Finding inventive ways to make use of leftovers is a problem home cooks have no matter what country they’re in, so it should come as no surprise that Japanese cooks have been putting their excess portions of curry to good use for decades, stretching them out as fillings for doughnut like breads or turning them into soups. Karē udon is a perfect example of this respectful attitude towards “waste” food, by adding leftover pork and vegetable curry to a fishy broth and some thick, chewy noodles you can create a wholesome, warming dish perfect for getting you through these freezing Winter nights. It might not seem like the obvious choice to use a dashi based stock for this soup, but it creates a wonderfully rounded savoury flavour rather than anything particularly fishy tasting. This combination of dashi, sake, mirin and soy sauce as a soup stock is known as mentsuyu, and is the classic starting point for many udon and soba dishes, even being used as a refreshing dipping sauce for cold noodles.
Karē udon, perhaps one of the country’s most popular comfort foods, has the same effect on the Japanese as a plate of macaroni and cheese might on an American or a bowl of hotpot on a Lancastrian. It has the incredible power of evoking nostalgic memories of childhood, relieving emotional stress and giving a feeling of the security of being at home, somewhere you belong. Not bad for a bowl of soup.
Few meals can match the allure of a rich, hot bowl of porky ramen. Soothing, deeply flavoured broth, a tangled mass of slightly chewy noodles, slowly braised meat and a creamy boiled egg. This now staple dish is only a relatively recent addition to the patchwork cuisine of Japan- the first ramen restaurant opened in Yokohama in 1910 and sold a simpler version of the dish called shina soba, or Chinese noodles. Countless variations on the theme of broth, noodles and toppings have sprung up since then, many of them being extremely regional specialities that you’d have problems finding outside of a particular town. Our favourite combination of ramen flavours is one that we’ve eaten many times in Tokyo; a soy flavoured pork broth, straight noodles, a pile of shredded spring onions, a few slices of fishcake, a boiled egg, stewed bamboo shoots and most importantly, fatty, yielding, slow cooked pork belly. We’ve borrowed an idea from David Chang’s recipe for ramen by adding some bacon to the broth for an irresistible smoky note and to boost the pork flavour.
Making ramen at home isn’t a particularly difficult affair, but it does take a long time. Cooking the broth and the pork are the most time consuming parts, and they’re also the components that you’ll most likely want to get just right- the broth is really the star of the show and worth every minute you can put into it, no amount of flashy toppings can make up for a bowl of ramen with under-flavoured soup. Both the pork and broth can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for three to five days for convenience, once you have those ready you can put together all manner of ramen dishes in very little time.