Piglet Community Pick: Ivan Ramen

February 12, 2014

Read up on some of 2013's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: Aargersi tackles the recipes in Ivan Ramen.

Shop the Story

I chose Ivan Ramen thinking, “I have never made real ramen, so here’s a chance for a good read and a learning experience in one.” I had no idea what I was getting into.

The first half of the book is a memoir, with recipes to follow. I chose to read them simultaneously -- I'd read a bit of Ivan’s story, look at a recipe, decide what to make, and then head back to the story. What I quickly discovered is that, in order to create a bowl of ramen, you do not cook a single recipe. You cook eight. And those eight have sub-recipes. So in the end, there are eleven separate components to a single bowl of ramen. For each of the components, you need to gather ingredients that require a drive across town to the Asian market, the farmers market, and a standard grocery. Then you need to start cooking a week ahead of time, because many of the components are multi-hour or even two-day processes. That’s when the anxiety dreams started. I was never going to get it done.

I will pause here to say that I very much enjoyed the memoir portion of this book. It’s always interesting to read how a chef became a chef, where they learned their craft, and where life took them. Ivan writes his story in a no-nonsense, no-BS, engaging manner.

More: Looking for a noodle soup that won't take a week? We've got you. 

I decided to scrap the dream of making a bowl of ramen from scratch. My new approach? To cook two or three of the components and a couple of the “after ramen” recipes.

The first thing I made was -- of course -- dessert, but we found the Salted Lemon Sherbet too salty for our taste (I would cut the amount of salt from two teaspoons to a half teaspoon). The next thing I made was sofrito, a slow-cooked oil-and-aromatics component that can be used as a base for other dishes like fried rice. I started chopping and chopping (and chopping) the vegetables, and I began to think, “Wow, these must really shrink during cooking.” They don't. The directions say to spread the vegetables in a pan that will accommodate them in a half-inch layer. Don’t bother trying your 9-by-13 or your Dutch oven -- there are enough vegetables that you'll need your turkey roaster.

Once the sofrito was cooked and cooled, I used it to make the Ome Raisu, or rice omelet. I chose this because it contained three things: sofrito, egg, and ketchup (and he had me at ketchup). It's easy to make, and certainly qualifies as comfort food. The caramelized vegetables in the sofrito add a richness to the fried rice that you wouldn't get from frying it in plain oil. If you are not a ketchup lover, though, steer clear. 

Next up: Pork Belly Chasu. The ingredients are easily obtained, and you end up with two wonderful things: a nicely cooked pork belly ready for use in any number of recipes (Ivan’s version of a Cuban sandwich is on my to-do list) plus the poaching liquid, which you should save. It can be used for the half-cooked eggs in the book, or you can simply soft-boil some eggs, peel them, and soak them in it while you prepare the rest of dinner.

Making a complete bowl of ramen is a daunting task, even for a project-loving cook. I may still opt for a ramen shop over doing it at home, but even still, Ivan Ramen has things to teach. 


The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joanne
  • stresscake
  • Greenstuff
  • EmFraiche
  • hardlikearmour

Written by: aargersi

Country living, garden to table cooking, recent beek, rescue all of the dogs, #adoptdontshop


Joanne February 24, 2014
I too, would be intimidated by the task of making ramen from scratch. I often go to ramen shops around my city (Toronto) and enjoy a steaming bowl for $12 or so. That being said, I would still purchase this cookbook because it offers other things to make besides ramen. So for those who like me, who enjoy ramen but don't want to make it, there are other goodies in the book to try out.
stresscake February 15, 2014
So wait ... You reviewed a ramen book but didn't make ramen? What kind of "review" is that? Of course the process is lengthy and complicated but that's the point of this book - delicious ramen CAN be made at home. Sheesh.
aargersi February 15, 2014
It's an honest review I'd say ... simply wasn't up for a full week of driving all over and shopping and cooking 11 separate recipes for the end result. Maybe some day I will be? In the meantime, I tried a few of the other recipes in the book. If you get the book and go through the whole process I'd love to hear how it goes and that the ramen is worth the trip - maybe that would get me and others to do it too!!
stresscake February 19, 2014
I did. It's why I bought the book, why anyone should buy the book really - to learn more about the ramen process and see if I could pull it off at home. I could and I did. Twice to date. Sure it took time and involved a trip to the Japanese grocery store out in the 'burbs but the recipes, while involved, weren't really any more complicated than any "project" type recipe. If you routinely or even occasionally make involved dishes, this is just another one albeit with ingredients you might not be as familiar with. But if you're a project person, it's certainly do-able, within the realm of your abilities and the results are amazing. There's a reason real ramen tastes so damn good - like anything else it takes a little time and effort to coax out those flavors. This deceptively simple seeming bowl of soup is no fast food. And if your Asian market is like mine and has a food court, you can have a bowl there for inspiration and comparison.
Greenstuff February 12, 2014
Thanks for this honest review. I've thought about making ramen--the broth, authentic noodles, the toppings. Fortunately, we have a remarkable ramen shop just down the street, so I don't have to act on that goal.
EmFraiche February 12, 2014
I've never cooked from Ivan Ramen, but I've made ramen from the fantastic coobook Takashi's Noodles. The recipes can be a little intimidating at first, but once you have a few pantry staples from the Asian grocery they're definitely do-able. Usually the ramen recipes have a "base" and a broth that are often based on similar or the same ingredients with a few variations. Then the recipes just vary in vegetable, meat, and type of noodle. At least this is my experience so far. Don't be too intimidated, because the results are so rewarding!
hardlikearmour February 12, 2014
I'm with 5&S. I never realized how complicated making real ramen is.
fiveandspice February 12, 2014
Great review and fun read Abbie! I'm soooo intimidated by ramen.