food truck quick bite: torraku ramen...you mean those noodles from college?!
Ramen--it's been like an old craze that's new and hot again. When I first heard it being bandied about I was like, "you mean that salty hard noodle stuff with bits of freeze dried peas in it you just add water to ramen?" And the answer was, well yes and no. That's how many folks remember it being introduced here through those little cup of noodles and that hard square version with the seasoning packet. It sort of became a staple for those of us living on the cheap or in college.
These days it has come of age and returned to its original roots as a flavored noodle soup with assorted toppings and broth of beef or fish covering it. A quick Google check shows at least 40! ramen noodle restaurants or ones which serve it in San Francisco alone. That makes it more than just a craze, it is an ingrained lifestyle choice. Honestly, I never really understood the fascination, it just felt like an Asian chicken noodle soup and since I'm not the biggest pasta fan, I was always, eh.
Me and the SO recently hit up SOMA StrEat Food Park on a late Saturday or something and looking over the options, seems I'd eaten at all but Torraku Ramen. Ok then, looks like someone's trying to tell me something. The SO opted for the pizza at Firetrail, I decided to just suck it up (literally) and give ramen a try.
Their menu is laid out pretty simply where you fill out a ticket and check off the boxes for style of broth, toppings, spiciness and then upcharge extras if want. I thought I would go a little untraditional and try the curry ramen.
A bowl of noodles covered in Japanese curry mixed with the tonkotsu (pork bone) broth, soft boiled egg, carrots, onion, chives, seaweed sheath and chastu--pork roast marinated in mirin and soy sauce for $12. Japanese curry is pretty similar to the Indian yellow curry, at least it was here with all the same flavors. Fortunately, it was distinctive enough to taste and to cover the sprinkle of miso I forgot to ask them not to do. I just don't like miso. What you see in the pic is everything on top. Underneath is really is nothing but noodles and you do get a fair amount of them. I did ask for medium spice but it came off more mostly mild so they could have brought that up a level.
While the flavor of the curry in and of itself was as expected, I'm not totally convinced it is the best spice to put with the other items in the bowl. Trying the pieces separately, it was a disconnect for me. The meat was tender at least but I didn't really get any of the flavors it supposedly was marinated in. Tasted like a really thin pork chop--with curry. Wasn't the biggest fan of the egg, particularly with the curry and it was on the room temp to cooler side. Kind of brought up a slimy texture issue for me I had trouble eating. Then there was the seaweed wrap, ugh, seaweed and curry do not mix. I'm not the biggest fan of seaweed in any form and the mix here made me gag just a little. Even the SO, who loves some sushi thought the combo tasted off and said it didn't work. If they don't like, it ain't good.
As a whole, this bowl just didn't come together taste wise and I'm just not sure curry and these ingredients go together. Plus, $12 just seems like a lot for what comes down to half an egg, a thin slice of pork and a handful of carrots and onions over some noodles and broth. I guess if you are hungry, it can be a hot and filling meal. But in SF, it won't be an old-school low cost thing if you are eating out.
When I ordered my bowl, they were doing a special of hirata buns with kakuni. Basically that is a steamed bun with pork belly. Since I can't pass up pork belly I ordered up 2 at $3 a pop. One for me one for the SO.
A steamed bun filled with pork belly braised in soy sauce, mirin and other spices with chives, pickled daikon and some sriracha mayo. They were of decent size and while the pork belly had an interesting color, I figured it was probably from the soy marinade. I took one bit of these and right away hated it. The pork had a weird, bitter, almost fishy taste to it that was wholly unpleasant to me. I don't know if there was too much mirin, too much miso, too many "exotic spices" or whatever, it just didn't taste good. Even the sriracha mayo wasn't enough to overcome it.
But sometimes, my taste buds can be overly sensitive to harsh flavors and I thought I'd let the SO chime in. They took one bite, then a second to be sure, made an unhappy face and gave it a thumbs down. Fishy taste was the reason for the dislike. Which is rather odd as mirin is usually used in small amounts to actually take away or tone down the fishy. Though whatever they did here, just made it worse. I've had some not good pork belly, but this ranks at the top as probably the worst. Neither one of us could even finish these.
So goes my ramen noodle experience, at least where Torraku Ramen food truck is concerned. Between pricing and flavor combos, it is enough to put someone totally off ramen and even pork belly, which is a sin where I'm from (the pork belly not the noodle). I won't say this experience would keep me from trying ramen again, I just would hesitant to dish out the bucks for noodles you can get 10 for $1 at Costco. Add in the melange of uncomplimentary flavors and my reticence rises. I'm not saying I won't try ramen again sometime, I'm just not gonna' go out looking for what is essentially a bowl of noodle soup. If I ever do get a hankering, I'll just got to Safeway and get Campbell's or Progresso or something instead. It will be cheaper and easier, without all that fishy taste.