Portland, ME: Getting My Ramen Fix at Pai Men Miyake
Ever since the charter issue of Lucky Peach hit newsstands, I've been making myself a promise: This is the weekend I'm going to make ramen.
Unfortunately, I've been saying that for months now, but not because my noodle soup craving has subsided. Not in the least. It's just that this place, Masa Miyake's noodle shop called Pai Men Miyake, has been feeding me so well that procrastination has become a delicious habit.
It doesn't help that, in addition to a variety of ramens, they offer snacks like gyoza and pork belly buns. The pork and cabbage potstickers ($6) are light and delicate, not dense like the meatball marbles that tumble out of most dumpling wrappers, with an impressively crisp mahogany sear. And just look at those pleats! Tidier than a dressmaker could do.
Of the two styles of pork buns to choose from, I can't pull myself away from the mantou buns ($9) propped open like Pac-Man faces around thick slabs of pork belly, spicy-sweet gochujang mayo, and pickled pepper relish. (The other style, called Nikuman, look like Chinese bao and are filled with ground pork belly.) The fatty meat is so silky and tender, you almost wonder how it doesn't collapse as soon as you pick it up, but there's a good sear on the outside that creates a crisp crust sturdy enough to keep the thing blessedly intact from plate to mouth.
Before I disclose my preferred ramen broth (all $9.50), I'd like to say that I have an irrational self-consciousness about my choice. For some reason, I have it in my head that ultra-porky tonkotsu broth is what "real" ramen lovers go for. Maybe it's because my first introduction to ramen was Top Ramen's Oodles of Noodles and my second was Wagamama—and I loved them both; there, I said it—but when I saw there was an option for pai tan (pork and chicken) broth, I thought maybe that might be for me, and I was right. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying: I'm making a comparative statement about ramen broths, and I would never think twice about slurping down a bowl of tonkotsu. All I'm saying is that sometimes its gamey melted butter flavor can be, well, like gamey melted butter. Cutting the pork with chicken broth makes the whole thing a little cleaner-tasting, and I like that. Besides, do you see the gorgeous streaks of fat in that slice of pork? There's no shortage of pig love here.
I also have a confession to make regarding the noodles: I understand that some broths are meant to take the straight noodles and others the wavy ones, but I'm addicted to the springy wavy kind, so I always ask for those, not to mention the kaedama noodle refill ($2.50). I wish more noodle soups came with an extra-noodles option.
Pai men Miyake
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.