In the food world, Austin is known for three things in particular: tacos, barbecue and food trucks. Sadly, Asian food hasn't really found a home in Austin, save for Tyson Cole's Asian-inspired big hitters Uchi and Uchiko which, although amazing, are in their own category.
But this past summer, Austin got a little taste of authentic Japanese "soul food" from a truck called Michi Ramen. Unfortunately they had to close down the mobile operation months later because of technical difficulties. Also, it was summer in Texas. Slurping piping hot noodles in outdoor 105° temperatures isn't the most pleasant dining experience.
As we waited for our little ramen truck to open a brick and mortar location a new venture called Ramen Tatsu-ya popped up on our radars. They teased us for weeks with Facebook posts and Instagrams of bearded and aproned men slaving over large stock pots and Japanese-style family meals. It was looking very promising. After all, chef and owners Takuya Matsumoto and Tatsu Aikawa are seasoned ramen veterans.
Ramen Tatsu-ya recently opened, and every night has been packed wall to wall. So how's the ramen? Amazingly good. Like it can make it in downtown Tokyo with the best of them good. The rich and creamy pork (tonkotsu) broth is the base for their three (currently) available soup options: original Tonkotsu, Miso-Not/Hot, and Shoyu.
Shion explained how time-consuming the broth is to make. You basically have to melt the entire pork bone into a liquid. Each bowl comes with generous toppings but add-ons include chashu pork belly, ajitama (marinated soft-boiled eggs), narutomaki (fish cakes), self-pressed fresh garlic and different spicy "bombs" to customize the heat level of your bowl (including a fusiony Mexican bomb). The fresh, thin noodles, made by their "noodle-guy" in LA, are so perfectly toothsome they could make any Italian grandma cry.
Check out the sides and small bites too: homemade Japanese style curry, brightly dressed daikon and carrot salad, sautéed spicy edamame and handmade pork gyoza (which seemed to have more veggie than pork). The standout side was the Katsu slider, a breaded and deep fried beef patty on a soft hawaiian roll. Japanese style potato salad completes this take on the classic burger and fries.
Like at a true ramen-ya, you can order extra noodles (kae-dama) to soak in the leftover broth and, in true Japanese fashion, each table includes a food glossary and how-to on their house specialty reminiscent of the classic Tampopo scene.
The Ramen Rules
- Chopsticks only (we have training chopsticks on request).
- Sip the broth first, before digging into your noodles. Allow the steam to waft into your face and savor the smell; feel it run down your spine.
- Finish all the noodles before they get soggy! Yes, they do get soggy.
- Never. Never share your ramen.
- Slurp! Do it loud and shamelessly. This act actually aerates the broth and enhances the flavor of the noodles, similar to wine.
- Add toppings after sampling the original flavors.
- If you're still hungry after finishing your noodles, but have some broth remaining you can request more by saying "Sumimasen!" (Kae-dama meaning: extra noodles)
Another charming Japanese touch is the handmade decor of pressed plywood and red-dipped rope chandeliers. You can't miss the bathroom graffiti by Houston-based Blue Dozen Collective as you're washing the pork drippings from your beard. The entire place speaks wabi-sabi, but with a definite Austin edge. And in true ATX fashion, they run this ship like a food truck with Twitter and Facebook updates. It's an exciting time for ramen lovers in Austin.