It's always a gamble trying "ethnic fare" in small, strange places. However, sometimes you get a positive surprise.
Christina had mentioned that there was a small Pho place in a market area on the outskirts of Odesa. Curiosity got the better of me and I summoned an Uber and headed off for the 15 minute ride. The weather was blisteringly hot, but thankfully the restaurant had an indoor area with AC. I ordered a beef pho, and twiddled my thumbs in anticipation.
What arrived at my table was actually pretty darn decent. It tasted better than some Pho i've even had in Vietnam, because the most important part (the broth) was on point. They had a few cultural differences including a hard boiled egg, but i'll let that slip. The beef wasn't exceptional quality, but the price reflected that. Everything else was surprisingly good, and I left with a full stomach and google translate compliments to the two Vietnamese chefs.
Too overly sweet for me, but a tasty bowl of Pho near Revolver. Not the first place i'd return to based on the mammoth prices, but the service was good and the location is unbeatable.
Bereft of care, a plate of dissatisfaction placed down by a kind face with a sad heart. No love was put into this. No passion. Just a routine of pouring, boiling, scouping, shaking and portioning ad infinitum.
The broth is lifeless, the beef strangely textured, the herbs bruised as my heart was after taking a bite.
No, this is not the way to broth mountain, this is where people hide in the shadows trying to make a penny before the apocalypse.
Who would have thought the best Pho in Oslo would be in a non-descript Sushi place? Not me.
However, Sea Sushi churn out authentic, delicious, balanced bowls of pho that hit all the right notes for those missing Saigon in these troubled times.
Head down here and order yourself a bowl, hide in the corner so you don't get disturbed by the throngs of people ordering take-away sushi, and allow the flavours of Vietnam to awaken you again.
My first day in the beautiful city of Lviv involved walking down a small side-street to find a Borscht restaurant. On the way back I saw a group of people hunched over bowls of what seemed like Ramen, so I had to go have a better look. Sure enough, Noa was newly opened, and serving up Lviv's answer to Ramen. I had to try it.
First off, every country has their own peculiar spin or style of ramen, the Eastern Europeans seemingly love lettuce and other vegetables like broccoli in theirs, which isn't always a success. I ordered the Chashu Ramen, hold the corn (and throw it into a dark dungeon somewhere). I'll start by pointing out that this chashu pork is up there with some of the best i've tried outside Japan. Utterly faultless, texture and flavour just utterly mesmerising. The egg too was perfectly cooked, perfectly prepared and the soy-marinate was not too strong or sweet. The broth itself had some staying power but was a little lacking in deep flavours, but the main culprit were the noodles. Home-made but with the texture of spaghetti thats both al dente and over-cooked at the same time. A bizarre experience.
I went back another day to try the beef one (below) and the broth was better, fattier, deeper but the meat itself was chewy. Everything else was about the same as the Chashu bowl. Still, a medium-good bowl of Ramen trumps a lot of other things in my books.
Opting for the most local place suffering from intense jet-lag and a nagging cold from Oslo, this place was 300 meters from my hotel and the reviews were promising.
I got a slight feeling of apprehension upon seeing it was a street stall with seating inside a shopfront because in Thailand that works for local food, but i've never eaten Ramen at a place like that. Buoyed by my excitement at being back in the big city, and serious withdrawal symptoms, I headed on in and ordered the special.
The service was polite and fast. The food, massively underwhelming. The noodles had a nice chew to them, the egg was acceptable, the chicken pretty tasty, but what let this down was the broth. It was so thick and rich that it felt like you were eating Christmas gravy that had been reduced far too long. It created a gluey sensation on the palate and left me feeling a bit queasy. Needless to say, I didn't finish it.
At 140 Bhat it's definitely not on the expensive side, but when eating ramen in Bangkok its worth spending a bit more and getting a lot more quality.
Having been urged to find this local temple of thukpa by the bartender at The Cafe With No Name, we decided to put our feeble disposition to one side, and head out into the swarming streets of Kathmandu, tempting fate at every crossing, witnessing the barrage of scooters and cars trying to navigate the tiny alleyways. Finally, the streets opened at a small square and up above, offering respite and recluse was Norling. Finding tables of agreeable seclusion, food was ordered, beers were opened and anticipations ran wild.
This was as close to good as we found in Kathmandu, and we tried quite a few spots. The broth was hearty and warming, and everything but the actual chicken was tasty.
The meat was fried and dry, but leaving that aside this was Kathmandu's best bowl of Thukpa.
