Meal Box Review: Slurp your way to happiness

Handmade ramen, perfection in a bowl and fast to prepare, is now delivered nationwide

Ramen for beginners: it is the noodles, not the broth, that define a bowl of ramen

Ramen for beginners: it is the noodles, not the broth, that define a bowl of ramen

 

If you’re wondering how best to eat ramen, it’s okay to slurp. In fact, you should be practically inhaling them. This is considered good manners in Japan, and audible sound effects are expected. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Edo period, when increased urbanisation meant that ordinary working people were on the move and food stalls selling noodles were a quick and tasty solution after a long day’s work.

Some attribute the slurping to the fact that these were regular, rather than finely bred folk, but the more general consensus is that slurping allows the diner to suck in a rush of air over the noodles as they are eaten, increasing the aromas and olfactory pleasure, as is common with wine tasting.

If that all sounds a bit too complicated, don’t worry about the air bit, slurp away, but make sure you don’t chew or bite the noodles.

As with everything, practice makes perfect, and you can now do it in the comfort of your own home (where else?), not with dehydrated noodles and powdered MSG soup but with the noodles from Bia Rebel, the Belfast ramen joint that was voted best cheap eats in 2018 in the Observer Food Monthly awards.

After a few weeks of testing, they have got into the delivery game and – drumroll – they deliver all around Ireland, and indeed London and Edinburgh, if you happen to be living there.

Three ingredients

It is the noodles, not the broth, that define a bowl of ramen: the noodles must be made from wheat flour with the addition of an alkaline solution. And even though there are just three ingredients – flour, sodium carbonate and water – the type of flour used and level of hydration has a huge influence on how silky or chewy the noodles will be. They can be served in various broths, from a light stock to something creamier, or even served on their own. And typically, they have toppings.

There is, of course, a whole load of work involved in getting the noodles right, and you benefit from this when you buy the Bia Rebel ramen kit (£20). When I ordered, the menu options were limited to three: char siu (barbecue pork), soy shiitake, and a plain option. But there are plans to add their signature tori shoyu chasu to the menu, which is better known as the Belfast Original, as well as braised stout brisket, cider pulled pork and crisp duck confit toppings.

Each kit contains enough ramen for two, white miso paste, pickled ginger, spring onions and Japanese sesame seeds, plus whatever topping you have selected; and very clear instructions are sent with my email. All you have to do is add boiling water to the miso paste for the broth, give the char siu a quick flash on the pan, cook the noodles for 50 seconds, and serve the noodles and broth in bowls with the pork, sliced spring onions, pickled ginger and sesame seeds on top. For the other option, the soy shiitake topping just needs to be reheated in its pouch in some boiling water.

In minutes

It’s a steaming bowl of sustenance on the table in minutes. The ramen are delicate, cloaked in the creamy savoury flavours of the miso broth, and the pork, which is tender and gently charred at the edges, with sweet spice flavours, is particularly good; the pickled ginger and green onions adding freshness. The soy shiitake works equally well, the mushrooms are meaty and sweet, adding depth to the bowl.

Ramen was never designed to be expensive; in Japan, it’s street food, sold at stalls and in vending machines. So, it is quite wonderful that it can be delivered right to our doors at an affordable price. This is a very tasty meal that requires minimal preparation and will give you a well-deserved night off.

Ramen for four was £40 plus £6.50 delivery. 

Where it comes from: Bia Rebel, Belfast, Northern Ireland; biarebel.com

Difficulty factor: Easy to follow instructions, very little to do

Food provenance: Irish and local where possible

Vegetarian options: Shiitake mushroom, which is also vegan

Delivery: Order online, national delivery

THE VERDICT: 7.5/10 You’ll be bowled over with these handmade noodles

Three to Try

Grano

Dublin 7; click and collect, Friday and Saturday; grano.ie

This Stoneybatter stalwart has an impressive range of options. Handmade pastas include tagliatelle, spaghettoni, casarecce, spinach fusilli, paccheri, and rigatoni, and you can mix and match with sauces like arrabbiata di ’nduja, Black Pig amatriciana, and cacio e pepe. Prices range from €18- €26 for two people.

Back to Dine

Dublin 2 and Monkstown, Co. Dublin; click and collect backtodine.com

The latest collaboration for this special occasion menu for two, €99.95, is with Stephen Gibson and Harry Quinn of Pichet, and Temple Garner and Peter Byrne of Bresson. Delicious courses range from gougères and foie gras parfait to lobster en croute, roast ballotine of quail and Gariguette strawberries with panna cotta and Champagne jelly.

Osta Café

Sligo; takeaway, 10am to 3pm Tuesday to Saturday; osta.ie

Back open as a takeaway, you’ll find Osta favourites, which include pancakes topped with cinnamon infused berries and yoghurt, Crispy Sheerin’s or Andarl Farm bacon and maple syrup; their classic croque monsieur made with Lyon’s Bakeshop sourdough, Andarl Farm ham and Barr Rua cheese and sweet treats like chocolate brownies, flapjacks, rhubarb cake and Bakewell tartlets.

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