If you know me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a momofuku noodle bar aficionado. Sometimes, though, a friend isn’t willing to make the trek to the Lower East Side (and wait an hour+), or I’m in midtown and need to eat dinner, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is definitely a close second.
Ivan Orkin is unusual—a New Yorker who, thanks to a degree in Japanese language, opened a ramen shop in Tokyo. I met and was able to speak the chef recently; he was like any guy you might run into on the streets of New York – plus a deep knowledge of Japanese food, language, and culture.
I haven’t been to Orkin’s first restaurant in New York, Ivan Ramen, but I have been to the slurp shop, in the Gotham West Market, a number of times. Orkin’s ramen is unusual in that he uses a chicken based broth (as opposed to a pork one), and rye noodles. In general, I’ve found the flavors to be excellent but the soup to be a bit cold. You want ramen to be burn-your-mouth hot; this is not.
The slurp shop has changed their menu recently, and done away with rice bowls. Instead of automatically getting an egg on top of a bowl of ramen, you have a choice of one extra topping . These include: soft egg, toasted garlic bomb, enoki mushrooms, young bok choy, roasted tomato, pork belly, chicken, bamboo shoots, seaweed salad, shiso onions, field greens, bean sprouts, shaved cabbage, gluten free tofu noodle, and toasted nori; these are also available as extra toppings. “Mega meat” (either chicken or pork) is available as well. They’ve also added several buns.
I had the pork belly buns ($9), with spicy teriyaki glaze and miso cabbage. Also available are veggie burger buns, shrimp buns, and pastrami buns (paying homage to Orkin’s heritage). These were excellent, though they could have used a pickle to cut the fat. Unfortunately, momofuku’s famous pork buns still beat all.
I chose the Tokyo Shio Ramen ($13), whose broth is chicken and salt (as opposed to the Shoyu ramen, which has soy sauce added as well), topped with pork belly, bamboo shoots, and scallion. The flavor of the broth is perfect; chicken-y and salty, not too fatty. It was excellent; hotter than usual—the absence of an egg was not missed.
The drinks, as well, are not to be missed. Yuzu lemonade is unique and delicious; very tart and not too sweet.
The Clinton St. Ivan Ramen features a larger menu, as well as breakfast—so sometime when I’m craving momofuku soon, maybe I’ll try out Orkin’s first NYC location instead.
Whenever a friend comes to New York from out of town, I reliably bring them to Momofuku Noodle Bar. I’ve been a number of times now, and since I’ve tried almost all of their buns—save the chicken meatball one—I thought I’d write a breakdown of each.
The Pork Bun: (Be warned: This bun is not on the menu. They make tons of them every day, but you’ve got to know to order them. ) The pork bun is probably the most famous bun that momofuku makes. Two slices of pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and lightly pickled cucumbers. It’s a perfect combination. The sweetness of the hoisin sauce melds with the fatty pork; the fat is then cut by the scallions and cucumbers.
The Brisket Bun: This is the most beautiful bun, albeit a strange combination. (They have since changed the set to horseradish, pickled red onion, and cucumber , actually, but I haven’t had that.) The mayonnaise served with this bun went with the meat, but the shredded lettuce? A little lame, in my opinion. The brisket itself, though, was brilliant.
The Shiitake Bun: This comes with the same set as the pork bun, and I wouldn’t have ordered it, except that a chef recommended it and my mom (who I was with at the time) prefers vegetables to meat. Interestingly, I found the lack of fat in the mushrooms preferable with the hoisin to the fatty pork belly.
The Shrimp Bun: Oh, man. This one is a winner. Served with spicy mayo, pickled red onion, and iceberg lettuce, the bun contains crushed shrimp shaped into a patty and fried on a flat-top until crispy.
The Fried Egg Bun: Finally, this one was a special in September. Pork loin, fried egg, bacon, chives, and hollandaise. The bun was delicious, but more impressive was the method for keeping an entire fried egg that size: the eggs are slow-poached in the shell beforehand, so they don’t spread out like a raw egg when they’re cracked onto a hot surface.
This past summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in China between Shanghai and Beijing. Food was a highlight of my trip, but I also loved the Chinese culture and people that I encountered. I felt so welcomed and happy there that I want to go back to continue to explore other parts of the country. China is a huge country with so many different provinces each with their own ethnic group and culture. This diversity is also translated into their cuisine. Each region of China uses different flavors and cooking methods to prepare their meals. The first week of school, I passed by the Chinese food carts on Broadway and 118th and immediately was reminded of my amazing time this past summer. Every since then, I have been wanting to try them and writing this blog presented the perfect opportunity.
