Big drop from Eater LA this morning:
(although I thought the article itself was mediocre at best)
Ramen Nagi is opening in the Century City Westfield!
This is BIG ramen news. In Japan, Ramen Nagi has been a big player on the scene for the last five years.
Keeping my fingers crossed that they will feature someat least one of the heavily Niboshi-flavored (sardine) bowls that made them famous in Japan and not only go for the low hanging fruit (i.e. tonkotsu). The second paragraph and not a single mention of sardines leaves me with serious doubts…
Here are some photos from a couple visits to their Tokyo (Gotanda) location:
I’ve been to both NorCal Palo Alto and Santa Clara Westfield Mall locations up here. The Palo Alto location is not bad for what it is but the Santa Clara one is terrible yet it garners long lines. Even for Palo Alto location, it’s only a once in a blue moon kind of thing for me.
Unfortunately for the US/overseas, they are only dealing with tonkotsu based broths. They do not have the signature pungent niboshi broth and very likely won’t for SoCal (I would be very surprised if they did). I believe Nagi locations in SE Asia do the exact same thing (no niboshi). It should be the same folks behind the NorCal expansion. It’s almost Ippudo like style ordering except with a dim sum like checksheet for your various options and add on toppings. Worth trying once for curiosity but to me not worth waiting crazy lines for. If I were to spend a similar amount on exported gourmet chain ramen, I guess I would rather hit up Ippudo SF where I can enjoy some great sake that actually pairs. Ramen culture in the USA is just so lop sided… (tonkotsu is the brown sugar boba milk tea for ramen… yet sometimes a straight up no sugar no milk no sugar carb high mountain oolong brewed right is far more satisfying)
Since this SoCal location of Nagi will be anchored inside a Westfield, set your expectations accordingly (better yet zero, and just enjoy it for what it is if it’s even remotely passable).
In NorCal the best dialed in niboshi flavor for ramen is our Taishoken in San Mateo (tsukemen) although their best bowl is actually the Tokyo style abura soba (dinner only). Taishoken’s niboshi tsukemen dipping broth also has katsuo dashi (powder?) so it’s not just salty and rich it’s complex too (on a good visit, the saltiness is just right).
It was never stated but the dashi in the shoyu ramen when they first opened in Silver Lake definitely had niboshi. It was incredibly strong and I noticed it right away. The flavor profile changed within 6 months.
What I also don’t get is how some speculated that it was difficult to import the same kind of niboshi they use in Japan for over here (or whatever were the restrictions) that contributed to the reason of them changing the theme to tonkotsu. That can’t be why… considering Taishoken USA did keep the niboshi flavors in their dipping broth…
It’s an even bigger WTF for Nagi Singapore…I mean who in Singapore hasn’t had dried seafood pungent flavors like dried shrimp, salted fish, dried scallops etc etc? Niboshi would be familiar territory…sigh.
This reminds me of classic Hong Kong / Guangzhou Cantonese won ton noodles problems we have in California. The broth should traditionally be a pork/chicken base enhanced with shrimp shells, shrimp roe (very very important) roasted dried tilefish (dried first then roasted over charcoal for the gangsta master chefs) that is the vital component to the umami and complexity of the soup, akin to niboshi for OG Nagi, and the aroma enhancer of a little bit of lard. Go to your typical Hong Kong cafe in California (North or South) or that roasties Hong Kong cafe deli shop that serves won ton noodles and be prepared to taste diluted Swanson’s chicken broth with coarse MSG crystals. I’ll let others chime in on shortcut pho as appropriate, or tasting Cantonese red bean dessert soup at a high end seafood restaurant that has no aged/dried orange peel.
For the price of a bowl of Nagi, I guess I’d rather have a Langer’s pastrami sandwich for a buck more… at least I know that is legit AF.
Its popular niboshi ramen - made with more than 20 types of dried sardines - is not available outside of Japan, says chef Ikuta, in order to ensure the freshness of the stock.
However, Nagi in Singapore will not offer its popular niboshi ramen, which is served in broth made with more than 20 types of dried sardines. That version of the noodles is not available outside of Japan, says chef Ikuta, because it is difficult to replicate the stock.
Thanks for the article link. That is sadly the lamest reason I’ve ever heard to justify making their signature niboshi enhanced broth not available.
JFC/Mutual etc, they sell different kinds of niboshi for restaurants. While it may not be as great quality as the ones in Japan (since there are many varieties), some of these exported ones are really no slouch but you can only buy them wholesale if you have a license/business. I’ve tasted sample stock made with dried mackeral (saba) and it’s freakin amazing (even a few industry friends say those are very good). So…
If you consider how slow Bangaichi is compared to the other tonkotsu based ramen places a couple of miles down, the business decision to go tonkotsu makes sense. Niboshi is readily available but the dashi extraction can be tricky. Heads and guts need to be removed for a clean tasting stock. BTW, according to the crew at Bangaichi, the crappy non-Made in Japan commodity shoyu has also been a problem. The salinity differs per shoyu batch from Kikkoman or whatever and that creates inconsistent results in the soup.
Hmmm those supermarket dried baby sardines are ok for home use but maybe not for restaurants.
I don’t speak for Nagi but it sounds like a possibility of any of the following combinations for the possible reasons being nay (Ramen NAYgi ?).
Some people might not like it, or those not used to it might find it overbearing (and also those who have little to no exposure of dried seafood that is rehydrated: salted fish, fish maw, dried scallop, dried abalone). If anyone has visited Tai O fishing village in Lantau Island Hong Kong, or dropped into a fried seafood and goods shop in Sheung Wan, you might be able to relate.
Americans (including many Asian Americans) can’t get enough of tonkotsu broth and will line up hours for a bowl, especially if it’s a hot and new import. Same reasons why they love 200% sugar and carbs in their boba even if the baseline tea is no good. Plus it’s an easy monkey maker. Just like Dustin Hoffman’s character said in Chef movie, you’d be upset (the non FTC crowd) if Rolling Stones didn’t play “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” at a live show. For me I’d say “Gimme Shelter” because a tonkotsu is threatenin’ my gourmet life today…
Essentially the above but overseas Nagi in Asia has been tried and true as tonkotsu focused, they don’t want to break the mold… or maybe they just want to face head to head on with Ippudo and Ichiran…
the kind of niboshi Nagi uses in Japan may have a higher cost to make into broth for ramen once over here (to import), and/or higher labor cost to train people on how to cook it, perhaps a bit far fetched.
Last but not least OG Shinjuku Nagi is neighborhood 24 hour ramen that’s lifesaving for those who went around clubbing and or bar hopping / munchie running / bang bang bang bang and want to fill up their stomach at the end of the evening with it so not to let the alcohol runneth over… perhaps this OG legit heavy duty bowl doesn’t yield the upscale high end chain image it is trying to achieve overseas? When was the last time you saw Americans pull the Japanese bang bang and end with ramen and looking elegantly wasted?
Not sure if it was the OG Shinjuku location, but I had a great meal at the Golden Gai location several years ago. Lining up in a cramped alley late at night, then finally squeezing through the narrow staircase to the tiny bar on the 2nd floor. That niboshi broth for my tsukemen was deep and intense, and they have a sardine-infused vinegar to kick it up a few notches. Damn I wish they would serve a version here, I’d settle for even a 50% intense version!