Plantbased Tonkotsu Ramen at Ippudo
Famous Ramen Chain "Ippudo" launched their Plantbased ramen on Feb. 1st. Did they manage to create a delicious, traditionally pork based "Tonkotsu" style ramen?
You may have heard from the Ramen chain Ippudo, even if you do not live in Japan. With Japanese foods growing more and more popular abroad, sushi restaurants are now being accompanied by onigiri-, ramen- and sometimes even okonomiyaki restaurants!
Ippudo was founded in Fukuoka (Kyushu, Southern Japan) in 1985, and their mission statement is "Japanese Wonder to the World". With this, they aim to share the "wonder" of authentic Japanese ramen with foodies all over the world. They have won several awards and competitions ever since, and opened up their first foreign establishment in New York, in 2008, where it eventually became the Nr. 1 restaurant on the Yelp review website! Their now have restaurants in 16 countries, including European and Asian countries.
If you have tried ramen in Japan before, you will notice the dish differs very much depending on the region: the soup base, noodles, flavors and toppings are all very different, and it is very well possible to love one style of ramen, while absolutely hating another (although - does anyone ever really hate ramen?! ).
Hakata (Fukuoka) is known for Tonkotsu ramen - a heavy, silky, creamy soup broth made from pork bones, topped with slices of "chashu" pork belly.... NOT very vegan. As I lived in Fukuoka during my high school and university exchange days, I am very familiar with tonkotsu ramen, and after spending countless afternoons at the famous Hakata Ramen Chain Ichiran, it used to be "my flavor".
After I went Vegan, I've tried plenty of Vegan Ramen, and many of them are delicious - but none have been able to capture that real "tonkotsu ramen" flavor - as it's all around the fatty, oily, indulgent flavor, and many Vegan options in Japan will be more aimed towards "mild, and easy-to-eat", "good for women and those on a diet" (really bruh), and "healthy alternatives".
Plantbased Tonkotsu Ramen
Needless to say, I was quite excited when Ippudo announced launching a fully Plantbased option from February 1st.
Due to COVID19 and many excited fellow Vegan announcing they would run to the closest Ippudo that day, I waited an extra day to avoid the crowds, and arrived 2 minutes before the "last order", so that the restaurant was rather empty.
"RAMEN, PRANTO*" (*plant) echoed through the shop as the staff that took our order confirmed the order with the kitchen. The first thing I noticed were the information pamphlets on each table, not only announcing the new Plantbased option, but had a full-on explenation:
WHAT is plantbased? WHY did we make a plantbased option?
HOW is plantbased (especially Vegan chashu) made?
WHEN will we introduce more/what will come next?
Here lies the difference with Japanese chains that picked up on the Vegan boom in Japan at the moment - introducing a soy-based "healthy alternative to meat" or "lighter version that is also suitable for vegetarians" - which are still very welcome, and great effort by the way! - Ippudo recognized the need for a ramen that "everyone could eat" after facing many vegetarian, vegan and halal customers in New York. Their goal was therefore not to create a new dish based on a trend, but to re-make their authentic, beloved dish with different ingredients so that more people would be able to enjoy that dish.
Their advertisement reads: LIKE TONKOTSU, WITHOUT TONKOTSU. "No tonkotsu, No meat, No egg - a future oriented ramen, made from all plantbased ingredients". Their description mentions not only the healthier aspects of the plantbased ingredients, but also the reduced impact on global resources. The WHEN bullet point on their pamphlet says they expect the plantbased lifestyle to expand globally, and that they will first introduce their customers to this plantbased version, before introducing more - but they suggest sharing the initiative on SNS to support the growth.
YES!!! Vegan Tonkotsu ramen as it should be! Think, creamy, oily, savory, umami, slightly spicy, with a piece of fatty vegan meat! 10/10.
Because there are so many different styles of ramen, I think it's impossible to please everyone. I have seen reviews mentioning they would like a bit less spicy sauce, or slightly thicker noodles. And I'm sure one day there will be Vegan Ramen stores where you can completely customize your ramen. But for now, I think Ippudo did a FANTASTIC job veganizing such a animal ingredient-centered dish.
The creamy broth is made with soy milk and kombu (seaweed) stock. For the vegan meat they partnered with a company with 60 years of experience with vegetable oils and soy proteins, and for the noodles they used an egg-less alternative. Scallions, mushrooms and plenty of garlic is added for an intense flavor experience. For ￥1,100, and the option to add an extra portion of noodles, as is common in noodle restaurants, you will receive a general portion. Next step is to get this gem on the REGULAR MENU!
⚠ The noodles do not contain eggs, but are boiled in the same pot as the noodles that do contain eggs. ⚠ The ramen is not oriental vegetarian (= avoiding five pungent spices, including onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions (green onions) and chives)
⚠The ramen is a limited menu for now: from February 1st until the ingredients run out!! (depending on store), which at this pace, might be very soon. It is available across 45 restaurants all over the country, excl. Hokkaido and Kyushu.
Overall: Fantastic effort by Ippudo to not only recreate their authentic ramen with plantbased ingredients, but also on informing their customers on how and why, so that hopefully this is only the beginning! ❤