A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled when I received an invitation to attend Ippudo Sydney’s first ever blogger event. While I wouldn’t call myself a ramen connoisseur, I’ve tasted ramen at a few different establishments across Sydney and a few in Japan and know that the true ramen ‘masters’ take their art very seriously. You have a very willing pupil for the evening!
As soon as I arrived at Ippudo for the blogger’s dinner we were offered the extensive drinks menu and I decided to start off with my go-to favourite, a Mojito classic cocktail ($16). This was a refreshing combination of rum, mint, lime, sugar and soda. Another blogger ordered the same, but the Lychee version (also $16) with lychee liqueur.
“I hope we get pork buns,” I remember saying in a whisper to another blogger. A visit to Ippudo would truly not be complete without one of their legendary buns! And thank goodness my wish was granted.
An Ippudo Pork Bun ($4) each! A fluffy and pillowy steamed bun with a lusciously braised piece of pork belly (char siaw) and Ippudo’s original sauce. The pork belly in these buns is essentially the same cut of meat as the pork slices that come with your ramen, but instead these chunks are simmered in a spiced barbecue sauce for 20 hours. We were told that Ippudo sells more pork buns than bowls of ramen at times, with about 400-500 pork buns coming out of the kitchen per day on average.
Onto the ramen tasting! To start off we had the classic Ippudo Shiromaru ($15). This is the ramen I’ve ordered on both of my two visits here – it’s simply such a warm and comforting bowl of goodness.
The Shiromaru is Ippudo’s classic tonkotsu broth served with thin noodles, pork loin, cabbage, black mushroom and shallots, being a classic Hakata-style ramen. The basic translation of Shiromaru boils down to ‘shiro’ meaning ‘white’, and ‘maru’ being ‘ring’. This is the classic 28 year old ramen broth that has been evolving since October 16, 1985.
Ippudo’s tonkotsu is made through boiling down pork bones in an alkaline mineral water for 15 hours in order to achieve optimum flavour and taste. There’s a certain precision that must be maintained, as once the 15 hours has elapsed, the broth begins to deteriorate. At the perfect stage, the fat from the pork has emulsified with the water to a degree that the soup has become quite silky and ‘creamy’ and there are no impurities that need to be skimmed from the surface.
This tonkotsu is also the basis of their other ramen bowls, the next being the Ippudo Akamaru ($16), where the broth is enhanced with a special blended miso paste and a fragrant garlic oil. This one was served with thin noodles, pork belly, black mushroom and shallots, being more of a refined, modern-style ramen.
I was instantly in love with the garlic oil and with the mysterious blob of miso paste in the centre, which we were told was a Korean-based combination of miso, spices and minced meat. We were instructed that to eat this ramen, we needed to taste the tonkotsu first and then as we ate our way through the bowl, to gradually incorporate the other elements instead of mixing it all at once and having the same flavour throughout. This ramen also uses juicy pieces of pork belly instead of pork loin, and as I looked around the table of bloggers it was evident that the strain of our second bowl of ramen was starting to make itself known and we were mostly devouring the silky slices of pork and the broth and leaving most of the noodles!
The Akamaru was without a doubt my favourite of the evening. The miso paste was deliciously moreish, and we were told that was because it contained the mysterious ingredient of umame.
I’ve heard of this ingredient before from Heston Blumenthal, but for those that don’t know, umame is a taste that is characteristic of monosodium glutamate and is associated with meats and other high-protein foods. It is sometimes considered to be a fifth basic taste along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. A few Japanese foods (miso, seaweed) contain this element, as well as our Aussie favourite, Vegemite.
At this stage we were given little bowls of pickled ginger to help with digesting all this ramen. You mixed these little slivers into the soup to eat it, and it was quite a sweet accompaniment.
I was interested in sampling another drink at this stage and with the help of another blogger, pointed out to the waiter the Aragoshi Umeshu ($10), a plum wine which was served on the rocks.
This was my first taste of plum wine and I’m officially now a convert. Quite syrupy and sweet, but not cloying, it was deliciously fruity and refreshing.
Onto our last bowl of ramen for the evening. We ended with the Ippudo Karaka ($17), which was Ippudo’s original tonkotsu broth with special spicy miso and ground pork.
This ramen had a much larger blob of paste which was much spicier in heat. What was different about this one was that the noodles are actually wavy instead of the traditionally straight ramen noodles with the other two bowls, so that the miso paste would cling better to the noodles. The bowl was topped with crushed cashew nuts to provide a contrasting texture. This spice blend was a little hot for my liking but I can see how it would be absolutely perfect for the chilly weather!
All three of the dishes we sampled are signature dishes of the international Ippudo chain, and at the end of our epic meal we had the pleasure of meeting the Ippudo Sydney chefs and were thanked for our time and given gift bags upon our departure. What a remarkable, unforgettable evening!