Old and new ramen “by-players”! Extra-thick board, square shaped… The evolution of “menma” never stops!
Naruto,” which decorated the bowl of rice in the pioneering days of ramen, is disappearing from cutting-edge ramen…
The classic toppings for ramen are chashu pork, seasoned egg, nori …… and menma! For the eater, the crunchy texture is the perfect accent. In the ramen scene of the ’20s, where innovation in ingredients has been half the battle, how has menma evolved? We explored the “current state of menma” through ramen noodles that have won the “Menma Craftsman Award,” which recognizes “outstanding menma cooking techniques and a love of menma of exceptional quality.
It goes well with handmade pulled noodles! The true identity of the extra-thick board menma / Teuchi Menma Matsuri Kameisou (Chofu)
Look at it! This thickness! Menma is usually sliced into thin strips, but the square board-shaped menma at “Teuchi Men Matsuri Kameisaki” is thicker and more flavorful. They are thick, well seasoned, and delicious!
Since its opening in Chofu City in June 2010, “Kame Iro” has attracted a lot of attention as a rookie restaurant with a long line of customers along Koshu Kaido Road. The owner is Kota Kamei, who started working part-time at a ramen restaurant while still in college, and trained hard by staying overnight at the restaurant. He has been making handmade noodles and thick, rich soups. His wife, Shuran, is in charge of the board menma and other ingredients such as chashu pork.
Shuran says that she was not fond of menma to begin with. She carefully prepares them in about two weeks, hoping that customers like me will enjoy them as much as she does.
What is the process?
First, let me explain the general preparation method for menma. There are four main types of menma that ramen stores can purchase. There are four main types of menma that ramen shops can purchase: dried menma, “mizu-ni-ni menma,” which is dried menma that has been soaked in hot water at the manufacturer’s factory and then packed, salted menma, which is soaked in hot water and then stored in salt for preservation, and seasoned menma, which is soaked in hot water and then seasoned.
Seasoned menma can be used as a ramen topping as is, but menma boiled in water requires seasoning in the store. Salted bamboo shoots must be seasoned after being soaked in hot water (without salt) after purchasing. Dried bamboo shoots are also seasoned after being soaked in hot water at the store, but because they are dried, soaking them in hot water is time-consuming and energy-consuming. The water is changed many times while removing dirt and other contaminants, making preparation a time-consuming and labor-intensive task.
However, the smell peculiar to dried fish is removed and the bamboo shoots are filled with water after being soaked in hot water. By adjusting the temperature of the soaking water and the frequency of water changes, it is possible to achieve a texture that fits the soup and noodles of the restaurant. In other words, the advantage of dried bamboo shoots is that they can be made to have the flavor and texture that the chef intended. Salted or seasoned bamboo shoots are heated during the preparation process, and the looping of the boiling process inevitably results in a softening of the bamboo shoots. The texture tends to be moist and crunchy rather than crispy and crunchy.
The board bamboo shoots prepared by Zhu Lan of Kameme Irora have a pleasant crunchy texture. Seasoned with a sweet homemade soy sauce sauce, they are a perfect match for the soup. The texture and flavor are enhanced by careful tuning, while the unique shape and eye-catching size, which are not found in ready-made products, add color to the ramen. This is the “Kameisou” style of menma.
The extra-thick menma lined up in a row of sleepers is a highlight! Sea Turtle Shokudo (Yokohama)
The next to the board-like thick bamboo shoots is a square piece of wood, or even a sleeper! The next to the board-like thick bamboo shoots is a square of wood, or even a sleeper! Next to the board-like extra-thick menma is the specialty of “Sea Turtle Shokudo” in Tsuzuki Ward, Yokohama City. They are the mainstay of the ramen, but when you put them in your mouth, they are so soft that you can easily chew them up.
While the bamboo shoots at Kame Iro were fun to chew through the fibers, those at Sea Turtle Shokudo have a fresh texture with no sense of fiber. Here, dried bamboo shoots are slowly rehydrated over a period of three weeks. The process of boiling the dried bamboo shoots in water and then letting them rest is repeated about 10 times. The menma is carefully seasoned with sesame oil and chashu sauce, and a hint of sweet soy sauce permeates every inch of the pillowy bamboo shoots. After biting into it, the deep flavor of the menma will slowly overflow into your mouth.
Polly & crunchy, stick pickled bamboo shoots! /Tombo (Musashino City)
After the thick and heavy menma sticks, let us introduce an honorable mention from “Tombo” (Musashino City), which delivers an exquisite crunchy texture in the form of conventional thinly sliced sticks. This ramen store was ranked 8th in the “Famous Shoyu Shop Shoyu Category” of the TRY Ramen Awards ’23, and was described by the TRY judges as “the highest level of light shoyu in Tokyo and the three prefectures of Japan.