There are “eight culinary cuisines” of China: Hunan, Cantonese, Anhui, Shandong, Fujian, Szechuan, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu. The differences between them are a result of availability and accessibility to certain resources affected by climate, geography, and history. This allowed for individual cooking styles (and also lifestyles) to emerge among the Chinese in different regions. The foods of different regions of China have their own flavors and textures. But, despite the differences in the cuisines, each meal includes a staple food, which can be rice, noodles, or bun and cooking methods that rely on preservation (drying, pickling, salting, and fermentation).
I cannot admit to be an expert on each kind of Chinese cuisine, but it is only fair that I acknowledge the variety. This being said, I am sure that the food at these carts is not representative for all Chinese food, but it is more authentic than any Chinese takeout I could get. So I knew I had to try the dishes offered.
There are always long lines outside of the carts and my reluctance to wait has kept me from going in the past. However, I have learned this is not a legitimate enough reason. There is practically no waiting time once you order and the food is worth the wait. It is not difficult to notice that the majority of the people on line are foreign students from China who are probably even more nostalgic than I was for authentic version of their national food. Knowing that they are probably much more knowledgeable about what to order, I really enjoyed (and I suggest that any first timers do the same) striking up conversations with them about their favorite dish. A general consensus was that everything is good and there is such variety that many of them try different things each time they go. One girl I spoke with suggested I get a combination plate with eggs and tomato, a dish that every Chinese family makes at home according to her. So to get the full selection, I made sure to stop at a majority of the carts and order a meal from each of them. Most of the things on the menu are the same, so my tip is to go to any cart. I would say go to the one where the line is the longest since I figure that the one with the highest demand must be the best. But, this method is not always true. I asked each person I spoke to which cart was their favorite, and, to my surprise, someone told me they just go to whichever has the shortest line. So, I think it is fair to conclude that there are not huge differences in the food (certainly not in the selection, but not in the taste or freshness either). So go wherever your heart desires. Don’t let the abundance of carts and food options overwhelm you (like it did for me). Just go! They are there for you to try and you will have a good meal! Oh, and before I forget, the portions are large and the prices are amazing! College students need a break from the dining halls without breaking their bank account, and this will do the trick.
Now, onto the feast… My menu consisted of pan-seared pork buns, a pork sandwich, a combo platter (including tomato and eggs over rice, green vegetables, and kong po chicken), another tomato and egg plate (for comparison), a wonton soup, a beef noodle soup, and soybean milk. Each dish was from a different cart, and there was not one that was bad.
This was my first time having pan-seared buns. They have a nice crunch to the outside, but are still fluffy on the inside with a juicy filling. These are bready and some find the filling to bun ratio too small, but I enjoy the softness of the bread (which is also good to dip in soup broth). The filling of the pork sandwich was delicious, very fatty, with parsley, celery, garlic, and ginger, but the bread was a little tough in my opinion, which made it difficult to eat.
My favorite thing that I ordered was the combo platter. Tomato and egg is such a great combination. I had it many times while I was in China. It is the perfect balance of savory and sweet (sugar is added). The texture has the potential to turn some off since it can be a bit watery, but this is soaked up when it is over rice. The kong po chicken is spicy and nutty and the slight bitterness from the vegetables counters the oiliness from the chicken really well.
The soups do take a bit longer to make, but still not long compared to any restaurant. The broth of the soups is quite bland unless spice is added. But the filling, whether it was beef and noodles or wonton, is really good. The wontons were my least favorite. The soup was only dumplings and broth (with very little parsley garnish). All the other dishes were bursting with flavors and ingredients, but this dish was not.
This food is quick, delicious, and cheap – the perfect trio. The only thing to be warned is that the food can be a bit greasy and salty, but as long as you prepare yourself for that, there should be no reason not to enjoy any food bought at these Chinese food carts.
I got into Barnard around the same time that I started working in a kitchen. So when it came time to visit for admitted students’ weekend, who better to ask for a restaurant recommendation for the weekend than an actual chef?
My boss recommended the Fatty Crab, a “Malaysian street-fare” restaurant in the meatpacking district, and said that their pork buns were better than Momofuku’s. My father and I went for a lovely, spicy, speedy lunch before hurrying up to 116th and Broadway. The restaurant reminds me of the way I felt that weekend—breathless with excitement, with all the unknown thrills of college just ahead.
The pork buns are served with some sort of hoisin-like sauce, 7-minute eggs, and a variety of herbs (cilantro, for one). The meat was tender, fatty, and sweet, lacking what I like to call the “barnyard edge,” that distinct animal-y edge which often accompanies pork and lamb. Unlike the buns at Momofuku, there were no pickles to directly cut the fat, but the meat was so perfect that it didn’t matter.