Fumihiro Kanegae, Ippudo's roving ramen master, has a motto: "No ramen eaters left behind."
The latest weapon in his arsenal? Shojin (a flesh-free style of Zen Buddhist temple cooking) ramen made with koshihikari rice noodles ($18), now being served at Ippudo's second NYC location (and the 21st outside of Japan), which opened in Hell's Kitchen in July.
Fumihiro Kanegae | Ramen rice noodles
"One of our missions in expanding outside of Japan is to spread Ippudo ramen culture to everybody," he declares--and that includes those who choose to or must follow a gluten-free or vegetarian diet.
Kanegae, who works all over the globe refining and expanding Ippudo's special brand of noodle love, says "the ramen is the first of its kind."
While on a subtler plane than the restaurant's famous pork bone tonkotsu version, this ramen is a worthy dining pursuit on its own. The flavors are so gentle, that your waiter will bring you a tall glass of sparkling water to reset your palate after any appetizers.
Happy ramen eaters
Kanegae says that his goal was "to create a multi-layered ramen that transforms in the bowl from the first bite to the last." Every part of the dish, from the shallow black pottery bowls that evoke a Japanese garden to the making of the 30-day soybean-and-seaweed dashi, is thought through with extreme care.
Flash-fried mung bean noodles snap, crackle and pop as they submerge and mix with Japanese sweet potato, chestnuts, six types of whole grain rice and Chinese wolfberry seeds. Each month the gluten-free ramen's toppings will rotate--February, say, will bring roasted apples; June, asparagus.
Noodle love American style
But if you absolutely can't be satisfied without a hit of pork, do as we did at a recent lunch: Spend an extra $4 for the lunch set and receive a small bowl of spicy pork rice in addition to the sho-jin ramen.