It's often a foolish pursuit to try Japanese dishes in strange places, Kathmandu, for example. However, due to the large amount of travellers, and ex-pats, sometimes there are people who know what they are doing and make a decent living from keeping their regulars happy.
This place is not one of those.
Upon walking in you almost think you're in Shibuya at a small late-night ramen joint. There were basically only Japanese and Chinese tourists eating there while we hunted for a table away from preying eyes.
The meal came, and just by looking at it you could tell this wasn't a winner. Surprisingly enough, the broth was semi-decent with some hits of ginger that crept in through international experiments. The noodles were extremely boring and overcooked and the pork was tough and chewy. They threw in some greens for good measure and didn't know what a marinated egg was so I let that slide.
Fun to try new things, not always fun to pay for disappointing meals but it goes with the territory.
First things first. Wake up after a short and uneventful flight from Bangkok, head out into the blistering heat, walk 3 blocks and stand in line to eat what is reputed to be Chiang Mai's best Khao Soi. The line took about 10 minutes to dissipate, but the food took at least 30 minutes to come. Hungry revellers sitting anxiously twiddling thumbs around the table in expectation anxiety.
Our group were all slightly worse for wear and therefore needed the healing broth even more. It finally arrived, 4 steaming bowls of Khao Soi with the cripsy noodles layered atop. I dove in. Fuck me. This was already the best bowl I had eaten in my life. The next 15 minutes passed in slurping heaven, perfect noodles, moist chicken, crunchy noodles, mustard greens, red onion and specks of life-giving coriander all came together in a majestic symphony of flavours.
4 bowls left behind, scraped to the bone for the soup. Absolutely stunning, nothing can beat this? Surely?
The stifling heat of Kerala was left behind by the night trains gentle rocking. Morning came, after a night full of disturbances from screaming kids and the snoring geriatric 30 centimetres from my bunk. Three buses, a rickshaw and a short stroll later I checked into my new abode on Agonda Beach.
First step: google Tibetan restaurants for Thukpa.
Found one 20 meters away down the road and decided to wait until the next day to try it out for breakfast. Woke, showered, headed down, owner was a smiling Tibetan man who asked "You like spicy or non spicy?". I answered "spicy" of course, not knowing what I had gotten myself in to. Usually thukpa is not hot, so a spicy thukpa sounded like a relatively painless bowl of goodness.
The meal came, I dove in. The broth was a little "cornflour-thick" but had some decent flavour and then the kick came. Blew my head off. I ate through the noodles and vegetables, choking on hidden chilis strewn all throughout the bowl like mines waiting to explode. I managed to eat 4/5ths of it before having to throw in the towel. My eyes were tearing up, my nose running, my throat and tongue numb and my stomach tense at the expectation of what was coming it's way.
Apart from the intense shock of heat, the soup was a decent offering. Had better, had worse. Perhaps it was just what the doctor ordered to kill this lingering cold....
So it's Loi Krathong, I barely realised. I woke up after days of speckling the porcelain after eating a streetfood Khao Soi that was definitely not worth the pain and agony. I feebly walked the 6 blocks to this ramen spot that featured highly on all the lists and lips. The place looked suspicious, however, presumptions aside I walked in, found a cool corner (insatiable heat), ordered the shoyu with bean sprouts and anxiously watched the chefs prepare.
The food came after a delay since 5 hungry Japanese revellers ordered just before me, however, the bowl was placed and I basked in its possibilities for a second, before raising my spoon and diving in.
To be fair the broth was acceptable... in that "could have been more flavour" way, but acceptable. The noodles were cooked well, sustaining some personality in their mesh of spiderweb constellations. Pork, rather tasty but rather chewy. FAAAAR too many bean sprouts in proportion to the rest, egg decent. The thing that brought it down a notch from a solid score, was the broth just lacked that little umami-kick that elevates everything. Be it more tare, MSG or tender loving care, I don't give a fuck... just give me the flavour and i'll be happy.
An altogether forgiveable effort, but there are far better ramen shops in this small town for those who are dependant on a bowl now and then.
Airport food is usually a ramshackle event. A conscious choice to get a cheeky McDs or BK, or a microwaved burger sold in a "Irish Pub" called Flanagans or Molly's. Either way, its a tie-over until the grave disappointment of in-flight food comes rolling your way.
At Don Muang Airport, they opened a branch of Ippudo in Terminal 2. Not my favourite place to eat ramen, generally, but a far better option than the golden arches at midday with a slight groggy feeling resonating deep inside.
It looks like this place hasn't been here long since the staff were in complete disarray, beside the fact that there were only 3 customers and 9 staff members. I ordered, the food came, they had "run out" of eggs already at lunch-time. Not a great sign.
