Fast Food

Oakland noodles from Ramen Shop that taste like a Mexican mole

Soleil Ho is taking a break from their newsletter this week, so associate food critic Cesar Hernandez is here instead. 

It was a cold night in Oakland when I had the bright idea to get a hot bowl of ramen. I ended up at Ramen Shop in Rockridge, ordered the spicy tantanmen ($25) and was surprised to find it tasted unlike any I’ve had before. 

It had that telltale sesame seed nuttiness but also shades of acidity, smokiness, spiciness, sweetness and silkiness. The compounding flavors reminded me of something else: mole Poblano, the magical Mexican sauce made of toasted chiles, chocolate, nuts and a long list of other ingredients. In this bowl, these flavors harmonized over perfectly al dente noodles. Inadvertently, my mole craving was satisfied by a ramen shop. 

A good mole in the Bay Area can be hard to come by. Most of the renditions I’ve tried here lean too heavily in one flavor direction — either too sweet or too sour or too bland — and generally lack balance. 

In terms of public relations for mole, the novelty comes from using a bevy of ingredients and a fixation on chocolate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Did you know mole has chocolate in it?” Yes, yes I did. But a glorified spicy-sweet chocolate sauce isn’t why I love mole.

Mole is multitudinous. There are innumerable versions based on regionality as well as the person making it. The most recognizable style is Poblano, which is thickened and sweetened with chocolate and balanced with dry peppers. Perla Garcia, who makes the mole for Richmond’s Carnitas El Canelo, uses a mixture of dried fruits, animal crackers and Ibarra Mexican chocolate for sweetness but balances it with smoky morita chiles.

According to Oaxacan chef Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez of the stellar Poncho’s Tlayudas in Los Angeles, mole is all about “a hell of a lot of love” and “patience.” His mole utilizes nuts and a bit of chocolate, but his secret is sweet, slowly caramelized onions.

Like mole, the spicy tantanmen from Ramen Shop was complex and layered with flavors. Smokiness and richness was supplied by a blend of duck broth (made with Liberty Ducks) and dashi, made from kombu and five different dried, smoky fish. Heat and acidity came from the garlic chile paste, which occasionally has leftover pickled veggie brine — vinegar acidity is one of the flavors that chef Rayniel De Guzman, who is Filipino, likes to highlight. The silky nuttiness came from housemade tahini. But the key that truly unlocked the mole flavor for me was the sweetness of the sweet potato, one of the various vegetables that made it into the bowl as a topping.

Of course, De Guzman didn’t intentionally set out to make mole-flavored ramen. His style of tantanmen might be less traditional than others, but the bowl’s compounding flavors are harmonious. Next time you’re craving mole, this ramen is the next best thing.

Ramen Shop. 5812 College Ave, Oakland. 5-10 p.m. daily.

Source link


Your email address will not be published.