Thursday, June 17, 2010

No. 166: Vegan Ramen at The Shojin (Little Tokyo)

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.

Vegan Ramen @ Shojin
They offered several varieties, and I opted for the curious-sounding spicy sesame ramen, with a broth made with soy milk, miso and tahini and topped with red chili oil, braised seitan (in lieu of chashu), assorted vegetables (bamboo, mushrooms and scallions) and nori. And of course, egg-free noodles.

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!)
Vegan Ramen @ Shojin
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 entreƩ that'll disarm their notion of vegetarianism/veganism as just eating rabbit food.

The Shojin
333 South Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013-1735
(213) 617-0305


weezermonkey said...

Mmm. This place was good.

So are you still on your veggie kick?

Diana said...

Oh this definitely sounds up this omnivore's alley! I still keep thinking about trying vegetarianism out for a couple weeks. You are making a pretty compelling case for going veggie with this ramen review.

Gastronomer said...

Mmm! What a great find. I love seitan more than meat.

Will said...

Is the ramen a new menu item? I was fairly underwhelmed with their noodle dishes in the past (like the soba soups), but I may have to make a trip to try out their ramen, especially after finding out that the tomato ramen at Yatai wasn't vegan.

I don't think that ramen noodles are typically or traditionally made with egg.

The yellow color traditionally comes from using naturally alkaline water; these days, it also often comes from either water alkalineized (?) with lye, or just from straight up food color.

H. C. said...

@Weezer, yep!

@Diana, glad to hear that I'm inspiring others to try going veggie.

@Gastronomer, didn't know you prefer seitan over meat!

@Will, some ramen noodles are made with egg (even though traditionally they are not) -- so I guess Shojin wanted to be extra reassuring that their noodles are certifiably vegan.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thanks for your insight. I was pretty disappointed with the Vegan Ramen at Shojin (and I love the place). But, to be fair, I'm writing from an omnivore point of view. If I had no choice in the matter, I'd say Shojin's Vegan Ramen is a good alternative way to enjoy Ramen (it's the only choice right now ;).

I'm hoping they continue to develop the Ramen and improve it. I think the lack of kansui in the Noodles is one aspect that really undermines it. But I love their other new Summer Menu items! :)


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