What followed was a fairly ok attempt, for being an airport. The broth was so-so, the noodles were boring, the pork was sufficiently tender and they added beansprouts which I loved. Nothing to write home about, but better than popping next door to the countless fast food options.
I'm not going to go through the usual rant about always wanting to try Ramen wherever I am. I spent an obscene amount of time at the immigration office getting my papers in order after my journey through Transnistria. Popped into a pub for a few beers to calm down afterwards and then ploughed through the rain to Kotobuki to try their ramen which came highly recommended.
The broth was pretty fair. The noodles were crap instant noodle pack ones so that was a let down. The egg was overcooked and not marinated, BUT the pork was some of the most tender pork I have eaten. Really superb. That bumped the ratings up by a full point due to its perfect melting deliciousness.
Never discount the fact that ex-pats live all over the world and some of them are passionate about food, so it's always worth trying out.
The best Khao Soi I ever had was in a now demolished hotel in Chiang Mai back in 2003. Memories of that bowl always flood back to me whenever I take a chance on a new spot, and invariably I am left comparing what was to what could be. Coincidentally, last night I was chatting with 2 chefs in a bar and both of them highly recommended Hom Duan saying they eat there twice a week religiously. I grabbed a cab, headed to Ekkamai, found the spot, noticed only 1 foreigner in there and a packed restaurant full of locals slurping down big bowls of hot soup. Ordered at the counter, within 3 minutes my Khao Soi arrived with the regular mustard greens, lime slice and shallots on a small side-plate.
I dug in.
The broth became more and more complex the further down you got, a characteristic I prefer since you don't get tired of it as easily as super rich flavours. I read a few online reviews and one mentioned that the cumin content here was a tad higher than normal places. I can't say I would have noticed that without the words ringing in my brain, but I did think it was a touch too much. However, this hardly took anything away from what was a great bowl of Khao Soi, and priced at 90 baht with a coke you could hardly complain.
I'll be back here if i'm in the Ekkamai area again.
With jet-lag still punishingly strangling the life out of me, I awoke at 01.00 am, fell back asleep at 7am, got up at 1pm and decided I deserved a good bowl of Ramen.
Ikkousha was a short cab ride from my hotel, and had very favourable reviews online. The fact that the broth looked good in photos also helped, as that can very often be a litmus test in such cases.
The service was quite slow, but friendly. The prices were reasonable. Ramen arrived with a glass of soda water, and I dove in (taking photos beforehand of course). The broth was solid, slightly more fatty that Kio but not as rich as Bankara, the egg was cooked well but not marinated so it was a little boring, the noodles were regular ramen noodles and cooked well, the pork flavourful but lacking a bit in the tenderness department. All things considered a very decent bowl, but not pushing for the top 3 spot yet in Bangkok.
Knowing my propensity for pleasure found at the bottom of a bowl of noodles, it didn't take long to find another one. I landed late last night in Kochi after an uneventful flight from Malaysia. Managed to find the guesthouse and hit the hay around 3am. Woken numerous times by screaming kids, then by adults screaming at the screaming kids, I gave up sleep around midday and started searching for lunch.
Just down the lane was a highly rated Tibetan place which was perfect for a brunch-type deal. It was located after the turn in a very narrow alleyway, and another Indian restaurant had sprung a genius plan of sabotaging the Tibetan place by having a huge banner saying MOMOS on their wall so that the unsuspecting tourist would think this was the spot. In fact the real place was out of view around the corner. I almost got duped but had seen photos of the interior online so I knew something was fishy.
I sat upstairs, away from the German tour groups peering eyes. Chicken Thukpa, Lime Soda plain no sugar no salt.
The broth was rich and delicious, the noodles were the packet-type affair, the chicken was tender and the vegetables added a nice crunch. Delicious start to my 2 months in India.
Seriously? Third day in a row?
Yes. I have just spent 5 months in Norway where I have not been able to find a decent bowl of ramen, so coming to the land of Thai food it sound incredulous to spend my first few days gorging on ramen, but I am an addict.... and I am not ashamed to say it. Besides, I already had a couple of great Thai meals and will be here another month so there is plenty of time.
Now onto the ramen. Uma Uma, never been before, took a cab, ordered, waited patiently in the hopes that this could be the next best thing... it ALMOST was.
