As the weather turns cold and dreary and we lock in for the short winter we turn to certain foods to warm the soul and bolster the immune system. If you are bored of chicken soup, Ramen is the answer. But what is Ramen, really? That dried brick of noodles that you tossed into the microwave in your college dorm room 5 nights a week? Not really. That would be simply unaltered sodium.
Ramen for me goes back to a trip to Tokyo and my time spent living in Hawaii. I always thought it was so comforting to be walking down a bustling street and be able to just duck into a tiny little noodle bar and be presented with a soul satisfying bowl of noodles in a sultry broth. Yes, there are other things in the bowl but the noodles were always the star for me.
I always thought how nice it would be to have something like that here in Raleigh. Fortunately for me, Torii Noodle Bar by Kanki in the Crabtree Valley Mall is the perfect place to indulge in a well prepared bowl of Ramen.
Much smaller than its parent restaurant Kanki, which is directly below Torii, the noodle bar has the small charm and allure of some of the mom and pop shops in Hawaii. You have the option of sitting at a table or cozying up to the bar, especially good if your stopping in for lunch alone on a work day. The bar offers beer, wine, and traditional Japanese sake.
Now if you are taking the Ramen plunge for the first time, it might be a little intimidating, especially when it comes to the other things in the bowl. So lets break it down.
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Types of Ramen Broth
The first choice you will need to make when deciding what kind of Ramen you are going to try is a big one. The broth. The broth is the base of the entire dish so choose wisely. Torii offers a number of choices but if you are just starting out, I would recommend the Shoyu broth for a more traditional experience. The other choices are tonkotsu, miso, chicken curry, hot and sour, hon tsuyu. Some of these are self explanatory and will be familiar to you. For some definitions of the others, see below.
- Shoyu = soy sauce based broth
- tonkotsu = pork bone broth
- miso = fermented bean paste broth
- tsuyu = mirin(rice wine), soy sauce, and dashi (fish sauce)
Whats else is in the bowl?
Once you have the broth figured out, its time to decide what you would like in it. Now the broth will decide part of that for you. For instance, if you choose the tsuyu broth, there is a good chance you are embarking on a seafood or shrimp journey. Now assuming you go for the traditional Shoyu broth, I would recommend the Wanton – Men Ramen. This dish comes with pork and shrimp wanton, a slab of pork, soft egg, nori, scallion, tofu and a fish cake. Most of this will be familiar but one thing Americans who haven’t had a lot of Asian food need to do is get past the texture issue. If you can do that, you are in for a flavor journey like no other. While the pork, egg, wanton, scallion and even the tofu is probably familar to you, nori and fish cake may not be. Nori is simply edible seaweed, and fish cake is made of pureed white fish and cooked. Thats the pink spiral thing in the dish.
Combined, Ramen offers flavors and textures like no other and is a meal all by itself. But there is one thing it can’t supply. Dessert! No visit to Torii is complete without trying the mochi ice cream. This was a favorite of mine in Hawaii and I am thrilled that I can get it here in Raleigh. Mochi is rice flour and it is used to envelope a small oval of ice cream. It comes in many flavors but for an authentic experience, I recommend the green tea and azuki bean flavors. The green tea is very cleansing to the palate and is the perfect complement to the ramen. The azuki bean is a read bean that comes off tasting a lot like cherry. Its an extremely popular flavor in Japan and in Hawaii and after the first bite it isn’t hard to see why. So which one should you get? The good news is that mochi ice creams are so small, you can easily get both!
So the next time you are at Crabtree Valley Mall and you are looking for a choice that offers something more than the food court and you wont have to wait in line for 3 hours for, give Torii a shot, and embark into the wonderful world of Ramen.
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Torii Noodle Bar by Kanki
4325 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27612
Mon – Thu: 11:30am – 9:30pm
Fri & Sat: 11:30am – 10:30pm
Sun: Noon – 9:30pm