Friday, July 23, 2010

Ramen Today

So, we have discussed at this point three generations of Ramen in Sapporo.

Aji no Sanpei is the origin, the first generation that defined Sapporo as a culinary epicenter, where food ners could finally gaze upon this city for culinary reasons.

Sumire and Junren and number two, responsible for the evolution and addition of depth and character to Miso Ramen. Consider them the second pioneers, as they created the concept of Ramen being lavish in Sapporo. In fact, ramen is widely considered a "B class gourmet" meal today, because of its complexity and versatility, while maintaining a lower price point. Most meals don't cross 1000 yen.

But what about a third generation? Sumire and Junren are at least 40 years old. Who became the current generation? There has to be one.

Well. Yes and no.

Many would argue that there is no defined third store to spearhead the ramen expansion we see today. No shining Knight on Armor so to speak. However, there are certainly loved newcomer restaurants, who push the boundaries of food in Sapporo.

Enter Yashoku. Yashoku Ramen is your friend if looking for extremely popular, modern shops. That generation 3.

Yashoku Ramen is a cooperative company that works with local Sapporo ramen shops to send said shops' noodles, soup, and ingredients to customers so that they can make it at home. It allows, say, a person living in Tokyo to make ramen from a shop in Sapporo. Yashoku packages and delivers the ingredients straight from the shop.

They claim to distribute "3rd Generation Sapporo Ramen" to the masses. I have absolutely no problem with this. I love the idea of showing the culinary prowess of local restaurants.

Unfortunately, their roster of shops you can purchase from constantly changes. Attempting to use it as a source solely would be fairly difficult.

But it is kind of a symbol of what's popular besides some of the internet rating websites. I like it because their criteria for which restaurants they will sell from specifically includes "newer" restaurants. Despite the term itself being fairly... open ended (how new is new?), for those looking for the "ramen newcomers" as I like to call them, feel free to use the website.

Perhaps the most important trend to notice then, about modern Sapporo ramen, is... well... the types.

Miso ramen is only ONE of the popular varieties now. Sapporo ramen today is no longer limited to miso, but to all varieties and styles. Rich, smooth, thick, thin, chewy, soft, all sorts can be classified as Sapporo Ramen. What makes one ask... what is Sapporo Ramen then?

The truth is that, there isn't really a definition now. Perhaps that is the greatest achievement these restaurants have been able to accomplish, breaking a town's own stereotype on the foods associated with the location. In fact, some suggest (such as this fellow here) that Sapporo ramen really just means any combination of the three tastes, Shoyu, Shio, and Miso. But even this is an understatement, there are plenty of shops that use other flavors in their soup, such as pork bone, shellfish, and tomato even.

It's an interesting concept none the less. I suppose part of the excitement of Yashoku is merely seeing which restaurant they will collaborate with next.

From Generation Three, the sky's the limit. So let's talk about some ramen!

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