Noodles were of the ultra-thin type which is not my personal fave, but still had some bite to them. The broth was deep, rich, not too fatty, perfectly balanced, the Chashu was up there with some of the best ever: MELT-ON-YOUR-TONGUE tender, full of flavour, absolutely incredible. Egg was cooked a few seconds the wrong side of perfect, but made up for it in leaps and bounds with the marinade, a deep smokey soy flavour. I also love when anyone puts bean sprouts on as garnish, adding that crunchy element. All in all this doesn't topple Bankara or Kio but sits strongly in third place. A crowning achievement and proof that you should always try new places.
The holy grail for Shoyu Ramen in Bangkok has surely been found? Upon publishing my review of Uma Uma, one of the managers kindly wrote to thank me for my review, but also suggested if I wanted a great Shoyu Ramen, to head to his personal favourite. Since it was just around the corner from Studio Lam, and a 15 minute walk from my hotel, I simply had to try it today for lunch.
The spot is a small, cosy ramen shop with counter space up front and seating in the back for families and bigger groups. I hid on the corner part and ordered their speciality Shoyu with extra pork. The menu described it as the stock being a mix of vegetables, chicken and pork bones, and bonito (which can polarise some people due to its "fishy taste") so I already had in mind what it would taste like. However, this was flavour +
Dark, umami-packed broth, absolutely sensational pork (some of the best I've ever eaten), and a well cooked egg along with the slight difference of Soba Noodles instead of "regular" ramen noodles. The soba were cooked to perfection, the chew was excellent and the overall texture was spot on.
I was dying to find a good Shoyu place in town since its not every day you feel like eating a calorie-laden bowl of Tonkotsu, so I am forever grateful to the Uma Uma person for tipping me off about this. In the years to come this will feature heavily on my Bangkok agenda.
Ichiran and Ippudo are simultaneously average, but sometimes offer a glimpse of real ramen flavour if you visit late at night or have gone months without. This time around I hadn't had a ramen in almost 6 months, and was at the airport with 3 hours to kill. Burger King, McDonalds or Ippudo. I went for the latter.
Having tasted their Tonkotsu broths before and never been largely impressed, I opted for the special Shoyu Bowl and found a quiet place away from people at the back. The bowl came, I kinda knew straight away this was going to be average. First sip the soup, SALT BOMB! I know it's Shoyu but holy hell this was literally just soy sauce. The pork was chewy, the egg was alright, the noodles were standard and the menma ok.
A disappointing bowl, but you know it as soon as you enter. Its the lesser of a few evils.
Another day, another adventure. This time the rain was a sheet of impenetrable glass, so I was forced to use a Grab taxi to seek out yet another Ramen place that lay untested and untried. I had read a lot of good feedback online, and it was highly rated despite its bizarre location.
The Grab driver had no idea where it was and the address didn't show up so I had to get off a couple blocks away and walk. Approaching the tiny soi where the place was stood an old lady who just looked at me and shouted "RAMEN?" and pointed. I walked in, was told I had to wait since it was packed (good sign), shown my ordering sheet, perused the menu, went for a spicy Tonkotsu to ward off the chills, and sat back waiting until a spot at the counter opened.
Within 10 minutes I was seated between 2 strangers (the fear started), my heart trembling at the thought of raising the spoon to my mouth and having the contents shake off in utter nerves. The bowl came, the chef spoke to me shortly asking "How the hell did you find this place?". He was Thai but had just left a head-chef position in New York to open a Ramen spot in his hometown. "This place desperately needs good ramen, they have everything else except that, and I hope I've created that now". I spooned in my first mouthful of broth. Excellent. The menma was on the sweet side but crunchy and good, the egg was perfectly marinated and cooked, the noodles totally decent but not amazing. The only thing that let it down slightly was the Chashu. It was quite firm and toothsome, which I can definitely forgive when the rest of the bowl tasted as it did.
I actually managed to clear the whole thing, paid, tipped, complimented the chef and headed off in the rain to order another cab back home to wait it out until calm was restored.
As the Aussies would say: Yeah, Nah!
I wound up in yet another Grab taxi hurtling my way to the night market to try this Khao Soi place that always creeps onto top 10 lists in Chiang Mai. My driver was confused as to why it was called Islam? I didn't have an answer for him other than the owners were probably muslim (they were). He added that the world is going to hell because of the Chinese building hotels and casinos everywhere and putting locals out of work, I gently nodded.. hungry.
The spot was in a small soi, a giant place with a rather unnassuming facade, I wandered in, found a vantage point as far away from people as possible and ordered "Khao Soi Gai".
Within 2 minutes flat the food came. Worryingly fast. It wasn't hot, the chicken was tough, the noodles were cut into small pieces like kids spaghetti, the "crispy" noodles became mushy after 10 seconds, the curry soup was thin and uninspiring and doused with soy sauce so much that it overpowered everything else.
