Another stop in my commitment to provide insightful and funny guide’s to ethnic food from a white guy’s perspective has brought be to the Tokyo-based Kukai Ramen and Izakaya in the Crossroads area of Bellevue. A new mini strip mall paralleling Main St, and perpendicular to Wal Mart is the home of the first stateside Kukai Ramen and Izakaya Japanese restaurant.
Ramen has the sort of fierce loyalty and passionate devotees that Pho for Vietnamese lovers do. EVERY ONE has an opinion, and a strong one at that.
There are whole blogs devoted to Ramen, where to eat it, what makes it proper and authentic, what and how to add garnish, and so forth. Oh, and since this IS the White Guy’s Guide…I must share with my distinguished readership what Ramen is NOT. Ramen is NOT found in a Styrofoam container. Ramen is not sold in packs of 24 at Costco. Ramen is NOT a dry noodle, dry vegetable and dry “meat seasoned” packet laden dish.
Let me tell you what Ramen, perfect Ramen, is and see if I can shed some light on why so many people are so passionate about this great Japanese noodle dish. Ramen, historically, appears to have originated in China and like so many other great dishes throughout the world, became adopted, adjusted, and accepted into the cuisine of a former World Empire. When armies invade other countries, one of the benefits is watching how the cuisines change. Empire building soldiers sojourn out into the markets, try some local food, and clamor for something similar when they get back home. This is part of the history of Ramen. Traditionally served with Chinese-style wheat noodles, a meat-and s0y/miso-based broth (beef, pork or fish typically), and includes a vegetable, usually a cheap but tasty cut of meat, and a hard boiled egg, this dish has reshaped what comfort food is for the Japanese. The Japanese probably eat Ramen for breakfast at least as much as they would eat it for lunch or dinner. Think of it as a bowl of chili if you lived in Texas, it simply is always around, available, and tastes good.
Am not exactly sure why Kukai Ramen chose the Crossroads neighborhood of Bellevue, but we sure are grateful and we know it has to be good using my covert, tell-tale sigh of authenticity in ethnic restaurants, the fact that it is patronized by Japanese. Maybe its a taste of their country, maybe its a sense of familiarity, but regardless of the reason, when I ate there (twice), there were far more folks of the Asian persuasion than white guy’s like me. This is always a good sign that the food is going to be good, if not authentic.
There are several Ramen bowls to choose from at Kukai and I loved them both. The packed-with-flavor succulent pork, the rich and dense hard boiled egg, the slivery and perfectly cooked noodles and of course, the savory, fatty, deeply satisfying broth. Throw in some greens, and maybe a garnish or two, and you have a perfectly balanced and delicious meal.
I also had a side of takoyaki, which is a battered ball of octopus dusted with bonito flakes (dried and smoked fish skin) and dried seaweed. These were full of flavor, surprisingly light, soft and chewy, a touch creamy, and definitely unique.
If your are in the mood for a fantastic Asian soup, and you are ready to move outside of Pho, or miso, or egg flower, or sweet and sour, or won ton soup, then you should absolutely jump in whole heartedly into Ramen. And if you are in Bellevue, there is now a genuine, delicious, and fun place to get this historic bowl of Asian goodness.
When You Go:
14845 Main St., Bellevue, WA 98007
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy these links:
Yang’s Hong Kong Style Dumpling House
Tom Douglas recommends Szechuan Noodle Bowl in ID
First Michelin star awarded Taiwanese Restaurant comes to Bellevue