It’s Pittsburgh. The cold gray days are inevitable and it’s going to start doing that thing where it rains and drizzles and snows, all at the same time—the dreaded snizzling. Maybe it’s time to fortify yourself before the winter blues kick in. Here’s the answer: dive into a piping hot bowl of ramen. “Soul in a bowl” as they say at Ki Ramen. It’s the chicken soup solution but so much more. Ramen doesn’t have to be just one thing. It’s really more of an endless combination of possibilities. There are so many different broth and seasonings choices, noodle and topping options, and meat preferences, that finally finding the “just right” bowl can be a long, but enjoyable process.
Obviously ramen isn’t a new thing. It’s everywhere in town. But with the seasons changing, it’s a perfect time to celebrate this amazing culinary creation for all of its delicious goodness. Some ramen lovers will attest to its healing powers and its ability to fortify against the common cold. Others swear it’s a great hangover cure. But it’s the complex depth of flavors magically mixing with noodles and meat that keep people coming back bowl after bowl.
A lot of work goes into making a good ramen broth and it’s worth drilling down a bit to learn what’s really involved. The process for some chefs can take up to two to three days depending on the method used. Often, the exact methods are closely guarded secrets. Broths are simmered for long periods of time to draw out marrow and flavor from the bones and to release impurities which are carefully skimmed from the surface. Different broth bases, pork or miso for example, are then combined with a variation of seasoning broths or Tare (pronounced ta-re) to create different types of ramen bowls.
On a ramen menu in a restaurant, you might typically see these different types of tare described as “shio” (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (fermented soy bean).
Noodles vary considerably with some chefs creating their own and others using prepackaged versions from noodle makers. Some makers use an alkaline component when making their noodles which makes them a little stronger. It’s all personal preference, but I like my ramen noodles to be a little firmer. Toppings add even more variation to noodle bowls: dried nori (seaweed), green onions, mushrooms, fish cakes and sometimes chili oil are most common and a perfectly cooked egg (preferably with a mildly runny yoke) can make or break a bowl for some ramen lovers.
While there are a lot of places in Pittsburgh where you can find ramen on the menu, there’s no place dedicated exclusively to ramen like you might find in other cities. But that will change soon when Ki Ramen opens up its ramen house in Lawrenceville sometime near the start of the new year. (We’ll keep you updated!)
Here’s a list of a few places where you can find great ramen options in Pittsburgh right now: (let us know more of your favorites in the comments section)
535 Liberty Ave. – Downtown
There are three types of ramen on the menu: Roasted Pork Ramen with smoked pork broth and a “5-minute egg” and Vegetable Ramen made with a hot & sour mushroom broth, crispy tofu, bon chop and udon noodles. The Beef Shank ramen, a real standout here, is made with pickled Chinese cabbage, leeks and toasted garlic chips, served with a soft egg (pictured above). The pickled greens go really well with beef shank and the garlic chips add a nice crunch. G & G Noodle Bar also offers a selection of curries, potstickers and other noodle dishes.
5860 Forbes Ave. – Squirrel Hill
Ramen Bar offers a big variety of ramen bowls on their menu. A house favorite here is the Tan Tan Men, a deliciously spicy sesame broth with fresh spinach and seasoned ground beef. The spice of the broth is what really works best here. It packs a nice amount of heat with great flavor, but it’s not anything I would call overly spicy. I’m always mixed on whether you even need the beef and I’m tempted to ask for it without it, but once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it just the way it is. Another popular choice is the Vegetable Ramen with fresh vegetables, shiitake mushrooms and onions. Ramen Bar’s menu also features a Kim Chi Ramen and a Wonton Men that has roast pork and pork dumplings. The Ramen Bar has a lot of different ramen bowls to choose from, but it also offers dry and cold noodles, gyozas and rice bowls.