Madison's food scene has a new sound:
Ramen, bowls of slender noodles and fragrant broth ubiquitous in Tokyo, has been booming from New York to Los Angeles for several years.
There are several types, defined by flavoring — shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (soy bean paste) — and broth base, like tonkotsu (pork), chicken, kombu (sea kelp) and veggie.
Toppings vary, but often include bamboo shoots, nori (seaweed), mushrooms, thinly sliced pork, a marinated soft-cooked egg, chili-sesame paste and scallions.
Locally, I've seen fish cake, pickled greens, radish, cabbage, corn, smoked tofu and spicy ground pork.
And don't let those instant packets fool you. Making the rich broth for tonkotsu ramen, for example, may stretch over several days and many hours of simmering pork bones. There's nothing instant about real ramen.
Local entrepreneurs noticed ramen's upgrade from dorm food to the real thing, and, seemingly at once, opened ramen restaurants.
Ramen Kid, on 461 W. Gilman St. near campus, is a sister restaurant to Karaoke Kid. With a sign visible from State Street and a steamy interior that feels like a sauna on a chilly day, Ramen Kid offers a half-dozen kinds of ramen, including spicy miso and either shio or miso veggie ramen.
Takara owners Brian and Erica Ni were inspired to open Ramen Station on Park Street after a trip to Tokyo. Ramen Station's noodle menu is lengthy, with variations like sesame ramen and seafood ramen.
"In Japan, it's like every single street they have a ramen noodle restaurant," Erica Ni said. "We tried a ton of it; it's so good."
Open for six years, Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar, 923 Williamson St., is one of the elder statesmen of Madison ramen. There may be no better thing on a winter day than a hefty bowl of Umami's tonkotsu ramen, topped with a garlic bomb and pork belly.
Umami used to source noodles from RP's Pasta nearby, but now they make their own.
Michael Ding, Umami's owner, recently opened Tavernakaya on the Square, where the spicy miso ramen has a two-star kick and comes with a soft-boiled flavor infused egg.
At Sujeo, the pan-Asian restaurant and noodle bar at 10 N. Livingston St., the temomi noodles in the shio, shiitake and chicken ramens come from Sun Noodles, a premium noodle purveyor that has helped fuel the ramen boom across the country.
Sujeo recently re-opened for daily lunch (except Tuesdays), and the late night noodle bar is open until 1:30 a.m. on weekends.
We've gone from instant ramen to ramen-'round-the-clock. The craze has arrived.
— Lindsay Christians