Ramen Yamadaya: An Umami Gun Set to Stun
F. Friesema Jonagold apples
What could be more piggy than pork? Tonkotsu ramen, aficionados insist, and they may have a point. Tonkotsu broth is made by boiling pork bones until they collapse under their own weight. Nobody but a puritan would think of ordering tonkotsu ramen without a heavy lashing of the melted back fat referred to as kotteri, and it is often tempting to supplement the meager slice of chashu garnishing the noodles with an extra handful of the simmered pork -- or even a slab of kakuni, pork belly boiled until it threatens to dissolve at the touch of a spoon. A tricked-out bowl of tonkotsu ramen can be lethal.
Yamadaya, a new ramen shop not far from Tito's Tacos in Culver City, takes porkiness to a new extreme, a tongue-coating, brain-penetrating pig plasma that comes at you as if shot from an umami gun set to stun. You don't just eat Yamadaya ramen, you wear it like a straitjacket. You're not going anywhere until you're done. The room is long and bare; the noodle-sotted customers have the distinct, hollow-eyed look of screenwriters and grad students. One sees the occasional order of the kare-age fried chicken, which is OK in a bento-box kind of way, but that's taking the coward's way out. The one permissible variation is tsukemen, thick chewy noodles served by themselves, with a superfunky dipping sauce -- basically the tonkotsu broth boiled down to a fish-laced syrup -- on the side.