Monday, August 20, 2012

Ramen in the Southern Hemisphere

One of the things I forgot to take into consideration when booking my flight to Australia is the seasons. Crazily, Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere and as such, has Christmas in summer.

In the dark recesses of my foggy, American memory I recall having heard this before, but my association between August and heat is so strong that I only realized I would be traveling in deep winter weeks after my flight was already booked. (Note that I say flight because I only booked a one-way ticket, at least initially.) 

Once I realized my mistake, I rushed out to buy a pair of jeans and a cardigan. I don't already own these things because I live in the tropical hot-damp ecosystem that is Cambodia. So a few weeks of worry plus a pair of jeans and a cardigan was the sum total of my preparation for winter in Australia. Because really, what more would one need? 

As it turns out, winter is a real season in Australia, despite what their tourist board might prefer you to think. It reminded me of my youth in California, which also has a deceptively cold winter, which most people seem to be in denial about. The vendors in Chinatown always did a brisk trade in tacky San Francisco sweatshirts, sold to shivering tourists who had shown up in t-shirts, expecting Hawaii. 

So on arrival in Australia, I borrowed a coat, stuck a hot water bottle down my shirt and headed out into the frigid night. By the time I got to Melbourne last week I had mentally adjusted to the idea of cold (it's been more than two years since I've felt it, after all) and am now starting to embrace it. 

The best part? It's ramen weather. To be fair, it's always ramen weather in the geography that is my brain, but I certainly enjoy it more when my teeth are chattering and I can't feel my toes. 

I was delighted to find good ramen, finally. We have a couple ramen places in Phnom Penh. One is just okay, and the other is excellent, but completely non-traditional ramen. So I haven't had a good bowl of traditional Japanese ramen in a while and was interested to see how the stuff stacked up in Melbourne.

I went with my old buddy Jenn, who I had met while I was backpacking in Japan on what was basically a month-long ramen binge (I later stayed with her in Vietnam on what was basically a month-long pho binge, but I digress.) This time around, though, Jenn was accompanied by a ravenous toddler, who was also eager to see what the ramen scene was like in Melbourne.

Like everything in Melbourne, the stuff was expensive, but not quite as expensive as I feared. $14 got a set menu with a giant bowl of ramen, 3 gyoza and green tea. I wavered between tonkotsu and miso ramen, and was swayed by Jenn's firm declaration of a preference for the fatty pork bone goodness of tonkotsu, so I ordered the same.

 The broth wasn't as rich as it could have been, but it was still delicious. I appreciated all of the extras in the soup: seaweed, marinated bamboo (menma), seasoned hard-boiled egg, fish cakes, scallions, red pickled ginger and what I think was pickled cabbage. Usually tonkotsu ramen doesn't have all of these toppings involved (some of these are usually used for miso or shoyu ramens instead) but I'm always a fan of more rather than less when it comes to ramen. The ramen noodles were fresh and springy, but could have been slightly more al dente for my liking.

The gyoza were perfect, especially with a little splash of chili oil, and I was pleased with myself for not having to share any of my dumplings with any offspring, like poor Jenn had to.

By the time we left at noon or so (we had an early start), the place was jammed with Australians who seemed just as enthusiastic about ramen as myself and Jenn.

My overall verdict? B+, factoring in non-Japan location. Would eat again.


350 Bourke Street, Melbourne


  1. red faced ambiguousAugust 20, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    One way ticket? Are you emigrating?

  2. More than happy to eat more ramen with you!