Though it was almost 20 years ago, I vividly remember my first real bowl of ramen. I was in Tokyo on a short working trip. Exhausted after a long day, my father and I sat at the counter of a hole-in-the-wall ramen restaurant, eyeglasses fogged by the giant pots of hot stock simmering behind the bar. Our bowls of rich broth and handmade noodles nourished more than just our palates. Back then, before scores of popular ramen shops sprang up in every large American city, it was a singular experience.
Today, ramen is relatively easy to find in America, though it’s not always authentic. I don’t mind a riff on a favorite dish, but I also appreciate tradition. Ganko Ittetsu Ramen, Providence’s newest ramen restaurant, serves ramen in the traditional style of the city of Sapporo, inspired by the unusual fact that New England and this northern Japanese city have similar climates. Unlike other styles of ramen, Sapporo-style ramen is prepared in a wok, allowing the base sauce (tare) to caramelize before it is diluted with broth.
Ganko Ittetsu Ramen’s second location (the first is just outside Boston) occupies a large storefront near the corner of Thayer and Waterman streets, steps from Brown’s campus. As I expected, it was full of students at lunchtime on a weekday. With table service and a sharp interior, it pairs the speed of fast food with the polish of a nicer restaurant.
For most of my reviews, I deliberate over a long menu, contemplating which dishes are most interesting or best highlight the kitchen’s capability. This time, I had to choose from a menu shorter than a New York System’s. All six dishes were ramen, and I couldn’t possibly order more than one for myself.
Once my bowl arrived, I was reminded that in a good bowl of ramen, there are so many nuances, it’s like ordering several dishes. Our bowls, true to the menu’s cute illustrations, were colorfully decorated with a variety of ingredients. My Gantetsu Shoyu ramen had a rich broth with sliced pork (cha-shu), diced pork, half a soft-boiled egg, sauteed bean sprouts, fermented bamboo shoots (menma) and corn, topped with crunchy garlic and sesame seeds. This is the nourishing broth I hope for when I order ramen, the kind I imagine would fill me up even without the noodles or toppings. The slightly cloudy broth is a medium brown because of the shoyu, a wheat-based soy sauce.
My husband’s Tan Tan Ramen was just as deeply flavored, but with a creamy, sesame base. It was topped with seasoned ground pork, pickled vegetables, seaweed, corn, sesame seeds, and a red drizzle of spicy garlic oil. I loved the creamy broth, more complex than plain tahini, punctuated by the bright contrast of spicy oil.
With wooden tables, rough stone bowls, and an abundance of natural light, Ganko Ittetsu is eminently Instagrammable. Luckily, they also offer a solution for your ramen #fomo - you can customize your bowl with extra ingredients, a welcome flexibility for when you just need an egg or extra slice of pork to make it through your day.
I’m thinking that as the days get shorter and colder, I might resolve to try every one of the six ramen on this menu. We should always set attainable goals, right?
Ganko Ittetsu Ramen
215 Thayer Street • 808-6383