Stock in Trade
Words by Aya Muto Photographs by Erin Kunkel Styling by Lisa Moir
Oakland’s Ramen Shop has quickly become a favorite stop for anyone who likes their noodles and broth made with tons of flavor, imagination and carefully chosen ingredients.
Broth made from house-dried sardines, hand-roasted nori seaweed harvested on the coast of Mendocino, freshly foraged oyster mushrooms and dried chilies flaked in house for the touch of sweetness the local varietal offers: these are the details that go into each bowl of Ramen Shop’s noodle soup. Jerry Jaksich, Sam White and Rayneil De Guzman—the partners behind this Oakland eatery—are graduates of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ restaurant in Berkeley, and have applied their passion for local, seasonal ingredients to the humble meal that Japan continues to renovate with passion.
Ramen is an adaptation from Chinese cuisine, to which Japan applied its own twist. It is made with regional specialty broth; some combination of items—be it seaweed, fish, chicken or pork bones—is cooked for up to several days in a big pot. Ratios of blends are rarely used twice. Noodle texture and thickness are their own journey, too. You’ll always have the option of walking into a ramen shop on any city street in Japan, while food magazines like to feature ramen several times a year.
When the ramen bowl is served, the meal often happens quickly. “Ramen is a solitary meal,” explains Jaksich, who spent six years in Japan teaching English and conducting ramen research. “Most of the ramen shops consist of just a counter, some with a refined system where a customer orders through a machine and hands the ticket over the counter. No room for any mistakes to be made, super efficient.” His first meal in Japan was a bowl of ramen that brought him a complete epiphany. From then on, he spent much of his free time finding the perfect soup, visiting, working and even apprenticing at a regional Italian fine dining restaurant in a remote town in Japan, learning all aspects of culinary ways. When he returned to the US, he wanted to work at Chez Panisse.
While Jaksich is the force behind the ramen, De Guzman brings more than 10 years of culinary experience to the table. By the time its doors opened officially in January 2013, Ramen Shop had been perfecting every detail—from broth to noodle, from garnishes to pop-up events. White co-founded a situational art-food gathering called Open, and Ramen Shop was also involved. After Japan suffered the earthquake and the unfortunate incidents following it, the Open collective was quick to join the mission to help the Bay Area’s food community support Japan.
Some key ingredients, such as fermented bonito flakes, are imported from Japan, and sometimes, Ramen Shop uses its resources and experiences to come up with better alternatives. “Rayneil suggested Roman-style deep-fried artichoke to go on top as a substitute to menma [pickled/fermented bamboo shoots, a trademark ramen topping] because I had a hard time sourcing the good quality ones,” says Jaksich. “The texture and flavor I was explaining just prompts Rayneil with different culinary ideas, and it’s fantastic. Our menu changes every day, and it’s always ingredient-oriented.” There is also one bowl available for vegetarians.
As White prints out the day’s menu after the staff meeting where Jaksich and De Guzman explain the art and story behind all the ingredients and preparation, people are starting to form a line outside. The counter—made by a woodworker friend with reclaimed wood from Oregon—is fresh and fragrant, and White and his bartenders are preparing to serve local distillery–made shochu and other cocktails, to make the waiting experience exciting. The boiling of noodles, which are prepared daily, happens in front of your eyes if you sit at the counter, and vegetables, braised pork and precooked eggs will perfect the appearance of the bowl. In Oakland, the bowl of ramen represents a gathering of multiple communities, on both sides of the counter.
5812 College Avenue