Remember those days when you just got out of high school, had finally moved into a place not owned by your parents, were living on a shoe string budget, and decided the best way to save money was to buy those super cheap packets of ramen noodles at the grocery store? I’m sure you do. Some of us are still in that phase. Some of us remember those noodles fondly, with their packets of powder flavoring, and buy them on occasion for a taste of nostalgia. But do you ever go “wow, I really love those things, I’ve got to get some more,” or “steak or ramen noodles? ramen, of course.” Yeah, didn’t think so.
The problem is, those weren’t the real deal. While they’re technically ramen noodles, they’re not truly ramen. They’re mass produced knock-offs. They lack the soul of authentic noodle and broth. It’s like someone who’s never been to the ocean looking at a grainy photocopy of a beach photo versus them actually going to the beach, with the sun warming their skin, the waves spraying their legs with salty foam, and the cool wet sand squishing under their toes.
Dosunco, a Japanese kitchen, can assist you in your journey towards rameny enlightenment. Located in a small strip mall on Kennedy Blvd, this small restaurant serves masterpieces in a bowl. Their authentic recipes could just as easily be found across the pacific as in Tampa. Every spoonful of broth that passes your lips was made from scratch by Dosunco’s very own Japanese Ramen Chef Alihiro. For those of you who have bad reactions to MSG, take heart, it is a taboo ingredient there. By keeping the other ingredients in their traditionally smaller portions, the ramen are allowed to shine in these bowls as the true centerpiece (it is, after all, a ramen dish, not a pork or bean sprout dish.) Each ingredient has its own distinct flavor, but they are worked into one cohesive, balanced meal.
Laura was feeling like a little heat, so she ordered the Spicy Veggie Dosunco Ramen. She also likes to try to stretch her meal into a second meal for home, so she ordered extra noodles. The additional noodles came in their own bowl, which is in itself a sign of genius as it allows the eater to add them at their own pace to prevent overwhelming the bowl’s other ingredients or, if they intend to take them home as Laura did, keep them separate from the broth to prevent them from going soft due to soaking in the liquids. The soy bean paste broth had a medium cut of spice, enough to heat your pallet without numbing your tongue to the enjoyment of your meal. Beneath the reddish-orange broth hid bean sprouts, corn, lemon, and wakame sea weed. I personally love adding corn to ramen as I find its sweetness blend very well with the noodles. The sea weed was in soft, thin strips, being different in species and preparation from what you’d find in sea weed salads. Bits of green onion floated in the bowl, adding their influence to the broth’s spicy mix. The tofu, medium firm, had a slight crust on the outside to keep the texture from being too mushy. And then there was the ramen. Masterfully cooked, this stuff is what real ramen is about. It was al dente in the Japanese style, which is a hair more cooked than the Italian version, but still with the firmness that you will love. These wavy noodles lack the starchy, powdery flavor of their supermarket kin and taste like they came right off a noodle cart in Japan.
I ordered the Dosunco Ramen, which, while it shared a few ingredients with Laura’s dish, was very different in flavor. Heard the word but still wonder exactly what “umami” tastes like? Try this dish’s broth. It has that pleasant, savory taste that comes from the soy bean paste, marinated ground beef, and roast pork. The bamboo shoots still had that slight crunch to them that I relish and my bean sprouts were super tender, almost identical to mushrooms in texture and flavor. The seasoned egg had a subtle flavor modifying its usual hard boiled egg taste; you had to let the egg white linger in your mouth to have any chance of tasting it (which fits with traditional Japanese meals as they are eaten at a slower pace than your typical American meal.) The yolk was creamy, not dried out as with most hard boiled eggs, and was an incredibly silky surprise. I had the same fantastic noodles Laura had in her dish but, unlike hers, I had none left over for later. Or broth. Or anything else.
I may still eat the occasional prepackaged ramen noodles in a pinch, especially if I need a quick, super cheap meal. But I’ve had the privilege of being served the real thing and it will color my view on any future ramen (or ramen pretenders) that pass my lips. I know the weight of the true ramen in my chop sticks, the scent of the broth, the mingling of individual flavors and textures into one experience. I know.
3310 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33609