Squid Ink Food Fight: Looking for Garlic Ramen In (or Around) Little Osaka
Consult most Chinese menus in the United States and you will discover that garlic and pork go together like love and crying. So during these days of schizophrenic weather and health, few things define both comfort and compatibility like a bowl of ramen, smothered in garlic, nestled around a fatty hunk of chashu. To find it, I cruised through the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard between Olympic and Santa Monica, often called Little Osaka, before veering slightly off the path, down Olympic, and to the packed little local favorite, Ramenya.
Limitless garlic hides beneath the surface
Ramenya's ajo ramen, (the word ajo--Spanish for garlic--coming via Portugal) enjoyed by many a food blogger, is a somewhat absurd creation. It is enormous, topped with green onions and, oh yeah, about ten or fifteen cloves of garlic. Some are sliced and fried until brown, others are plopped in whole and cooked through. The supply is seemingly endless, as no matter how many you think you've eaten, several more will make themselves known, emerging from their hiding place behind a curtain of noodles. But surprisingly, the garlic doesn't dominate the dish as much as you'd expect. The broth still has flavor, the pork is clunky but satisfying and the noodles are perfectly adequate, holding their integrity as you work your way through the seemingly infinite bowl. Then, just like that, the bowl is empty, its contents slurped, and your body informs you that it has had quite enough garlic for one day, thank you very much.
Chabuya, where pork and garlic collide
Back on Sawtelle a day later, the next bowl comes courtesy of Chabuya, a ramen chain hailing from Tokyo. Their garlic ramen comes in a smaller portion, costs slightly more, and is in actuality their house special pork ramen with a healthy dash of fried garlic littered atop. The broth is thick and tastes distinctly of pork, yet surprisingly, the garlic comes through even more than at Ramenya. But the fried garlic has a bitter taste to it, and that, sadly, does permeate. While the quality of the ingredients is higher here, on this day, the execution renders it irrelevant. The chashu is tough despite the thick line of fat and the noodles themselves seem a little depressed. The truest barometer though, comes from the unfinished bowl itself, a dirty napkin tossed inside by the server, soaking up the remaining liquid as it is carted back to the kitchen.
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