There is much to be said for French food (and much against it as well), but after nearly two weeks on an extremely bread and cheese heavy diet I was drooling over the prospect of something – anything – other than French cuisine. Luckily an acquaintance of mine had tipped me off about a little ramen shop right on the edge of the first arrondissement, one that according to him was just as exciting as it was intense, so as soon as I arrived in Paris I disposed of my bags and headed out hunting.
My hopeless infatuation with ramen started when I was in Japan almost two years ago. Traveling from Tokyo through cities like Kanazawa, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Osaka gave me the opportunity to try many different regional variations of ramen, all of which charmed the pants off of me. Being a firm follower of the Kyushu Tonkotsu or ‘Hakata’ ramen I’m not above a well-made shio ramen and would love to travel to Hokkaido to try a few of the ramen varieties hitherto missed. Residing in the ramen-free desert that is otherwise known as Oslo, Norway my day to day existence is a sorrowful, bone aching longing for the stuff. Even the places that feature ramen on the menu invariably get either the broth, the noodles, the topping or just plain everything wrong (mostly everything wrong).
So, you can imagine my excitement as I set out for what turned out to be the Japantown of Paris and Kotteri Ramen Naritake. Now this little hole-in-the-wall doesn’t have a proper website, but it’s been covered by bloggers like The boy who ate the world and features on many of the food guides to Asian joints in Paris. Said blog and sites had warned me of the seemingly unavoidable que, so when I arrived – huffing and puffing from a quick march from the Latin quarter – I remained calm despite the line that snaked itself just outside the door.
Despite the evening chaos the waiters were sweet, logical and efficient. The interior went in a dapper shade of intense neon orange, so to spare your eyes I’ve gone monochrome on the pictures. Whilst waiting I had the opportunity to get a good look at the kitchen. Hot, steamy and quite small as most ramen kitchens are one had to give the staff snaps for dancing around one another in a very calm and collected manner. At one point, the restaurant being completely full and turn-over at a stand-still they actually took the time to share some orange soda and a chat or two, looking over the full restaurant and the line with seasoned, calm eyes.
Eventually a table opened up. I was placed across from a young Scandinavian woman who like me had lived in Copenhagen for a few years. We chatted a bit back and forth and she confessed to eating at Kotteri Ramen Naritake at least 2-3 times a week. The remaining evenings were spent at neighbouring ramen joint Dosanko Larmen. In short – her entire culinary life took place along one street in Japantown…
Menu-wise Naritake was quite simple. Choose your broth, choose the amount of pork-fat, pick your extras. I opted for miso broth, large fat content and extra eggs. I could probably live on seasoned eggs, but decorum always limits me from ordering more than two extra at any time. A beer and some ice tea and I was set.
Service was quick and efficient, the ramen (apparently they make their own) was quite thick but had a good al dente consistency and the pork was exemplary. I may have done myself a disfavor ordering the largest amount of pork fat though because I could literally stand my spoon in the broth, but in the end that is nobodies fault but my own. I had watched some over-cooked eggs enter into the restaurant earlier in the evening, but mine were quite perfect. Above all it was a revelation to sit down to a ramen that felt truly genuine again.
But, as my bed-fellow remarked, the ramen was at first a bit salty, then as the meal progressed overwhelmingly so. It was an anomaly, and one that she apparently hadn’t experienced before, but voices online seem to agree. All in all though it was a highly enjoyable experience and one that I would recommend. But don’t be to cocky – ask for medium to low fat on your first visit and don’t be afraid to request more broth if you want.
The following day – my ramen needs being nowhere near sated – I decided to visit the rivaling Dosanko Larmen. I was in luck – the que had just subsided and I was able to grab a spot by the window. Dosanko is a considerably larger venue than Kotteri Ramen Naritake and the color scheme less seizure-inducing, but one did get a quaint(?) feeling of Greek taverna meets falafel joint, at least in the larger back room that held most of the seats.
Again the service was effective and logical, the chefs exuded calm capability and the Chinese family sitting beside me were amusing to watch as they fumbled with their menus and asked for explanations in broken English. How easy it is to forget that these countries are separated by a vast sea and different language trees… (at least for us Scandinavians.)
When the opportunity to order came along I quickly selected the soy-based ramen with leeks, extra eggs (of course) and pimient as per recommendation from my fellow diner the day before. I’ve never seen such a pile of leeks stacked on a ramen before, but after working my way through them I encountered a fresh, tasteful and quite spicy ramen with slightly thinner and quite better noodles than the night before. The eggs were excellent, the pork up to par and the maize refreshing. I’d be hard pressed to assign this to a special type of ramen that I’ve encountered in Japan, but I’ve only visited a small portion of the islands and the flavors were spot on. Pair that with a half-bottle of sub-par warm sake and a cold beer I was ridiculously happy. When I left I couldn’t help but bow slightly and say ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ – which probably annoyed the shit out of them, but I just couldn’t help myself.
All in all these two nights of ramen filled a much needed hole in my soul. Even if the Kotteri Ramen Naritake was a bit off the mark when it came to salt and the Dosanko Larmen represented a style hitherto unknown to me they were both much more genuine than most of the ramen I’ve tried since returning from Japan. I’ve always been critical of judging a venue from a one time experience, so I won’t aspire to it here. Instead I’ll deem both ramen restaurants well worth a visit to form your own opinion, with perhaps a slight favoritism towards Dosanko Larmen.