There's nothing like the distended dizziness that sets in after the final slurp of a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Lips are coated with a veneer of slippery fat. That knot of noodles, now ensconced in your stomach, is starting to puff up like a biscuit. How the Japanese indulge in such delights and return to work without hesitation or weariness is a mystery.
If you want noodles, a rich broth, and luscious, savory meat, chicken ramen is your golden goose. Such delicate bowls have been few and far between in Miami, where ramen is still sticking around, though it never quite seized the eating public's imagination in the way doughnuts did.
I encountered a beautiful bowl of chicken ramen at Washington, D.C.'s Bantam King, where an opaque, golden broth is founded on chicken and only chicken. The result is a soup akin to chicken noodle but with a little extra allium punch and hefty lump of miso to season, enrich, and thicken the whole thing with a touch of added body.
In Orlando, I found a spectacular chicken ramen with a clear shoyu broth the color of lightly brewed tea fortified here and there with dribbles of duck fat and filled out with ribbons of wood ear mushrooms and frisky garlic chives.
Back home, chicken ramen options are scant. Truth be told, chicken often takes a back seat in Japan, where poultry parts are layered into soups like the chicken-pork-seafood hybrid found in Asahikawa in Hokkaido prefecture or Toyko shoyu ramen, whose broth is made with pork, chicken, vegetables, kombu seaweed, and the cured shave tuna called katsuobushi.
Perhaps the best option in Miami can be found nestled into the basement of the Townhouse Hotel in the space that used to be Bond Street Lounge but has been taken over by SBE Group and turned into K. Ramen. Burger. Beer. Here, chef Jason Acoba plies a spicy black miso ramen ($14) rife with tender strands of braised chicken. It starts with chicken carcasses and feet boiled with kombu, leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and bonito flakes, yielding a fragrant, delicate broth. Next comes a hefty dose of salty black miso that turns the brew an evil ebony hue. A dose of chilies and cracked sesame seeds lends an alluring spice and nutty flavor that pairs smartly with the miso and clings to thin, chewy noodles.
Nearby at Pubbelly, which added noodle bar onto its name about a year ago and swapped many of its larger plates for starch-based bowls, Jose Mendin reformats the ingredients and techniques of his native Puerto Rico into soup form with his mofongo ramen ($19). In this case, he begins with a sofrito — a blend of tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro cooked until jammy, then diluted and filled with chicken carcasses. It's left to simmer for two hours and then strained; what's left boasts all the salty savoriness you'd expect to find in a bowl of pork broth without any of the heaviness. Of course, Mendin brings some of it back in with a sphere of mofongo plunked in the middle that slowly melts and thickens the broth while razor-thin shards of fried chicken provide the crunch.
Mofongo ramen at Pubbelly Noodle Bar.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Of course, none of this is meant to denigrate pork-first ramens or its many fine purveyors around town, among them Momi Ramen, Shimuja inside Brickell's Baby Jane, and Coral Gables' Ichimi Ramen (though the chefs seem to change quite often, leading to shifts in reliability).
But while you're there, look out for the bird. And even if there's no poultry present, think about going with a lighter shio- (salt) or shoyu-based soup that will give all the satisfaction of your usual tonkotsu and perhaps leave you feeling light enough to put down another bowl.
K Ramen Burger Beer. 50 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-534-7895; sbe.com.
Pubbelly Noodle Bar. 418 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-532-7555; pubbelly.com.
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Momi Ramen. 5 SW 11th St., Miami, 786-391-2392; momiramen.com.
Baby Jane. 500 Brickell Ave., Miami; 786-803-8004; babyjanemiami.com.
Ichimi Ramen. 2330 Salzedo St., Coral Gables; 305-960-7016; facebook.com/ichimiramen.