2022 finds us at a crossroads in the Norwegian ramen landscape. Over the past five years a number of new shops have sprouted up trying to fight for your hard earned ramen Kroner. Some have gone the way of focusing on local produce, others tempt you with hip facades, and others still work hard to make their own homemade noodles.
The question that everyone wants to know, is: Has anyone made a decent bowl of ramen? How about a great bowl of ramen?
The answer is yes, and almost.
Though it has been attempted, there always feels an underlying aspect of driving with the handbrake on, not daring to push the envelope, and given the circumstances of dining out in the big city, I understand their apprehension. There aren't enough clientele to keep a place open based on rolling out delicious, authentic bowls of ramen in all it's forms. Local tastes will always dictate whether a place is profitable or not, and this by default becomes the achilles heel. Do you make bonafide authentic ramen to a group of only 1% of the population that has eaten real ramen in Japan? Or do you have to negotiate the murky waters of adapting it to the local palate, but then losing the authenticity in favour of sustaining profits?
It's a difficult question to ask any ramen chef, much more problematic than the "Will ramen make me fat?" question they often get. Oslo has evolved leaps and bounds from the first incarnation of Sapporo Ramen that was quite frankly diabolical. A new breed of shops has popped up offering their take on this fascinating dish. With everything from "Nordic Ramen", to places making their noodles in house, which Oslo ramen shop would prove to be our favourite?
(Click on the photo for a link on google maps)
The worst, first
yatai - ( 2/10 )
Serving lukewarm ramen is not going to set you off on the good foot with me Mr.
Pair that with copious amounts of astringent spring onion, buckwheat noodles, pork that could easily be found in a Fjordland "Jule-middag" box and pickled red onions (what place do they have in a ramen bowl?), with some crunchy beansprouts (ok, you can't screw them up) and a salty, ineffectual egg, and you have a bowl of desireless loss.
There was nothing to compliment here. It was the kind of ramen made by people who really, REALLY do not understand ramen. Maybe they have never tasted a good, authentic bowl, so please don't serve it until you have learnt the basics.
Ezo ramen - ( 2/10 )
A sister franchise to Sapporo nearby at Mathallen, and a definite example of one sibling getting the better genes. Though housed in an imposing building, slickly decored and situated in the middle of hip-dom, this place is a charlatan, a jester, a fake. Nothing and I mean nothing at all, was redeeming about this experience. Perhaps the only thing to mention in any positive light were the prices. The food, however, was bordering on the inedible. Bland, utterly characterless broth, unpalatable texture on the noodles, dry meat and the cataclysmic disaster of an egg so bad it's almost impossible to replicate.
The spring onions were good, that's how bad this ramen was.
Koie ramen - ( 6/10 )
For all intents and purposes we make a considerable leap now from the last place finisher. Koie, despite having the worst acoustics this side of a 1940's British swimming hall, the food is generally alright. I must mention, having tasted two of their ramen's, the Tonkotsu left much to be desired. Washed in complete thinning disregard and lack of umami. Everything a Tonkotsu ramen should not be.
The Nagoya ramen was decently flavourful, though veering on the greasy. The positives include a pretty good noodle (home-made in house), and a decent egg. With each bowl hitting close to the 200 NOK mark, this is definitely not a weekly indulgence for the scant of wealth.
sapporo ramen - ( 6/10 )
It may come as a shock to many, that this is placed (though with the same score) higher than Koie. It comes back to that old question "Which one would you eat again".
Just shy of 4 years after trying (and hating) Sapporo, on a befittingly miserable, rainy day, I walked down Telthusbakken to drop off some bottles at the Rema 1000. On the escalators up, I saw a virtually empty restaurant, and decided to tempt fate one more time, and see if improvements had been made. They had.
The spicy bowl was sufficiently red, potentially because the Thai woman was working and they love to kick up the spice a notch. I still needed to add a good few shakes of Togarashi to pep up the pleasantries. Sadly, they use the same noodles as their incomparably disastrous sister-branch at Ezo; the curly yellow noodles that lack pleasing texture. The egg was eons better than Ezo, but still bang on average. This time around the pork had been taken further in its cuisson, and shone a golder brown. Parts of it were dry, parts of it were tasty. Menma was menma-ish, spring onions don't need more than a mention, the most important thing in ramen is the broth. Ultimately, the broth had some umami, balance and depth to it. It was far, far better than the first visit when literally everything was unworthy of digestion.
This ramen would get lost around half-way up to the summit of Broth Mountain, but taking into account we are in a nation raised on taco-fredag, this was a pleasing attribute to the Asian food proliferation in Oslo. As is the case here, not one place does it perfectly, but if you combine the strongest elements of each you could come up with a pretty damn good bowl.
kazam bowl - ( 6/10 )
As the new kid on the block, Kazam wasn't exactly faced with impossible heights to reach in the landscape of mediocrity Oslo thrives on. However, having visited barely 2 weeks into their existence, you would expect mistakes. Mistakes I can live with if they are rectified and set straight, which only time will tell.
Onto the positives. The broth was decently tasty, the meat in the Tonkotsu Ramen slightly dry, but the chicken in the Tan Tan Men was crisp and seasoned well. In both bowls the egg was perfectly cooked. Bean sprouts always add a nice crunch to any bowl, and the spring onion garnish added that pungent bite.
Onto the negative: the noodles. Unforgiveably overcooked, they lacked any texture at all and made eating the bowl a chore rather than chomping glee.
If they manage to get their timings right and push harder on the chashu pork, this place would become a mainstay in my ramen repertoire even tho it's in Økern.
the summit of broth mountain
hrimnir ramen - ( 8/10 )
My main sticking point with previously avoiding Hrimnir was the notion of "Nordic Ramen". Whilst not adverse to evolution, ramen is something I tend to prefer in traditional constructs. However, after the overall disappointment of Oslo's other noodle-shelters, I decided it time to brave the waters. On recommendation from a few people I trusted, I opted for the Spicy Miso Ramen and a side of Chilli-oil. The service was polite and observant, the outside seating soaked up the dying rays of Oslo's translucent summer, the prices a little on the steep side considering Ezo (in all it's diabolical atrophy) was a full 60 Kr cheaper.
Thoughts of the budget conscious were cast aside upon closer inspection of the arrived bowl. It shone with care and contemplation. No short cuts here, no fooling the customer. What we ate was a bowl of Nordic Ramen which if slightly edited could be on the way to glory. To fully explain this I would have to wade into the waters of personal preferences, and honestly nobody cares to hear that. I shall therefore just critique what was in my vessel.
The soup (with the addition of the chilli oil) was quite rich, flavoursome and had a mild hit of heat. The pork belly was succulent and tender, tho my second piece was dry. The noodles were straight, still retaining some bite. The egg, perfectly cooked. The addition of the charred cabbage neither added nor subtracted anything from the meal, but was highly preferred to tinned sweetcorn (satan). The "famous" Jerusalem Artichokes, tho not my personal OMG moment, served their purpose in cutting through the richness of the soup with pops of acidity. I just feel they could have used half the amount.
Overall, a much better experience than I (needlessly) feared, and most definitely the best bowl of "Ramen" you can hope to find in Oslo. At least this place is staying true to their philosophy, and making a bowl that they are proud of (not cutting corners on ingredients either), and whether you think Ramen can be bastardised is your own moral dilemma (it can if it tastes good), i'll happily eat this over anything else in town for the time being.
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
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"
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