The element that defines the Japanese ramen, and that differentiates it from the original soup that Chinese emigrants brought to the island of the rising sun, is the broth. Each chef has his own and it is not easy to achieve excellence, in dishes that require great preparation, ingredients that are not always accessible in the West and very slow cooking. That you can enjoy ramen of category in the center of Madrid is almost a miracle, and it is something that we must thank the American chef John Husby, who has been serving this dish since 2014 in Chuka Ramen Bar, with excellent results.
How has a Portland chef finished making the best Ramen in Madrid? Husby landed in Madrid in 2007, to work alongside chef Miguel Arias, in his restaurant Las Cuatro Estaciones, but only lasted a few months on the project, and went on to work with Andres Madrigal in Aloboroque. In 2010 he went to New York, where he spent time making fried chicken in the Southern-style until it ended in Momofuku, the hyper-popular restaurant of the media chef David Chang.
“The whole experience of the world as a chef means nothing in New York if you have never cooked in New York”
He went to Chang’s shelter where he learned not only to appreciate Asian cuisine but also to organize a restaurant. “In New York, the restaurant culture has a very high standard, with high expectations and a high volume, and if you want to achieve it you have to be organized,” Husby explains. “In fact, the whole experience of the world as a chef means nothing in New York if you have never cooked in New York. It is a very demanding environment. ”
It was also a decade ago when the ramen came to New York strongly and Husby lived his explosion, starring restaurants like Ipppudo, Ivan Ramen, Mission Chinese Food or Pok Pok, which have marked the path of the entire international explosion of the Asian cuisine
Back to Madrid to bring us the ramen
Despite the exhausting work at Momofuku, Husby could barely afford an apartment in the Big Apple, where rents kept climbing, so he packed again to work on the new Madrigal project in Madrid, the school of Kitchen Club kitchen. There he met Lorena Mauri, his partner today at Chuka Ramen Bar.
The chef traveled all over Japan to soak up the style of the real ramen bar
Five years have passed since the opening of what was the first ramen bar in Madrid worthy of the name, but no one has come here to shade it – not even restaurants with Asian chefs, such as Igo Pasta, where the second-best ramen is billed I’ve tried in Madrid, they outperform him. And is that Husby did his homework well.
The chef traveled all over Japan to soak up the style of the real ramen bar, of which he has traced the aesthetics, although not the type of service, because in the Asian country the format is self-service, something that, I thought, would not fit in the restaurant I planned to open.
“In Japan, you usually place the order from a machine, you take the ticket to the counter with the order and this is served directly by the chefs,” Husby explains. “That type of system helps reduce costs, but logistically it was difficult to execute in our space and we believed that our customers would appreciate the personal experience of the table service. We also accept reservations, which is not very typical in a Japanese ramen bar ”.
Regarding the menu, the chef explains, there are also changes: “Our menu is a little more extensive than in most ramen bars in Japan. Most of the smaller independent ramen bases in Japan focus on specializing in their unique ramen style with few options other than perhaps a fried chicken garnish, and that’s all that is needed, but as Chuka has become a full-service restaurant, we try to offer more variety for people to try ”.
8 hours of cooking and another 8 hours of rest
With regard to the Husby ramen, it focuses only on two elaborations, of the multiple options that exist. “Many people think that there is only one ramen style, something that can generate a lot of confusion,” explains the cook. “Most ramen soups can be framed in two styles: Chintan and pain. Chintan ramen is similar to the western style of making clear soups such as consommé, extracts of ingredients cooked at low temperatures such as dashi or shio or shoyu. Pakistan’s are white, thicker and cloudy soups due to physical agitation resulting from boiling the bones at higher temperatures to create ** emulsions with higher collagen and fat content **, such as the internationally famous Tonkotsu or, more recently, the popular Tori Paitan.
In Chuka Ramen a soup of each type is offered, the tonkatsu (my favorite, in the opening photo) and the Tokyo shoyu. As Husby points out, after trying many other soups, these were the ones that best came out and people liked the most, and they have remained fixed on the menu.
The base broth of Chuka Ramen is made with chicken and pork bones with vegetables and herbs boiled for a minimum of 8 hours, and rest for another 8 hours. This broth is strained and reserved for the preparation of the soup by adding condiments and dressings (“tare”) necessary to create each ramen.
The noodles that Husby uses are the same as the one he worked within Momofuku, Sun Noodle. “Since we don’t make our own noodles, we try to offer more variety and each soup has its corresponding noodle.
As regards the main garnishes, the restaurant uses pork belly, which is roasted overnight in the oven at low temperature, soft boiled eggs marinated and fresh and canned vegetables.
Not only ramen
Although the ramen is the main attraction of the restaurant, and the dish that makes the visit obligatory, Husby also prepares some great baths and some gyozas that take away the hiccups. “The standard way of eating in Chuka at least for the first time follows the formula of baos + gyozas + ramen,” explains the cook.
Gyozas are especially curious because they are served together by a layer of crunchy pasta, called hanetsuki, which at least in the West is not usually seen on the plate. “I tried them that way in a small restaurant in Hakone, the Gyoza Center, at the foot of Mount Fuji, and I really liked it.” On our last visit, we tried the mature cow and yellow pepper and we found (again) outstanding.
Chuka Ramen’s letter is completed with seasonal dishes, which enter and leave the menu. “At this time we serve cold miso soup with mackerel tartare and a Thai salad with heirloom tomatoes and marinated meat skewers,” explains the cook.
The restaurant also has a fun cocktail menu. And Husby warns: the restaurant’s original bartender has just returned to the restaurant, so it’s a good time to have a drink. Notified remain.
What to ask: There is no fault, either of the two ramen styles is to die for. If you are strong flavors, opt for tonkatsu, if you prefer something (a tad) lighter, ask for the shoyu. Complete the menu with some gyozas and be happy.