Since entering my vegetarian phase, I thought for sure ramen was one of those things I'm just gonna have to give up -- between the slices of chashu and, more importantly, the meat-infused broth, there's no way I can get away trying to order a meatfree version at any noodle shop in town (at least not without the chef cursing me out in Japanese and hurling some hot and sharp kitchen apparatus in my direction.)
So you can only imagine my glee when I found out that Little Tokyo's Japanese macrobiotic oasis Shojin offers a vegan ramen! Even though I was mildly disappointed that they rotated out their tomato-avocado soba (one of my other faves there,) the prospect of being reunited with a hearty, slurpable bowl of ramen definitely got my salivary glands working overtime.
How did it taste? Pretty darn good! Most importantly, the vegan broth captured the comforting essences of its meat-based brethren and was rich and flavorful, thanks to the combo of the soy milk for the full body, the tahini for the oily nuttiness and the miso for the undeniably craveworthy umami. And it passed my test for a good ramen soup base (i.e. me slurping away long after all the noodles and toppings are long gone!)
The toppings were likewise top-notch, fresh scallions that I can never get enough of, meaty mushrooms and tender bamboo shoots, and well-prepared slices of seitan (I personally like seitan, though I know some are frightened by how much they resembled meat, and others don't care for their almost-but-not-quite meat texture -- at Shojin the closest approximation I can provide is a milder-flavored, thicker-sliced Oscar Mayer bologna.) As for the spice factor, the chili oil made it the equivalent of an Orochon #2 or 3 (which is about my Scoville tolerance anyways) -- though Shojin does also offer a Hot & Spicy Ramen that promises to be "very spicy" . . .
Now, would it fool me for a meaty ramen? Definitely not, but it was enjoyable on its own terms . . . and it's a great middle-ground dish for a mixed herbivore-omnivore crowd, with the former checking out a great animal-free spin of a classic Japanese dish, and the latter being able enjoy a very satisfying entreé that'll disarm their notion of vegetarianism/veganism as just eating rabbit food.
333 South Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013-1735