Reviewer’s Note: Review copy of the book discussed here was provided to me at no cost in exchange for my honest opinion.
As much as we might like to believe that all noodle dishes are created equal, ramen is perhaps the most misunderstood (at least, in the U.S.) and one of the likelier ones to be given short shrift by people who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of cuisine. People hearing the word “ramen” tend to think only of the instant variety more often than not relegated to supermarket bargain aisles and dollar stores, dismissed as the fare of starving college students and others with shallow pockets. Few realize that the history of ramen is rich and storied, and that its mealtime potential does not begin and end with what kind of artificial flavoring powder one opts for when preparing it. Amy Kimoto-Kahn, author of the book Simply Ramen: A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home takes readers on an enlightening exploration of ramen and best practices for making meals of it, laying bare its basic components and their relationships to one another, contemplating what makes a superb ramen experience, and casting an affectionate eye on regional flourishes that transform the dish in appetite-whetting ways that leave hardly any two bowls looking alike.
Kimoto-Kahn begins with an instructional entry on the proper method of constructing a ramen bowl before introducing readers to a wealth of topping ingredients and time-saving make-ahead soup bases. Beginning with these basic elements, the author provides all the tools that the adventuresome home cook will ever need for creating flavorful meals that both excite and soothe. These range from simple, traditional bowls of firm noodles in light broth, to vegetarian style, to no-broth versions, to specialty renderings that are infused with matcha or palate-numbing Szechuan peppercorns.
Through anecdotes and acknowledgements shared throughout the course of the book, we learn just what pains Kimoto-Kahn has taken to produce this collection of recipes. The result of her exhaustive efforts is an appealing book that reads like a hybrid cookbook/memoir. It offers us a glimpse of the author as a child before welcoming us into her present-day kitchen. It ushers us along through the ramen restaurants she visited while learning to cook, sharing the wisdom of mentors she met on her road to crafting an ensemble of ramen recipes that, despite some dramatic divergences in style and flavor influences, feel unified by a common theme; that of building outward from a simple concept to create extraordinary meals that come across as accessible and inclusive, even to those without formal culinary training. As if to drive this point home, the author also provides a number of delicious-sounding side dish how-to’s, many of them attributed to friends and family who share and provide obvious inspiration for the author’s love of cooking.
Viewed through the eyes of this author, a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-American) who as a child dreamed of having her own televised cooking show, and who studied at Osaka’s Miyajima Ramen School and toured ramen shops throughout Japan while researching this book, learning about ramen-cooking is a journey through an undiscovered country that somehow still feels like home. Readers of Simply Ramen might come away from Kimoto-Kahn’s work equipped with a deeper understanding of ramen culture and all that ramen can be when prepared with insight. They will without a doubt come away equipped with all the tools to pull together any number of great meals.
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Race Point Publishing
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.