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Finding My Religion

God has smiled on Oshima Ramen.

Yes, Keiji believes in the God of Ramen -- it says so right in his business plan. And he has also decreed that daily, ardent prayer by his cooks will bring them closer to understanding the "ultimate taste of beauty." Eccentric? You bet. Flat-out crazy? Maybe. But then, I wholeheartedly believe in the Food God Ptomainicus, who punishes gossipy foodies, those who use garlic presses and any critic who utters the phrase "to die for" -- so who am I to judge? Besides, the food at Oshima Ramen is really good, and if praying to the noodle-armed and salty God of Ramen is what it takes to make a miso broth as heady, composed and huge as any Italian di tartufo soup or French bouillon aux champignons, then sign me up. I can't wait to see what this church uses for communion.

The worship begins at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday at Oshima Ramen, where I'm sitting hunched up at a counter that wraps all the way around the open kitchen, surrounded by construction workers in dusty boots, businesspeople, a geek in a Star TrekT-shirt and chattering knots of Japanese girls at the rickety tables pressed up against the wall. There's no music here -- no radio, no piped-in Asian bubblegum pop -- so the only sounds are the conversations of my fellow travelers, the orders being taken in English by the single waitress and received in Japanese by the single cook, the occasional jangle of the phone and, in those weird moments when all talking suddenly stops, the tink of plastic pho spoons and the harmonized slurping of a dozen mouths drinking soup straight from the bowl and sucking down long, thin, tender buckwheat ramen noodles. It's enough to drive any etiquette teacher out of her gourd, but I love the sounds: that contented slurping, the spitting hiss of oil hitting a hot wok, the twittering Japanese voices filling the long, narrow space better than any movement of Ludwig van.

I find religion in the chaisu ramen -- inhaling the steam rising from the shoyu broth, then shoveling in big bites of curling noodles, thin-sliced marinated pork, bits of seaweed, bean sprouts, green onions and chunks of soy-soaked boiled egg as fast as I can work my chopsticks. Eating quickly is the secret with everything here -- the flavors at their best and freshest the minute your bowl hits the rail. I order a cup of hot green tea, and it comes in Styrofoam, already steeping. My side of "tasty chicken bits" is a small bowl filled with pasty-white, poached chicken scraps that taste great while they're hot, like old gum once they cool. I dump the cold ones into what's left of my broth, swirl them around, then pick up the bowl and drink just like everyone else. Slurp, slurp, slurp.

Wok steady: Noburu Mura mans the pan at Oshima 
Ramen.
James Glader
Wok steady: Noburu Mura mans the pan at Oshima Ramen.

Location Info

Map

Oshima Ramen Of America

7800 E. Hampden Ave.
Denver, CO 80231

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Southeast Denver

Details

7800 East Hampden Avenue, 720-482- 0264. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday- Sunday. Closed Monday

Original Oshima Ramen: $7.98
With Gyoza: $9.98
Super Original Oshima Ramen: $10.98
Chashiu Ramen: $8.98
Pork fried rice: $6.98
Green tea: $1.25
Tasty chicken bits: $2

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The home of the God of Ramen is really pretty dumpy, the space around the grimy cash register a mess of computer parts, old phone books, a fire extinguisher, crumpled menus. The shabby walls are tiled in graffiti- covered white posterboard crammed with pronouncements of love, line drawings of big-eyed anime girls with kitty-cat ears, and scrawls of indecipherable kanji script. But there's something about Oshima Ramen's scruffiness that makes the place feel all the more vital. It's drab, but authentically so. It's cluttered and claustrophobic, and I have to wonder when someone last cleaned out the bottles of soy sauce and curry powder and sesame seeds and minced garlic and red pepper and plain pepper and whatever else is stacked up along the front of the bar. But there's no question that my pork fried rice -- made with stubby, fat little short grains of rice, pork belly and seared streamers of egg -- is the best I've tasted in a lifetime of hunting after really good pork fried rice, so I forgive any sins of housekeeping and order more ramen.

This time it's the Super Original. I attack the bowl fast, slurping madly and loudly at the noodles and thin, salty, slightly tart broth; turning everything -- the bean sprouts, the seaweed, the nira chives and hakusai Chinese cabbage and whole boiled egg -- over and over with my chopsticks to get at the tiny pink cubes of pork belly tangled in the ramen at the bottom. When a plate of oily, flat-grilled, stuck-together gyoza dumplings arrives, I split one open and almost swoon at the fierce smell of gingered pork paste that catches me like a sucker punch straight to the nose.

I don't like the soy and peppery daikon dipping sauce on the side (the combination of white radish and ginger is too much like smelling salts), so I lean over and ask the Russian bricklayer next to me, silently forking rice into his head with all the passion of a steam-shovel operator, to pass the rice vinegar. He does, and the combination is perfect: bittersweet and savory and astringent all at once. I finish the dumplings, order tea, touch the wad of folding money in my pocket and cross my fingers: Oshima Ramen only takes cash.

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