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March 13, 2014 at 10:40 PM

Do Seattle restaurants serve ramen or ‘Wramen?’

Photo of Tanaka-San's ramen -- or is that Wramen? -- courtesy of Jay Friedman of gastrolust.com.

Photo of Tanaka-San’s ramen — or is that Wramen? — courtesy of Jay Friedman of gastrolust.com.

Seattle has become Ramen Central in recent months, with enough new restaurants dedicated to the Japanese dish or chefs adding it to the menu that it made our list of delectable and desirable 2014 food trends. Is what we’re slurping up really ramen, though?

Seattle-based food writer Jay Friedman, whose resume includes a regular column on Asian noodles, penned an interesting piece Thursday on “What’s Wrong with Ramen in Seattle?” Most of it is what he suggests dubbing “Wramen” — a Western-style dish you would never see in Japan.

“No native Japanese chef would sandwich cream cheese and hot pepper jelly into rice and call it sushi. Similarly, you won’t find ramen made with sous vide short ribs and candied carrots in the Land of the Rising Sun. But, all too often, that’s the direction the dish is taking in the United States,” Friedman wrote.

Plenty of chefs, of course, aren’t trying to be authentic. They’re just putting their own spin on a meal. That’s OK by Friedman – he cites some great “Wramen” he’s eaten featuring the likes of kimchi Brussels sprouts or pulled pork. He just wants a way to distinguish those takes from what he sees as the real thing.

Friedman was a fan of the original Boom Noodle’s ramen, when then-chef Jonathan Hunt went to Japan to learn the trade. He sadly compares the chain’s current Tokyo ramen to mushroom soup.

“I see that as a big differentiating factor, chefs that go over and spend time and learn, versus ones that become enamored with ramen — understandably so — and say, ‘I can make that, it’s stock and meat and toppings!’ ” Friedman said in a phone chat Thursday.

We’ve already got some of what Friedman sees as more authentic ramen, such as the first U.S. branch of Japan-based Kukai Ramen & Izakaya in Bellevue. He’s looking forward to Japan-based Hokkaido Ramen Santouka coming to Bellevue soon. His ideal here would be a basic, classic Japanese ramen joint, one offering “10 seats, 10-minute eating time, and a cap of $10 per bowl,” serving only ramen, and specializing in just one or two types.

What stops us from having that sort of place already?

The consensus seems to be that “our mentality is to go and have a cocktail with our meal, and sit and linger and talk, and a place that turns (tables) that quickly isn’t going to appeal to enough people. I’m hoping that mentality could change…” Friedman said. “I think Pike Place Market would be great if someone would just do it there.”

His own list of good “real” Seattle ramen is topped by the Friday lunch shoyu ramen at Tsukushinbo. He’s looking forward to trying the upcoming Shibumi Izakaya on Capitol Hill, though “I don’t know if that will be ramen or Wramen.” He plans to distinguish between the two types in his reviews.

Helpful, or not necessary? Will the Wramen word catch on? And can we get a movement behind W-sushi while we’re at it?

Friedman’s whole piece is online over here. And, for a great read on the effort that goes into traditional ramen, pick up Ivan Orkin’s recent cookbook Ivan Ramen, complete with engrossing prose and dauntingly time-consuming recipes.

Comments | Topics: Ivan Orkin, Jay Friedman, Jonathan Hunt

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