“Authentic”. It’s a word that’s thrown around all too casually in the restaurant industry. But we are here to tell you that we’ve found real-deal-ramen in Joburg.
So what makes ramen authentic?
The key is in the broth. It has to pack a punch: a deep umami saltiness that’s all-natural and free of added MSG. And, of course, a really good, homemade noodle. The broth/stock is simmered for a minimum of 12 hours (up to 48 hours) to draw out all the delicious collagen and fat from the bones of pork and beef. The noodles should be made by hand using simply egg (egg white in this case), flour and water with a different thickness of noodle used for different styles of broth.
So where is this magical place?
Obento in Parkmore.
And the dream team behind it?
Ling Chiu and Daniel Liu. Daniel stems from a long line of restaurateurs and Ling has a knack for cooking and design (she’s an architect by trade) as well as an innate understanding of flavour (they both LOVE food). They’ve spent every holiday over the last few years travelling and tasting the world – their most memorable trip being across the peninsula of Southeast Asia: a 35-day food marathon that inspired them to start experimenting in the kitchen when they returned home. Then lockdown hit. Ling took the opportunity to start a food blog on Instagram, documenting her food journey. Soon friends began to beg her to make the food for them. She asked them to bring 2L ice-cream tubs that she would fill up and freeze – a lunchbox of sorts. “Obento” is the Japanese word for lunchbox. Daniel’s mother (a restaurateur and chef) got involved making dim sum and ramen noodles and sold their frozen meals online before they took their concept to The Fourways Farmers market to test it out. Needless to say their food was a knock-out.
What’s on offer?
Ling defines it as “quick and easy food for working professionals. The authenticity is what we try to stick to the most, steering away from Asian-fusion. The menu showcases a good balance of meat and vegetable offerings: some dim sum alongside a selection of Taiwanese, Japanese and Cantonese dishes.” Daniel adds: “It’s nostalgic, a chance for us to share our experience of what we’ve tasted around the world, all of our favourites.”
So what to order?
The Korean fried chicken is crazy-good (all of the fried chicken dishes are), but the combination of crispy-fried nuggets of chicken basted in the savoury/sweet/spicy homemade gochujang is a game changer. Pair that with a fresh and tangy garlic-and-chilli pickled cucumber salad and you’re #winning. Add a few of their signature bao and a bowl of edamame and you’ve got yourself a feast.
And what about the ramen?
On the ramen front, there are a six bowls to choose from, each unique and beautifully balanced. You can choose between three traditional tonkotsu pork belly ramen bowls with various flavour profiles, two vegetarian miso- and soya-based bowls and the pièce de résistance – the Taiwan beef ramen bowl – made using a combination of thin and thick flank the meat is slow-cooked and never boiled or even simmered to ensure the pieces of beef stay whole. The bone broth can only be described as a glisteningly rich and luxurious almost-jus. To get the natural sweetness, they add kilograms of carrots to the mix – these look like dark jewels in the bowl after the 3-day cooking process. And the noodles: thick and delicious, requiring a great deal of slurping. If you go for one thing, go for this.
It’s minimalist and functional, but still cool and inviting. Sit at large tables and order lots of different dishes to share or find a little spot at the bar counter for a quick bite.
Four flavours of their own gelato and a whole freezer section of delectable take-home options.