What I find interesting about Daikokuya is that the one Japanese friendr who came to this lunch didn't really find the ramen that spectactular and another Japanese friend who I talked to at a later time also didn't feel that Daikokuya's ramen soup was all that. Yet, at lunch last Saturday, this tiny place was soon packed as soon as it was opened with a lot of Asians. It's generally a good sign when an ethnic restaurant attracts people from that background.
One conversation that I had with one of my dining partners is that while she's been able to get a good sense of what constitutes excellent Ethiopian food, for example, in her ramen travels, nothing has really stood out. It got me thinking that perhaps ramen is such a staple dish and such a blank canvas that there are just too many ways to cook and flavor it. As such, what makes a great ramen soup, for the most part, is subjective.
Anyway, just some ramblings that came to mind a week after this lunch.
Before I get to the food portion of this posting, here's some background. My experience with ramen has pretty much been restricted to the instant ramen that I'd pick up from my local supermarket. As long as I had my pot, hot water, the familiar instant noodles and foil packets which had the flavorings, I was set.
There were also times when I'd add vegetables or I'd add soy sauce or even add kimchee to give the ramen a kick and those were tasty times indeed. I've never had homemade ramen or even restaurant ramen so I walked into Daikokuya with an open mind.
On a quick side note (again, I know), Daikokuya is kind of kitschy (sp?). Red plastic-like booths. Chinese movie posters decorated the walls. Even one of the ramen cooks got into the act. He wore sunglasses the entire time. I liked the quirkiness of the place.
Ok, back to the food. The majority of us who went ordered the ramen soup as well as some of other side dishes. One thing that I did want to mention is that you can actually get a deconstructed version of the Daikoku ramen, but they called it Daikoku Tsukemen. The Tsukemen actually was ramen with everything on the side. You had a bowl of noodles, a bowl for the broth and a little rectangular plate that included the pork, the egg, the green onions and the bamboo shoots. The broth was used more for dipping. I didn't know if this was a typical Japanese dish, but I just thought I'd point it out.
When ordering our ramen, you had the option of getting a richer broth. Our waitress couldn't really explain what made it richer, but she did say that if you were on a diet, it wouldn't be a good option for you. When that ramen with the richer broth arrived, it looked very oily to me, so I'm thinking that perhaps it was cooked with fat??? But I'm not completely sure.
In regards to the ramen, here's the breakdown:
Soup is made from soy sauce and boiling pork bones for nearly a full day.
Pork is kurobuta or black pork, known for its tenderness.
Egg is soaked in a special sauce all through the night before serving.
Also included with the ramen were chopped green onions and seasoned bamboo shoots.
I have to say that I loved this ramen. The broth was really flavorful. What I found interesting was that broth was smooth compared to the packaged ramen with the powdered flavoring which normally has a "tang" or slightly metallic (probably from the foil packet) taste to it.
It's broth that can really stand on its own. While others added more salt or added chili powder, those are people who usually prefer "saltier" and/or "hotter" foods anyway. I, myself, added chopped garlic, but even without all the additional flavoring, the broth was just so good. It was rich and full-bodied. That's the best way I can describe it.
The pork that came with the ramen was tender and I definitely would have liked more. I didn't think the marinated egg added or took away from the ramen soup. It was just there. The green onions and bamboo shoots added other great flavor compoments that just made this ramen even better. As for the ramen noodles, I liked the fact they were cooked al dente. They weren't mushy. Their chewy texture was very appealing.
Overall, I really enjoyed my ramen soup at Daikokuya. Of course, as of yet, I have nothing else to compare it to, but I have to say that as I try other restaurant ramen soups in the future, they will have a lot to live up to.
Daikokuya Original Noodle and Rice Bowl Restaurant
327 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA