Adventures in Eating & Cooking
The cursed ramen spot in Philly’s Chinatown 9th street had been changing owners for the past few years, unable to maintain the same name for more than a year. However, ever since its been changed to Terakawa Ramen, the business has been pretty stable. Curious and cautious about the ever-changing ramen spot, I decided to check out Terakawa based on the recommendation of my surgery intern, allegedly from Cali (a mysterious land that sure knows its Asian & Mexican fewd).
Emily and I started off with my favorite – TAKOYAKI!!! Takoyaki and taiyaki are two of my most favorite (and similar sounding) Japanese street food treats. Because come on, who doesn’t love fried balls of octopus dough (takoyaki) and red bean-stuffed cake in the shape of a goldfish (taiyaki)?!
I would say Terakawa nailed the concept of takoyaki with crispy fried balls that burst into warm, gooey, scalliony dough. The drizzling of takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayo, and bonito garnish also fit the bill. I love how the bonito flakes dance and sway to the heat of the takoyaki balls. The only upsetting thing about Terakawa’s takoyaki is that each ball contained only 1 piece of undercooked octopus, whereas usually takoyaki contains generous chunks of soft octopus. No matter, this totally satisfied my craving for Japanese street food!I was initially going to get the Mayu Ramen but changed my mind to the Kyushu Danji Ramen after hearing it was the same thing, only twice as big and only 1.5 times more expensive (do the math to get a better deal!) Both ramen dishes are cooked in mayu (black garlic oil) something that I, along with the rest of the world, has fallen in love with. In fact, I wish there was a stronger black garlic flavor in the savory, rich ramen broth. Still, this ramen is very delicious and well worth the price. For $14, I got a formidable feat of ramen noodles, with about 6 slices of pork belly (which is unheard of in NYC), shoyu egg, kikurage mushroom, and extra random vegetables. The bowl also came with classic Japanese red pickled ginger, which I absolutely despise and toss on the tray’s edge.
The ramen noodles are firm and elastic – not the best I’ve had but solidly executed. The shoyu egg (one of my favorite parts about ramen) is wonderful, though slightly overcooked from swimming inside the ramen. I usually take my shoyu eggs in a separate dish to enjoy the gooey yolks thoroughly. The charshu pork belly was perfectly marinated, but may have been cooked inappropriately since the meat was on the tougher side. Something odd about the ramen was the presence of cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Now, I am not a big fan of the bean sprouts and Emily is not a big fan of the cabbage. I think both veggies needed more cooking as they tasted too raw and crunchy, inconsistent with the ramen theme.
Overall, I think Terakawa has all the concepts of real ramen down and the ability to execute it. They need to brush up on a few techniques, but has the gist of it down. Another cool thing is that the waiters pack your leftover noodles for you, separating solid stuff from the broth. This is a sure way to prevent next day noodle sogginess, so I was really pleased about that. I’m happy to announce that there is now a place in Philly where I can get my ramen fix!
Sadly, I can’t say the same for Cheu Noodle Bar… I visited this place 2 weeks ago with Steff, since it was near her temporary home. There was a huge line for this cramped little noodle bar, so we were expecting something mind-blowing.
The Pork Belly Bun was okay because the meat was decently fatty and tender. I think some sort of sweet sriracha sauce was used for flavoring. And the bun was not the classic fluffy, steamed 馒头 (mantou), but rather a denser breadier version… something resembling a crumpet? Anyways, it was a bit of a deviation from traditional, but still quite tasty.
We also gave the Black Garlic Wings a go, but it was pretty lame. I’m not sure if actual black garlic oil was used in the making of these wings. Because if it was, then the taste had been completely masked by a strong salty-sweet base. It literally tasted like some spin-off on General Tso’s Chicken. Not that I don’t love my General Tso’s Chicken on take-out nights, but we were not expecting it for a dish advertised as “Black Garlic Wings.”
Steff and I both picked the Brisket for our noodle bowl. In retrospect, I probably should have tried the Miso Ramen instead, but the Brisket’s description just sounded more interesting with matzo balls, kimchi, and spicy broth. It was mediocre at best, and Steff (my brown-Asian, not yellow-Asian friend) completely agreed. First of all, my spoon had a bizarre chemical-ish smell that overpowered my broth. Even after going spoon-less, the broth was unimpressive, spicy, and oily. The kimchi used in the broth was gross, salty, poorly-made. I will admit that I have totally spoiled by H-Mart kimchi ($6 for a jar), but I promise that once you taste authentic, thoroughly fermented kimchi, you won’t be able to handle Cheu’s version. I will say however, that Cheu’s noodles surpass Terakawa’s. This is because Cheu prides itself in freshly hand-made noodles that are super-firm and super-elastic. The matzo ball was pretty good and the meat is decent, but that’s about all that Cheu has going for it.