I left most of the bowl, paid, smiled and vowed to tick that one off the list and never return.
Nothing brings violence to my hearts core more than Tofu. Crippled sole inserts from 30 year old shoes laid out in rubbery fields to soak blandness up from dead rivers, only to be "kissed by the flame" in a void attempt of imparting any more flavour than nothingness possesses. Anyone who could make me eat Tofu and actually prefer it over literally any other ingredient on earth, deserves a Night-hood.
This bowl of Vegan Ramen at Zest did indeed include the torment of Tofu, but had enough other options to disguise the floating particles of polystyrene. The broth was a deep shiitake flavour rounded off with some specks of chilli, seeds and fresh herbs. Noodle-wise, this wasn't a miracle, favouring the overcooked standard packet noodles you get all over India. Some cleverly selected vegetables and a surprising amount of depth from the broth left me only missing a nice piece of chashu or a perfectly boiled egg.
Kudos to the chefs for obtaining so much umami from meatless, boneless stock.
Propped up at the counter at Sanmai Ramen, I took a moment to ask the chef if he had any recommendations about good Khao Soi joints in town. He thought for a moment, then said "Mae Sai does great beef bowl". I noted it down on my phone and went about my business for the next couple of days, always planning on visiting it at some point. Another random night 2 Thai chefs sat down next to me at a bar and started talking about food. I told them about my slight addiction to Khao Soi and they immediately beamed at me "Khao Soi Khun Yai, many many tourists but very good food".. I told them I ate there and it was spectacular, the other guy then blurted out "Khao Soi Mei Sai does very good beef version". Then and there started a cycle of 5 consecutive mornings where I tried to get up before they were closed, and failed miserably.
Today was the day! I set my alarm, headed out by Grab to hunt it down in the small soi baked on with sweltering heat. I grabbed a table (unfortunately had to share, it was packed), wrote down my order and sucked down on my ice cold coke to try regain some temperature balance within.
Bowl arrived. You knew it was going to be good. Slightly thinner "curry" than at Khun Yai, but packed with flavour. Incredibly tender beef that still kept its texture, great noodles, good crispy noodles, and a bloody hot chilli sauce to pour on if the broth was too tame.
Definitely worth tracking down since it's a little outside the main drag, but this bowl is up there, but just didn't have the depth to knock Khun Yai off it's throne.
In true idiot abroad style, I actually got back to the hotel, drank some water, and decided to head out for one last bowl (3 bowls in one morning) before retiring from Khao Soi for at least a few months.
Samerjai had featured on a lot of "Best Khao Soi" lists, been recommended by my Thai friend Amit, and also been highly recommended by another couple of "food-forward" people. I was starting to like sitting in the back of Grab taxis. The drivers barely talk to you, the cars are generally clean and the AC has been blasting all day. You can just gaze out the tinted windows and suffocate on life's emptiness for a brief spell.
Another out-of-the-way spot, housed in a huge canteen style building with rows of food stalls. The Khao Soi stand was right at the front, which is why the punters come here. I was served mightly quickly, but the food was steaming hot so that's always a plus. First look, I kinda knew where this was headed. It would taste good, but it would be too rich/creamy for me. Spot on.
The noodles were a solid bunch, the chicken was nice and flavoursome, the crunchy noodles on top were unsatisfactorily "sweet", and the broth had far too much coconut cream (or condensed milk) in it to deliver a deep punch. The flavours were all washed out in this creamy-sweet overload which did not abate when mounds of chilli paste were added.
I can see why people like this Khao Soi, the flavours were good but the over-riding flavour was sugar and cream. Two things I try to stay away from in everyday life.
Having sworn off Khao Soi after eating 3 bowls in one day, I found myself unwillingly checking out one last spot since Andy Ricker said it was his favourite spot in Chiang Mai, and SP Chicken was closed.
Housed in a large, old wooden building this Khao Soi institution is barely a stones throw away from the ever popular (and too sweet) Samerjai. I ordered the chicken bowl, slightly recoiling when the words left my mouth. A cold glass of water was produced, and ten short minutes later a bowl set before my eyes. It looked good.
Personal taste aside this was a very good bowl of Khao Soi, however, for me it was a tad on the sweet side too. The curry sauce was packed with flavour and had a slightly thicker consistency than Islam, but lacked the altogether luxurious depth of Khun Yai. The noodles were proper, the meat was flavoured well, the side plates and chilli paste added texture, heat and complexity to the dish. However, all things aside, I see why Andy may love this place, but i'm a Khun Yai addict and will be forever more.
The quest to find a decent bowl of ramen in every country on earth.