The Comforting Fusion of Matzo Ball Ramen

A gift from the diaspora, perfect to break the fast.

September 14, 2021
Photo by Joe Baur

I hustled into Shalom Japan in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on a stormy Friday night. It was dimly lit inside and had all the ambience of a casual Japanese ramen joint. Inside the bathroom, there was an enlarged photo of a Levy’s Jewish Rye ad from the ’60s, which read “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy's real Jewish Rye” in large black letters, with a picture of a Japanese boy dressed in a white shirt and red tie holding his sandwich next to an open bag of Levy’s Jewish Rye.

There was only a handful of tables. I grabbed a seat at the bar with an open view of the kitchen to my right. A native New Yorker I had met in Berlin happened to be in town at the same time and joined me. I saw chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi busy at work and turned my attention to the menu, giving it a cursory glance. But we both already knew we were getting the matzo ball ramen soup. How could we not?

Matzo ball ramen soup: It sounds like forced fusion, doesn’t it? But it actually makes sense. Matzo balls are chameleons of the soup world. They can just plop into a bowl without crashing the party. Chefs and husband-wife duo Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi combine their Ashkenazi Jewish and Japanese backgrounds for a warm, brothy bowl that just makes sense.

Historical Jewish cooking mirrors the well-known story of persecution. Jews made similar dishes as their neighbors, with religious Jews adapting recipes to make them kosher. When they’d get kicked out of town by some new royal decree, they’d take their recipes, settle someplace else, and start blending their food with that of their new neighbors.

But what’s happening at Shalom Japan is something different. The matzo ball ramen wasn’t birthed out of persecution, but out of love. We can increasingly see this across the Jewish culinary world. In many ways, Jewish food is evolving on its own terms for the first time in history, and dishes like Shalom Japan’s matzo ball ramen are a celebration of that freedom.

Shalom Japan uses a chicken broth with char siu chicken, scallions, and nori as its base for the soup. For a little extra, you can get a soy-marinated egg, foie gras dumplings, or an additional matzo ball. Though basically a vegetarian in my own kitchen, I tend to indulge in unique experiences when I travel. So I decided to go for the foie gras dumplings, and the soy-marinated egg was already a no-brainer.

After a few slurpy noodles from the steamy bowl of ramen, one of the waiters stopped by and asked how we liked the matzo ball ramen and if we’d ever had it before.

“I’ve had ramen and matzo ball soup before,” I nodded. “But not together.”

“For someone who isn’t Japanese or Jewish, it just makes sense to me,” he said, clearly smiling behind his mask.

Indeed it does.

Back in Berlin, I took a crack at my own matzo ball ramen, and it came together nicely. There was the earthiness of the veggie broth, with carrots, celery, turnips, parsley, onions, and dill: just some of the building blocks of so-called Jewish penicillin. I added corn and chopped scallions, following the lead of Shalom Japan. With the noodles I started the shift to Japan, as they were different from the wider egg noodles more typical of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Then I went full ramen with the soy-marinated, soft-boiled egg halved and left on top, with the egg yolk still oozing out.

Shalom Japan throws some garlicky chile oil on top, so feel free to use your favorite brand or make your own. Drizzling some of the soy marinade over the dish, with its chile pepper flakes, also helps bring it all together. (Oh, and I slid a small sheet of nori on the side just to be fancy-ish, I guess.)

Ultimately, one of the best things about this dish is that you can easily make it your own, to tell your own story. Use your own cherished broth and matzo ball recipe. Try skipping back-and-forth between Ashkenazi Jewish and Japanese staples, like dill or miso. Bring it out to break your Yom Kippur fast, to serve with Passover leftovers, or just to make a boring Saturday night feel special.

Have you tried matzo ball ramen soup? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SDL
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Ruth
  • gettalife
  • HalfPint
Joe Baur

Written by: Joe Baur


SDL March 30, 2024
Although it sounds like a great idea for dinner or a during the winter kind of soup, it's not a good idea for Passover, as ramen noodles are not kosher for Passover, since they are made from/with wheat. You cannot eat wheat during Passover.
gettalife March 30, 2024
SDL - Sure you can! Let us not forget that Matzo is made from wheat. It's the leavening that's the issue.
Rosalind P. September 17, 2021
This does look great, but honestly it's just matzo balls in soup. My family has eaten matzo balls in all kinds of soup forever. And in stews and other braised dishes. The best part is how the soup itself is enhanced and that would be great with or without matzo balls.
Joe B. September 17, 2021
Agreed, mostly! I interviewed a guy recently who said he's seen matzo balls in sopa de fideo.

That said, I think matzo balls *do* enhance a bowl of ramen. It's a different kind of texture and flavor (depending on how you make them) than what you'd find in a traditional bowl of ramen. If I made a tee-shirt, it would read "Matzo Balls Enhance Everything."

Thanks for reading!
Rosalind P. September 17, 2021
And thank you. I think that was what I was trying to say but you did it much better. 🥴
Joe B. September 17, 2021
Haha, my pleasure. :)
Ruth September 16, 2021
I could be wrong, but I don't think ramen noodles are kosher for Passover. Maybe do a bit of fact-checking?

This isn't so much about this article, but it might have been nice to see an article about actual Jewish holiday cooking from Food52. The tone of this one really put me off. It's not that fusion is a terrible thing, but for most holidays the food media does publish articles about traditional dishes in addition to stories about those foods that break the mold.
Joe B. September 17, 2021
You're right! Silly error on my part. Updated to make it clear that you could use Passover leftovers. So, after the holiday when you can have all the chametz your heart desires!

Shanah Tovah!
Rosalind P. March 30, 2024
So many times, the mainstream media gets it wrong, but i guess we should just be happy that they recognize our culture and our community. Mostly, it's when they mix meat and dairy in one dish or menu, but there are always glitches when it comes to Passover too. Although I admit it's been better in recent years.
gettalife September 16, 2021
Can't wait to try this. Thanks for making a vegetarian version!
Joe B. September 17, 2021
My pleasure! Very easy to keep this dish vegetarian.
HalfPint September 16, 2021
This looks soooo good :)
Joe B. September 16, 2021
Thank you!