What lengths would I go to for a bowl of ramen? Ok, I haven't killed anyone yet, or stripped nude in a public place, or wrestled a panda bear. Short of that, I have changed travel plans, or taken lengthy motorbike rides to unknown suburbs all with the dim hope that MAYBE this bowl will be "the one".
Nine times out of ten, those excursions end up in disappointment, but once in a blue moon, you are harvested up into the golden ether and kissed by cherubs with a bowl of divine inception.
Saigon has treated me well on numerous occasions, especially in those seedy little alleyways of Japan Town. The mastery of Ramen Danbo stands like a church of broth offering sinners a bathing cleanse in porcine liquid salvation. Strands of noodles slurping towards your mouth in shuffling unison whilst choirs belt out in imaginary cathedrals. Just 80 meters down the same alleyway lies Mutahiro.
Opening the door was a dance of dualities. My feet wanted to inch to the counter and order, my heart wanted to turn and run back to Danbo's familiarity and tested glory. I shakingly turned the menu over, ordered the house special and tapped my feet to the potential annoyance of the others around me.
Whilst the chefs grappled with tongs, knifes and avoided pockets of steam, I sat pumping adrenaline through my pores at the expectation to come. "So many people had given this place top marks, surely it was good?", "What if everyone is a lunatic and its crap".
A bowl came balancing out of the kitchen on a servers hand. My heart skipped a beat. She stopped behind me, apologised, I moved to the left, and a steaming vessel of eternal transgression haunted the air it cut to be positioned at 12 o'clock infront.
Spoon-Broth-Unadulterated taste: HOLY STIFLING COSMIC RADAR FUCK.
The depth of flavour from this seemingly innocent broth was astounding. Dip again, WOW, again, WOW.... noodles, delicate soba kissed with the heating warmth of boiling water only momentarily. What's this? Pork AND chicken? Had to try the chicken first, dear beelzebub..... occult tenderness, juiciness of clandestine practitioners, renegade moist alchemy.
Egg's of divine flightless birds, cocooned yolk fed regulated heat till formations were set in action but not completed. Left to soak the essences of time and craft in marinades. Pork, yes, forgot about that, pork of sweet dainty flesh slices, custom made to melt on impact with expectant teeth. Small shards of greenery adding colour and acidity to the daunting plate of near monastic dedication in it's creation.
Colour returned to my face. Memories of Danbo were thrown aside, temporarily, while basking in the shoyu allure of solitude and food.
A ramen bowl can change your life.
Mark my words.
8A/G8b, Thái Văn Lung, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Every Day: 11am – 2pm, 6pm – 2am
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.