi, went on to become an Iron Chef).
Where to find it: A house specialty (Tan Tan 6) at casual East Village ramen shop Zen 6, which opened in December and dubs its less-traditional selections “New York Pop,” the crimson, chili-spiked bowl includes ground pork, bean sprouts, crispy fried garlic and house-made maayu (garlic oil) with thin or medium-thick, straight noodles. 646-429-8471. $10.75.
Tsukemen style: It’s big in Japan right now—“dipping” ramen, that is—and it’s poised to sweep NYC next. First adopted from a popular preparation for soba by a Tokyo chef in the ’50s, the dish consists of cold noodles served alongside a concentrated broth. Since they’re combined bite by bite, the method avoids the soup-slurper’s dilemma of eating quickly (as they do in Japan) or contending with the dreaded bottom-of-the-bowl sogginess.
Where to find it: Perpetually packed student haunt Rai Rai Ken introduced tsukemen as a seasonal specialty in August, and it’s back for the summer: extra-thick, almost udon-like noodles ready to be dunked in richly seasoned pork-and-fish stock and complemented with pork belly, fish cakes, seaweed, spinach and lemon. $14.
Loosie's Kitchen & Cafe
After a night of drinking at Loosie Rouge, return to the bar’s sister cafe and kitchen in the morning to fill your hungry belly. The menu puts a decidedly Brooklyn spin on Southern classics. Just take the brunch options: There’s fried chicken on a biscuit with turmeric slaw ($13), a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit smothered in gravy ($13) and a burger with aged cheddar, bacon, pepper relish and a fried egg ($17). For lunch, you might opt for the pulled pork sandwich with white barbecue sauce ($13) or baked eggs with tomato, kale, shiitake mushrooms and butter croutons ($11). The dinner menu includes scallop crudo with chili oil ($14), mac and cheese with jalapeno breadcrumbs ($10), flatiron steak with red-eye peas, mustard greens and chimichurri ($25) and beignets with whipped Nutella ($8) for dessert.
Venue says: “We cure hangovers at the cafe from 7 am, and then help make new ones at lunch, dinner and during late night extravaganzas at the bar!”