Saturday, May 31, 2014
By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,
After a particularly stressful visit to City College’s financial aid office, I decided to drown my sorrows in a bowl of Ramen. Not a bowl of that disgusting sodium-full swill you buy 3 for a dollar at the bodega; I’m talking about a bowl of Japanese Ramen filled to the brim with vegetables, noodles, and pork. A bowl of soup that warms your belly and soothes the soul. The only place to find that type of solace in Harlem is at Jin Ramen.
Recently featured on Eater.com and Serious Eats, Jin Ramen is a chic little Japanese noodle shop, which has become popular with neighborhood locals and City College students. With 9 tables, a noodle bar, and 2 high top family style tables, Jin Ramen is a casual and cozy place to relax, read, and enjoy delicious food.
Within minutes of my arrival, my server greeted me with a smile and a menu. Jin Ramen’s servers are welcoming, attentive, and timely. My only complaint is the number of servers that tend to you. Sometimes, you get two or three people taking your different orders; it makes it hard to keep track of who is bringing you what and who to tip at the end of the meal.
As I reached into my book bag to put away my financial aid paper work, I made eye contact with my neighbor to the right, a young Latino City College student. He said hello and I smiled back; he noticed my paper work and asked me if I worked at the Financial Aid Office. I shook my head and told him I was an Undergraduate transfer student starting in September.
His eyes bulged out of his head and he immediately asked my age. I must’ve been tired and flustered, because I told him my real age; usually I reply, “None of your damn business.” Apparently, I must’ve been the oldest person he’d ever met, because he kept repeating, “You’re (my age) and still an undergrad?” over and over in full voice.
Resisting the urge to curse him out or flip him off, I explained that I took a few years off to work, volunter with social justice campaigns, and travel. He replied, “That’s cool! I bet you’ve been EVERYWHERE IN ALL THOSE YEARS!” I forced a friendly smile and regretted not cursing him out or flipping him off.
Hoping to end our encounter, I turned my attention to my menu, but unfortunately he didn’t take the hint and began telling me his life story. His name was Jason, he was 18 years old, and he mentioned that he didn’t know much about ramen. I explained that ramen is a popular Japanese soup with Chinese style wheat noodles in a chicken or pork based broth with any type of meat, but usually pork. Intrigued by my explanation, he opened his menu and quieted down for a few minutes. The silence was exquiste.
Jin Ramen’s menu is divided into 4 sections: Appetizers, Ramen, Starters and Salads, and a section with Additional Toppings (See the full menu here). Hungry and slightly annoyed, I ordered my favorite appetizer, the Steamed Pork Buns (2 Gua Bao buns stuffed with chashu pork, iceberg lettuce, and spicy mayo), and the Miso Ramen (Miso broth with sauteed corn, leeks, scallions, bean sprouts, chicken sausage, pork belly, bok choy, and nori) for my entree.
Jason ordered the traditional Shoyo ramen, which comes from the Chinese immigrant community of Yokohama, Japan. It’s a brown broth made from a chicken and vegetable stock (blended with soy sauce, garlic and ginger) with noodles, green onions, and slices of pork.
As we waited for our dishes, Jason inquired about my visit to the Financial Aid office; I told him I was there to pick up FAFSA and TAP paperwork. Immediately, he advised me to apply for FAFSA online, because I’d be able to simultaneously apply for TAP as well. He walked me through the process on his smartphone. He also showed me a few scholarship sites and assured me there had to be money out there for “old people” like me returning to school.
I overlooked the insult and continued to listen as my server placed my Steamed Pork Buns in front of me. Jason's eyes bulged out of his skull again; I could tell he wanted to taste one of the buns. I offered him one, but he said no. I placed one on a small plate and told him to consider it a thank you for his advice. He grinned ear to ear and eagerly bit into it.
Steamed Pork Buns are a Taiwanese street food that have become popular in many Asian restaurants. The buns, known as Gua Bao, are made by steaming dough in Bamboo steamers, which gives them a uniquely soft and moist texture. The sweet and fluffy buns were stuffed with chashu (braised) pork, seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, mirin and other spices. The chashu pork was soft and perfectly seasoned. The crunchy Iceberg lettuce had a refreshing clean flavor and the spicy mayo added a wonderful hint of heat to the dish. Jason loved the bun and thanked me for my generosity. As I finished my last bun, he showed me some apps I could download for further financial aid information.
Before I knew it, our wonderfully aromatic ramen bowls arrived. The steaming miso broth was rich and salty; the leeks, bok choy, scallions, bean spouts and leeks were crunchy and well cooked. The corn added a delightfully sweet contrast to the briny broth. The pork belly and chicken sausage were soft, savory, and flavorful. The noodles were delicious and fun to eat; there’s nothing like slurping ramen noodles.
Jason thought his Shoyo Ramen was delicious and said, “It was WAY better than Top Ramen!” High praise, indeed! He assured me he would be back with his friends.
As we both prepared to leave, I thanked Jason for his advice and he thanked me for his crash course on Japanese food. It just goes to show you, that when people of different generations listen to each other amazing things can happen. Now listen to one of your elders -I’m really not that old-and go have an amazing bowl of ramen. Don’t take my word for it, go eat for yourself! Buen Provecho!
New York, N.Y. 10027
ATMOSPHERE: Friendly, energetic and fun.
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
KID FRIENDLY: No.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: The ramen section of the menu is amazing. Check out the menu: http://www.jinramen.com/menu
BEVERAGES: Soda, Japanese Beer, Sake, Infused Sakes, and cocktails. Check out the bottom section of the menu: http://www.jinramen.com/menu
PRICE RANGE: Check out the menu: http://www.jinramen.com/menu