People swoon over tonkotsu ramen, with pork bones -- including heads and trotters -- boiled for twelve or more hours until the broth turns opaque. Vegetarian versions don't have quite the same heady effect, but some chefs are trying to change that. In my current review of Tokio, I write about what chef-owner Miki Hashimoto calls "ramen air," with noodles suspended in a thick, orange base fashioned from sweet potatoes, pumpkin, soy milk and miso. The soup stands out from the rest of the menu, higher in natural sugars than umami, making it a good dish to share.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Tokio
Other noodle houses are also dishing out vegetarian bowls.
The version at Tengu, the ramen shop that could double as a speakeasy given its low-profile entry, plays it much more straight. Here, organic miso broth is topped with the usual suspects, such as enoki mushrooms, mung bean sprouts, napa cabbage, pickled ginger, nori and scallions. Grab a seat at the low counter, where you can pass the time until your bowl of noodles arrives by watching the biggest stock pots you've ever seen bubble away with tomorrow's broth.
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Leave it to the folks at Bones, home of unconventional lobster ramen and tonkotsu ramen with cilantro sofrito, to come up with a plant-based version that puts vegetables front and center. The deeply-flavored broth -- a classic, i.e. kombu-free vegetable stock -- is packed with carrots, long beans, cauliflower, shishitos, edamame, napa cabbage and kale, all of which are sautéed to order in the wok. With enough goodies to fill a produce aisle, you'll never find yourself in the Raisin Bran predicament, swirling through the tangle of alkaline spinach noodles in search of more veggies.