An Invitation to Slurp: Famous Japanese Ramen Empire Ippudo to Open in Berkeley on July 28

Noodles made on site and bone broth simmered for 20 hours are two of the keys to Ippudo’s superior quality.

Signs all over the handsome new space, with a golden-hued, wood-centric dining room and a gleaming stainless-steel kitchen with steam rising in various sections, have “zuzutto” written on them: slurp noisily. Say the word out loud: zuzutto! It’s onomatopoeic, and while Americans have a hard time with the concept, slurping one’s ramen actually helps increase one’s enjoyment of it, dispersing the aromatics into the nether reaches of the palate and up into the retronasal canal.

The Ippudo dining area
The Ippudo dining area (Wendy Goodfriend)

Let’s cut to the chase: It’s worth it. Vow to yourself in advance not to complain about the long lines you’ll inevitably encounter, because waiting for ramen this good is a small price to pay for such game-changing deliciousness. Call it a gift, even, an opportunity to anticipate pleasure. Ippudo, the Japanese ramen chain founded by ramen master Shigemi Kawahara in Fukuoka in 1985, has not been diluted by its expansion throughout Asia, then into New York, London, Australia, and now Berkeley (soon to be followed by San Francisco). That’s partly because the restaurant’s vision has remained consistent: Keep changing to remain unchanged. And because the noodles and the pork broth that form the heart of these steaming bowls are made every day on site.

Ippudo's akamaru modern ramen
Ippudo's akamaru modern ramen (Wendy Goodfriend)

The most stereotypical American view of homemade pasta might be the image of an Italian grandmother bearing all her weight on a wooden roller, working the dough that will become any number of possible pasta shapes. But homemade pasta in Ippudo’s ramen state of mind is higher-tech. A giant machine in the back room holds a roll of dough in one long, flat sheet, tidy as new roll of paper towels, just mixed by an adjacent large machine. With the flip of a switch, the dough rolls out and is cut, then calibrated by hand-measuring. Once the machine is properly set, the ramen maker scoops up each batch (enough for a big bowl), then gently folds it and lays it out to dry in a little nest-like bunch, serving by serving. Where Italian pasta-making is a flexible art, ramen making of this variety is a precision skill.

Ippudo's fresh-made noodles
Ippudo's fresh-made noodles (Wendy Goodfriend)

As important as the noodles are to the ramen equation, even more important is the broth, and I would argue that Ippudo’s approach to broth is what gives it a leg up on any competition I’ve tried, including the wonderful Ramen Shop, which has a more local-seasonal approach and is admittedly more creative. Ippudo is going more for a carrying out of longstanding tradition than a reinvention of the wheel. Big buckets of pork bones are dropped into pots of boiling water nearly three feet tall and kept on simmer for more than 20 hours. The style of ramen you order depends on how much lard is added back in to the finished dish.

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Ippudo’s three basic styles of broth are:

  • shiromaru: long-simmered tonkatsu (pork) broth with their signature dashi
  • akamaru modern: the above tonkatsu broth with secret “umami dama” miso paste to richen it
  • karaka spicy: tonkatsu broth with a blend of chiles and other secret spices
Karaka Spicy Ramen at Ippudo
Karaka Spicy Ramen at Ippudo (Wendy Goodfriend)

Once you choose your soup style, you then decide how firm you’d like your noodles. “Yawa” is soft and “kata” is al dente (to borrow an Italian term), and “badi” means very, so “bari yawa” is very soft and “bari gata” is very firm. All of these fine gradations, which are discernable on the palate, are the result of just a few-second shift in cooking time, the entire range of styles cooked for between 20 and 40 seconds.

The noodles are cooked in individual strainers to control portion size and firmness.
The noodles are cooked in individual strainers to control portion size and firmness. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Ippudo’s staff has come to know their ramen ways as “intentional” (intentionality being a value) ameliorating any concerns I had about the large chain-ness of this business. If American businesses had more intentionality in their basic endeavors, then our chains would likely be of much higher quality, too. The approach is quite poetic, in my estimation.

Ippudo's Principle: Keep changing to remain unchanged.
Ippudo's Principle: Keep changing to remain unchanged. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Ippudo's server team
Ippudo's server team (Wendy Goodfriend)

Each bowl is then topped with a whole soft-boiled, seasoned egg, scallions and marinated wood ear mushrooms. Simple perfection.

Ramen ready to be served
Ramen ready to be served (Wendy Goodfriend)

And let’s not forget about the appetizers. We sampled the legendary pork buns, which were also profound in their simplicity: just pork belly, mayonnaise and a leaf of iceberg lettuce. The fried eggplant buns were just as good, and the fried chicken will, mark my word, become a Berkeley legend in no time. Crisp cucumber slices in sesame sauce punctuate the rich pork fat throughout the meal.

Ippudo has a sake philosophy, too: rice + wheat = harmony, the opposite of our paleo-leaning trends in the U.S. Taste for yourself. Choose one of four sake styles: mild and gentle, fragrant and luxurious, clean and crisp, or classic and aged, and pair with the various ramen choices. As a standalone drink, I tend to prefer the aged sakes that are more toasty and wood-framed than sweet (like the Daishichi Kimoto Honjozo), but with the spicy broth I think the fruit- and floral-toned Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai works best, as it offers the ballast of elegant sweetness, much in the way a Riesling pairs well with spicy Thai food.

Sake at Ippudo
Sake at Ippudo (Wendy Goodfriend)

Two parting pieces of information: Yes, the kitchen uses MSG. Go with it. And don’t over-order, as there are no to-go boxes.

See you in line at Ippudo!

Ippudo exterior
Ippudo exterior (Wendy Goodfriend)

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Ippudo
2015 Shattuck Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 666-8807
Hours: Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-midnight; Sun, 11am-10pm
Price Range: $-$$ ($14-$20 ramen)
Facebook: @IppudoUS
Twitter: @ippudo_us
Instagram: @ippudous

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