The Origins of Taiwan Ramen
On a back street in Nagoya’s Imaike neighborhood lies the heart of Taiwan Ramen, which, despite its name, is a spicy noodle dish spread right here in Nagoya. Taiwan Ramen’s story begins in the 1960s at Misen, a Chinese restaurant in Chikusa-ku, where chef Go Misen embarked on a culinary experiment that would become a local sensation. Go, a Taiwanese immigrant sought to cater to the robust palate of Nagoya natives, known for their love of hearty and bold flavors.
The Invention by Go Misen
Go Misen’s innovation was simple yet revolutionary. He concocted a fiery broth that married the subtle complexity of Chinese cuisine with the bold, umami-packed essence of Japanese ramen. The primary ingredients were straightforward – ground pork, bean sprouts, and nira (garlic chives) – but the generous addition of spicy chili peppers set this dish apart. This was not just another noodle soup; it was a testament to Go Misen’s culinary acumen, blending the familiar with the fiery kick of spice.
Taiwan Ramen is known for its spicy and flavorful broth combined with a few key ingredients. Here’s a basic outline of what typically goes into this dish (not necessarily at Misen):
Taiwan Ramen Ingredients
- Chicken or Pork Bone Broth: The base is usually a rich broth made from chicken or pork bones.
- Soy Sauce: Used for seasoning and adding depth to the broth.
- Garlic: A significant amount of garlic infuses the broth with a strong flavor.
- Spices: The defining characteristic of the broth is its spiciness, usually achieved with red chili peppers. Other spices may be added for additional layers of flavor.
- Noodles: Thin, wheat-based ramen noodles are commonly used.
- Minced Pork: Cooked until brown and often seasoned with soy sauce and spices.
- Chives or Green Onions: These are added for a mild, oniony flavor.
- Bean Sprouts: Added for crunch and freshness.
- Chili Oil or Chili Peppers: To enhance the spiciness.
- Raw or Soft-Boiled Egg (optional): Often added on top for extra richness.
- Additional Vegetables (optional): Other vegetables like cabbage or carrots might be included depending on the recipe.
- Sesame Seeds: Often sprinkled on top for an extra nutty flavor.
- Seaweed (Nori): Sometimes used for an umami kick.
Each restaurant or chef might have their own variations or secret ingredients to add to their version of Taiwan Ramen, but these are the core components that make up this popular and spicy dish.
The Dish that Became a Sensation
Originally meant as a hearty meal for the restaurant staff, the dish soon caught the attention of Misen’s customers. Its popularity soared, and Taiwan Ramen soon became a staple on Misen’s menu. It wasn’t just the spiciness that drew people in; it was the perfect balance of flavors, the comforting warmth of the broth, and the satisfying bite of the noodles.
Misen: The Epicenter of Taiwan Ramen
The Expansion and Evolution
Over the years, Taiwan Ramen has transcended its origins. While Misen remains the birthplace, numerous eateries across Nagoya and beyond have embraced and adapted the dish.
The Expansion by the Kaku Brothers
The original Misen restaurant, founded by Go Misen, began a flavorful journey. Following its success, the legacy was carried forward by Go Misen’s brothers, each of whom established their own Misen restaurants across Nagoya. The expansion led to the presence of Misen in key locations like Yagoto, Yaba Misen, Fujigaoka, and Nisshin Takenoyama.
While each Misen restaurant shares a common thread – the iconic Taiwan Ramen – the flavors vary significantly from one location to another. This variation is not merely a result of different chefs’ interpretations but is deeply rooted in the individual culinary styles of each brother.
- Yagoto Branch: Known for its less spicy version of Taiwan Ramen, the Yagoto branch caters to a diverse palate, offering a more delicate and refreshing soup. It is particularly popular among students and those who prefer a milder spice level.
- Yaba Misen in Naka-ku: Its robust and rich flavor profile characterizes this location. The Taiwan Ramen here is known for its intense heat and robust flavor, appealing to those who relish a fiery culinary challenge.
- Fujigaoka Branch: Renowned for its exceptionally spicy Taiwan Ramen, the Fujigaoka branch takes spiciness to new heights. It’s a haven for spice enthusiasts who seek an intense, palate-tingling experience.
- Nisshin Takenoyama Branch: Offering a unique take, this branch is known for its umami-rich broth, blending spiciness with a depth of flavor. They also feature a distinct “Shio Taiwan Ramen,” offering a saltier, slightly subdued, spicy experience.
What makes each Misen restaurant more intriguing is the variation in the Taiwan Ramen and the array of other dishes offered. From stir-fried specialties to unique regional creations, each brother has infused his touch into the menu, making every visit to a Misen restaurant a new culinary adventure.
Family Legacy in Every Bowl
The narrative of Misen and its signature dish, Taiwan Ramen, unfolds as a saga encompassing familial bonds, culinary creativity, and a vast spectrum of flavors birthed from a singular, unassuming concept. Each brother’s distinct interpretation of Taiwan Ramen enriches the foundational recipe, transforming Misen from a mere eatery into an expedition of varied gustatory experiences. From the piquant depths of Fujigaoka to the gentler spice notes of Yagoto, each Misen outlet offers its own unique rendition of the dish. Taiwan Ramen transcends its status as a mere noodle dish, symbolizing a melange of cultures, the inventive zeal of a visionary chef, and its esteemed place in the culinary panorama of Nagoya. This dish tells a tale of migration, culinary adaptation, and imaginative flair. Patrons indulging in the spicy, rich broth of Taiwan Ramen are not just partaking in a meal but are also imbibing a segment of Nagoya’s vibrant and multifaceted gastronomic heritage.