Gastro: Ai Ramen

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No noodlin’ around

Judging by the line of people waiting for a table at Ai Ramen, Stockholm’s very first ramen bar to actually make its own wheat noodles is doing everything right. Being awarded the Gulddraken award for Stockholm’s best cheap eats by daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter has also helped making the already-long wait for a table even more tedious.

For those who’ve hidden under a rock during the last year or so, ramen is undoubtedly the city’s latest fast food fad. The Japanese noodle soup dish, which consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in broth and topped with all sorts of goodness, has been a staple in Asia forever. Outside of Asia, ramen has long associated with the three-for-a-buck instant noodles that come in plastic packets at the corner grocer.

At Ai Ramen, the noodle is treated with reverential respect. The secret weapon of co-founders Erik Rehnby and Lowe Elers is a noodle machine that is directly imported from Japan. But without the broth, which is slow-cooked for 18 hours, the noodle wouldn’t reach its full potential. We go for a Tonkotsu (115 kronor) and a ramen of the week, the Tonto Ramen (95 kronor), along with a side of kimchee (20 kronor) and a glass of Asahi beer (70 kronor).

While enjoying a complementary appetizer of pickled gherkins sprinkled with sesame seeds and finely-chopped red peppers, we watch countless bowls of ramen being prepared by a chef in a Zen-like state. At a pace that ensures he’ll never stress a day in his life, he pours ladles of piping hot broth over the glistening noodles. And once we take our first slurp of the soup, it becomes quite clear what a significant role the broth plays. While the Tonkotsu (noodles in pork broth topped with a large piece of pork belly, pickled white globe onion, baked garlic and a boiled egg) make our taste buds zing, the Tonto Ramen, (pork and fish broth in equal measures, pulled pork, pointed cabbage and 63-degree egg) just isn’t as rich and gratifying. Ordering a side of kimchee also feels quite unnecessary.

For lovers of ramen and for those who want to lose their ramen virginity, Ai Ramen is the place to go – just make sure to take a few cautionary steps before going. Make sure you get there early, or your lunch hour will turn into a long lunch. Opt for a well-tried signature dish like the ‘Tonkotsu’, instead of the weekly specials. And finally, come prepared for a loud sound level and uncomfortable and crammed seating.

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Ai Ramen Erstagatan 22 airamen.se