Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Official Start of the Ramen Season

If there is one severe deficit in my life since visiting Japan, it is most definitely ramen. Before I went across to Japan in 2010 I stumbled upon this fantastic blog which became my bible for hunting down cult ramen spots in the various places I visited. What I loved most about Japan, and this applies to most countries, is the regionality of food. For example, in Hokkaido you are most likely to get miso ramen whereas in Tokyo ramen has a thinner broth often flavoured with soy and dashi. I am by no means a ramen connoisseur but I know what makes a good bowl of ramen in my eyes. Little did I know of the serious ramen hunting business happening right here in Melbourne (see this great post from food rehab) but it's never too late to jump on board and find my perfect bowl. My cravings usually begin once the weather starts to chill...and so begins ramen season 2012... CLICK HERE FOR MOOD MUSIC

My great mate KH recently returned from an artist residency in Japan and invited me to join her and others at DonToo in the CBD. DonToo is Don Don's (student budget stalwart) little sister and offers similar fare during the day (which I personally think is better quality at DonToo). But as soon as the clock ticks over to 6pm it transforms into a steamy ramen house, serving 8 types of ramen as well as gyoza.

 DonToo
 330 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne
Open: Mon-Fri lunch & Dinner, Sat dinner only
BYO: No, but wildly cheap booze
DonToo on Urbanspoon


First up the gyoza $4.80 for 6 pieces. These are my kind of dumplings. Thin wonton skin, and juicy flavoursome pork. Highly recommended, and a bargain basement price (is it bargain basement or basement bargain? This is doing my head in!).


Being a total pork fiend, myself and LV opted for charshu ramen $11 - which is their kuon ramen $8.80 with added charshu slices. The broth is incredibly rich (and thick!) and a pork-based broth which reminded me of tonkotsu style ramen. It comes served with soy marinated soft boiled eggs, thick slabs of lean charshu (didn't count how many but I gave one slice away - so kind and generous - and I had stacks left), beanshoots and cabbage. I know the cabbage isn't typically authentic, but I think any extra addition of vegetables to rich, meat heavy ramen is a welcome friend.




One of the best perks of Dontoo is you can choose between a standard (250g) or large (300g) serving of noodles for no extra $$$. And let me tell you the noodles are so effing good. Chewy, thick, bouncy noodles. Everyone bar Weazelby opted for the standard serve, and no-one could finish their bowl. This aint no lady-size-serving kinda place. I recommend some light fasting before you step in the door.

KH ordered the miso ramen $9.30, which is comprised of the same ingredients as the kuon ramen, except for the stock - which is.. drumroll.. miso based (special aged miso stock). We both agreed that the broth in both them miso and charshu ramen was so rich we imagined a big vat of pork fat and bones bubbling away in the kitchen - and this is a good thing !!!

Weazelby chose the tsukemen ramen $12.0 which is a type of ramen where the noodles are served 'dry' with a bowl of thick dipping sauce. This was served with soy egg (but no veg :( ) and the dipping sauce was a thick, bonito laced soup-stew filled with pieces of charshu. There didn't seem to be any particularly large chunks of pork, but I think it had partially disintegrated into the sauce. I think this is probably weighing on the slightly too-rich side of the scale, especially with the added intensity of bonito in the sauce.



One of the tiny downsides is the water is served in polystyrene cups.. not especially enviro friendly, and somewhat surprising for a Japanese spot that serves sake in lovely pottery.



On the sake note, the drinks here are PHENOMENALLY CHEAP ! You want cheap beer? You got it - $4 for an asahi. FOUR DOLLARS. And a big cup (~100ml? maybe?) of house sake is only $3.50. We were feeling quite expensive so tried the $5 sake, nice and dry with excellent mouth feel >.<

Overall, DonToo was like the crack cocaine of ramen - don't have it too often or you'll become a bloated hag.

Noodles: 9/10
Broth: 8/10 (but you have to want it rich and fatty!)
Pork: 9/10
Perfect winter warmer, and well within my budget. Another meaty post, sorry vego's I'll be back to safe territory soon.

Next ramen spots I have on the radar are Ramen Ya and Momotoro Rahmen. Watch this space!

And just quickly.. I finally tried nattou for the first time on the weekend. I'd heard about this infamous nattou from others in the past and it had been cemented in mind as one of those things you just don't want to try. But I don't say no to food, well generally anyway. KH popped over to my humble abode on the weekend and cooked up a simple Japanese breakfast, as nattou is most commonly eaten with rice for breakfast.

What is nattou you ask? It's fermented steamed soy beans, and traditionally this was achieved by storing the soy beans with rice straw and burying them underground someplace warm. Sounds appetising right? The end result is what looks like a sticky (and trust me it is STICKY!) mass of pungent beans with a somewhat cheesy smell. Now I'm really selling it..


KH served the nattou with it's special sauce (probably MSG), accompanied by grated fresh daikon, miso with silken tofu and carrot, and rice with a fried egg (sprinkled with toasted black sesame). I gotta say I really loved this dish, but Weazelby was a lot less enamored than I was. Perhaps it's my AZN upbringing, but there is nothing quite like rice in the morning. And to quote KH, the nattou really does have a roasted coffee flavour - kind of like the smell when you walk into a roastery, coupled with cheesy undertones. It's quite difficult to describe but definitely worth trying.

So now that I've convinced you all to try it, you're probably wondering "where the hell can I buy this delicious cheesy fermented soybean shit?". The answer: KT MART on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St opposite the Vic market, just next door to the late Public Bar (RIP).  Quite the nattou selection indeed.

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