Chinese Ramen: Reverse Ramen Engineering at Lukshon
A. ScattergoodChinese ramen at Lukshon
If the 30,000 people who showed up a few weeks ago to wait, in cases, for an hour and a half for a single bowl of ramen - imagine Oliver Twist crossed with Beat Takeshi - are any indication, Los Angeles is still in the midst of a ramen renaissance. Maybe this dates to the opening of Tsujita, in 2011, and maybe it goes further back, to when Daikokuya first began serving its bowls of ramen in Little Tokyo, but regardless, it shows little sign of abating. As with most food trends, this has meant a happy migration not only from neighborhood to neighborhood but from menu to menu, with ramen showing up well beyond the jurisdiction of traditional noodle shops.
There's a duck ramen now on the menu at David Myers' Hinoki and the Bird, and for a few months now, from engines of Sang Yoon's kitchen laboratory at Lukshon, there have been appearing bowls of spicy Chinese ramen.
The geographic hodgepodge isn't surprising - the ramen is in the small noodle quadrant of Lukshon's menu, next to the dandan, the Chiang Mai curry noodles, and the Cantonese chicken soup. That's Japan, China, and Thailand right there. Which seems only right for an ice hockey player of Korean descent in a restaurant named for his surrogate Jewish grandmother, the woman who taught Yoon how to cook as a kid.
That he should call his bowls of noodles Chinese ramen is itself a kind of joke, as many things in Yoon's kitchen are, as ramen was introduced to Japan by Chinese cooks. First brought over to Japan probably in the 1880s, ramen was first made by cooks from the Guangdong region who were working in restaurants in Yokohama. From there it spread through working-class neighborhoods, the dish made even more economical by wheat imports by the U.S. military immediately following the end of the Second World War.
See also: 10 Best Ramen Shops in Los Angeles
So in effect, all ramen is Chinese ramen. But Yoon isn't only being ironic, since his bowls of ramen aren't what is now traditional ramen, but indeed Chinese influenced - or re-influenced. Yoon is hardly the first to reconnect ramen with its origins; the bowls of thick Sichuan-influenced black ramen at Ramen Iroha in Gardena are probably the best of this genre.
Yoon uses alkaline noodles and a tonkotsu-style broth, but his broth is heavily flavored with black rice vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns, lots of it. For those who find the current iterations of tonkotsu ramen to be just a little too pork-intensive, Yoon's version has a welcome acidic kick. Or, as he describes it, "the culinary fight between good and evil, the dentist drill and Novocane."
What else makes this a Yoon-style bowl of ramen? Along with that dose of Novocane, there's not only pickled bamboo and Wood Ear mushrooms, but sous-vide pork belly and, on the top, a tangle of crispy pig ear. You know, where a normal person would have put more scallions or pickled ginger.
There is no egg, the halved circle of custard that often graces bowls of very good ramen, because Yoon thinks it's out of proportion in his smallish bowl of soup. "I think putting eggs on everything is overkill. Put it on ONE thing," says Yoon. "How many eggs do you need?" If you added up all the poached and fried and soft-boiled eggs you can find these days on just about everything, you'll see that Yoon has a point.
As for what other hybrids he might put on his menu, who's to say. Yoon admits that, for a brief moment, he served dandan fries at Lukshon. No, it's never been on the menu and is not being served now, so don't freak out. And yes, Yoon already anticipated the next question: "There's no secret menu." So much of the world depends on semantics, doesn't it.
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