Monday, May 3, 2010

When reality draws from fiction - Oishinbo-style Ramen

I think I’ve mentioned Oishinbo on this blog before, but never got around to elaborate on it.

Some of you may know that I read manga (Japanese comics) for a living. Sort of. I’m doing a PhD on Japanese popular culture, so I get to do a lot of fun stuff during the day (read comics, play games, watch anime) and pass it off as work. Of course, there’s a more serious aspect to this, too (such as reading phenomenological theory – which sometimes doesn’t come close to being fun), but all in all, I feel pretty blessed.

Honestly, the only way I could be happier was if I was writing my thesis specifically on food manga. Because there is a lot of food manga out there! Now, it’s a little too late to change my thesis topic, but it doesn’t mean I can’t read every culinary manga I can get my hands on!

One of my very favourite series is Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki. It’s actually a very long-running series (in fact, it is exactly as old as I am), but recently, best-of anthologies have been translated into English.

Oishinbo is all about Japanese cuisine. It revolves around a journalist, who happens to be a very knowledgeable gourmet, and who is tasked with creating the Ultimate Japanese Menu – a process which ends up taking many, many years. So, throughout the story, he travels around Japan, trying out different dishes, and figuring out what makes them work.

Now, his father also happens to be a renowned gourmet – but they don’t get along very well at all. Inevitably, they run into each other, get into an argument about food, and… decide to settle it with a contest! They’ve done this with a wide array of Japanese dishes: sashimi, ramen, gyoza, onigiri, miso soup… you name it, they’ve battled about it. You can see why this appeals to the self-confessed food geek that I am. I mean, they’re getting all excited about food! And the suspense is always hilarious, going somewhere along these lines:

Taster: Ooooh, this rice is exquisite! It is so fluffy and light! It caresses the tongue! It is perfect! *he tastes the second batch of rice* Wait a minute! I was so wrong! I thought the first rice was good, but now I see that, compared to this one, it was nothing!

All joking aside, though, this series is hugely informative. It really teaches you the basics of Japanese cuisine, such as how to store rice, how to tell is a sake is legit, and how to make dashi (clear broth) from scratch. Also, each volume features one or two recipes, complete with quantities and instructions.

I want to share one of these recipes with you today. It’s a miso-flavoured pork ramen, that has the particularity of being made with katsuobushi dashi (katsuobushi is dried bonito, or skipjack tuna). Surprisingly, the smoky fishiness of the dashi works really well with the pork.

We love making this ramen at home. I’ve adapted the quantities a little, to make it a full meal.

Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen
Adapted from the Oishinbo manga series (Ramen and Gyoza volume)

Serves 2

4-6 large shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) katsuobushi flakes (tightly packed)
1 litre (4 cups) water
4 tbsp soy sauce
200- 230 g (7-8 oz) fresh ramen (or substitute with dried ramen, or Chinese egg noodles)
3 tbsp hatcho miso (or substitute with red miso)
3 tbsp sake
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
150g (5 oz) lean ground pork
3 scallions, minced
Chinese chives, for garnish (optional)

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in a pan. Put in the katsuobushi flakes, turn off the heat, and let stand for 2 minutes, or until the flakes fall to the bottom of the pan. Strain the dashi through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (or paper towels). Stir in the soy sauce, and return the pot to medium heat to keep warm (the soup should be steaming).

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Dilute the miso with the sake. Reserve.

Heat the sesame oil over high heat in a wok, and fry the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it begins to release its aroma. Add the shallot and the pork, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the scallions and mushrooms to the pork mixture, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the miso and continue cooking until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, but the mixture is still somewhat moist. Keep warm over low heat, and reserve.

Cook the ramen in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. If using dried noodles, follow the packaging instructions. Drain and divide into bowls.

Pour the dashi into the bowls. Top with the pork mixture. Garnish with chopped Chinese chives if desired (or regular chives). Serve immediately.


  1. I am actually fascinated by Japanese culture, probably for the reason that it is so enormously different from our culture... And well, japanese food is among the best although I am not a big fan of sushi stuff. This ramen dish does look delicious!

  2. Oh how awesome that you are sharing a recipe from those food mangas. I remember you showing me the comics and I had the toughest time trying to read backwards lol. The recipe looks delicious...just never heard of some ingredients. It will be quite a trip to the Asian grocery store for me!

  3. I love Japanese food and this ramen dish looks wonderful. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  4. ;-) so ramen is real ... not the stuff that comes in a plastic envelop and my brother-in-law pours ketchup.
    I would enjoy this very much and I love the way your interests come together in this one.

  5. Mmmm...ramen! This looks delicious! I never knew there were food manga! When I was working in Japan some friends and I were invited to a manga conference but we didn't go. If I'd known there might be things like Oishinbo, I would have dragged my friends! I never make Japanese food at home, but I need to start...

  6. I am not into all of these Japanese food but this dish looks so tasty & delicious too!

    Thanks for sharing, Valérie!

  7. oooh...I would love to have a ball of your ramen soup right now. It's perfect for cold weather we are experiencing at the moment. :) My husband loves Japanese mangas. Thanks for sharing.

  8. LOL, i've never heard of this manga series before but i'm definitely intrigued after finding out that include recipes with each volume! This miso ramen is my type of classic asian comfort food. Thanks for sharing, i've been wondering what to do with the Miso sitting in my fridge!

  9. I love the food manga's they've got in Japan! There's this famous one about sushi and another one that I plan to collect about the famous fish market in Tokyo "Tsukiji" you should totally check them out, it's more of a cook manga than food manga ^-^