The menma are dried and carefully rehydrated to retain their flavor and crispy texture. The menma play a supporting role in this shoyu ramen masterpiece, and the “menma gohan” is a must-try for menma fans. If you are a menma fan, you should definitely order this dish.
The mixture of green onions and bamboo shoots is a new experience / Ramen Shop Satte Kaneda-Tei (Satte City, Saitama Prefecture)
In recent years, more and more ramen stores have begun to use pickled bamboo shoots. The menma’s flexible swimming in the soup and smooth texture are truly the angels of the menma world. They are often thought of as a …… that goes well with light soy sauce soup or clear salt soup, but they can also be used in voluminous ways.
The use of hosaki menma at Ramen Shop Satte Kaneda Tei, which opened in Satte City in 1993, was praised at the Menma Craftsman Award 2023 as “going beyond the realm of a topping and becoming a complete dish in its own right.
Negi (green onions) and Hotsaki menma are blended powerfully with the broth to create a superb mix of crunchy and moist textures. The bamboo shoots are sliced into thin strips like white-haired leeks, and the design of the ramen blends well with the whole soup.
While “Naruto” is fading from the tip ramen… the reason for the “Menma Craftsman Award”.
We have seen the metamorphosis of menma into boards, sleepers, sticks, and fine rips. Behind it all lies the skill and ambition of craftsmen who sincerely pursue their ingredients and strive to perfect their ramen… Akihiko Yoshino, chairman of Takeman Corporation, the organizer of the Menma Craftsman Award, spoke passionately about his thoughts on the Menma Craftsman Award.
This award spotlights the menma cooking technique, which has not received much attention in the ramen industry. We have been involved in the production and development of domestically produced menma in Itoshima City, Fukuoka Prefecture. By focusing on menma, we aim to improve cooking techniques and create a world where menma ramen becomes more delicious.
Menma has evolved in a variety of ways, but its roots can be traced back to ingredients in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. Originally, menma was made by lacto-fermenting the matsutake mushrooms that grow in Fujian Province in southern China and in Taiwan.
Ninety-nine percent of bamboo shoots distributed in Japan are from overseas. In Japan, it is said that since it became a common ingredient in ramen noodles, it came to be called ‘menma,’ which means ‘bamboo shoots on noodles,'” says Yoshino.
In mainland China and Taiwan, machiku is rarely served on noodles, and is mostly used as a boiled or stir-fried dish. In Japan as well, it is only found on the menus of Chinese restaurants other than ramen stores, and it is not an ingredient that has penetrated the dining table to that extent. How did it come to adorn a bowl of ramen as a famous ingredient? –The answer is not really clear-cut.
There is a theory that Chinese soba originated in 1919 at Asakusa Rairaiken, which was founded in 1910 and is said to have created the first ramen boom in Japan, and another theory that Chinese soba originated in Yokohama, where it was served in Nankinmachi (present-day Chinatown) in Yokohama during the 1890s. There are various theories as to the origin of “as a ramen ingredient,” including the theory that it was imported in large quantities from Taiwan by a trader in Kobe in 1937 and then spread to other parts of Japan.
In any case, it is certain that it was extremely difficult to purchase fresh ingredients for Chinese cuisine during the Meiji-Taisho period (1868-1912), when logistics were not yet well developed. On the other hand, dried bamboo shoots could be preserved and easily imported from China and Taiwan. Compared to dried abalone and scallops, menma was also inexpensive. It was probably an easy-to-use ingredient for craftspeople in the early days of ramen.
Nowadays, post ramen noodles with a crunchy texture, such as eringi mushrooms, yama-kurage, and kikurage mushrooms, are being introduced one after another. The days of using menma because it is “easy to procure” or “easy to store and handle” are gone. However, as the gems introduced here show, menma has not stopped evolving thanks to the diligence and efforts of craftspeople.
As Menma says, “Delicious ramen is the result of careful handling of each ingredient and concentration of nerves in every step of the process. If you focus on the menma, the ramen will taste even better,” says Yoshino.
While the naruto that decorated bowls of ramen in its pioneering days is disappearing from cutting-edge ramen, there is still room for innovation in this old and new bipartisan ingredient. Now is the time to pay attention to menma.
Interview and text： Masataka Sasaki
Born in Akita Prefecture in 1972. Representative of Kids Factory. He has edited several ramen books, including "Hideyuki Ishigami Ramen Selection" (Futabasha), "The Industry's Highest Authority TRY Certified Ramen Grand Prize" (Kodansha), and "Ramen Saikyou Unchiku Ishigami Hideyuki" (Shinyusha), and is a contributing author to "Chuka-Soba NEO: Evolving Shoyu Ramen Expressions and Techniques" (Shibata Shoten). He loves ramen and his motto is "Be a pervert in your quest for ramen and a gentleman in your behavior.