Yeah, the line is long. It starts forming a little before 8:00 p.m. and the place doesn´t open until 8:30. If you get there at 8:05, it´s already so long that when the place does open you will not be among the first 50 or so who are allowed in. And that´s because of the friends and loved ones who join the line and cut in front. There´s no way of predicting how long the line in front of you will actually be by the time the doors open, so there´s also also no way of knowing when you will be seated. (In my case it was 9:15 p.m.) So I recommend convincing a friend with whom you have some catching up to do to accompany you on your journey. Or, if you´d rather brave the line alone, at least take a book and a hat if in case it gets cold.
And yeah, they have line-beers. Maybe I shouldn´t be advertising this. But those line-beers definitely make things better. They make it seem less like you´re just waiting in some ridiculous line on the street and more like you´re standing around drinking a beer on that street. And they give out free wasabi peas in little bowls too, to snack on with the beers. These are spicy and interesting, and they wake you up on the spot so that you feel less moody about the line.
Once inside, you begin to think it might have actually been worth the wait. The cozy interior of the pint-sized ramen-ya is divided by a bar counter into the dining room decorated with Japanese trinkets, and the partially open kitchen where two bandana-sporting ramen warriors (blue bandana = Hiroki himself) move tirelessly around, slicing pork belly, pulling up bundles of bouncy noodle, ladling hot broth from steaming cauldrons, and decorating the surface of each bowl according to customer specifications. There´s also an outdoor seating area, which comes in handy for larger groups. Serving us was a charming and charismatic waiter who, despite being the only one simultaneously catering to the needs of around 50 people (while also maintaining order over the unruly line outside and appeasing hungry, impatient folks with line-beers and wasabi peas), remained completely cool, calm and patient with our order, even throwing in some casual jokes here and there.
The menu is pretty basic. It´s Sapporo style ramen, your choice of Soy (a chicken and pork broth flavored with soy sauce, inspired by the Asahikawa region in the north), Seafood (a shellfish broth topped with Mediterranean seafood) or the classic Miso (the most classic chicken and pork broth flavored with miso). Then you add the toppings: sweetcorn, butter, bean sprouts, chopped pork belly, poached egg, bamboo and nori seaweed. There´s also a seasonal “dipping ramen” with cold noodles, pork belly, bonito and lime with a broth made with soy sauce and yuzu in which to soak the dry ingredients. The chilled ramen is no doubt meant for the summer months, though it´s not really an option I find appetizing. When I want ramen I want it steamy hot on a chilly day, not the other way around.
Available to share are some tapas, including gyoza (steamed and then pan-fried dumplings filled with meat, which the Spanish menu annoyingly translates as “empanadillas”), edamame, kimchi (though that´s Korean) a salad with tofu, seafood and sesame, and some cold tofu to share. Pre-ramen bites also include onigiri, a popular Japanese snack made with rice formed into a triangle, wrapped in crispy nori seaweed and filled with a variety of natural preservatives. Hiroki´s options are prunes, seaweed or pork belly.
Some edamame to start, simply sprinkled with coarse salt. Light enough not to weigh us down before our massive bowls of soup, but with a crunchy, distinct texture to ease the transition between the cool, fizzy line-beers and hot soup.
I asked for a bowl of noodles with a miso-based broth and added chashu (braised pork belly), poached egg, steamed bamboo, soy bean sprouts and dry nori (sheets of seaweed). Topping the bowl was also a little pink-swirled white round of narutomaki, a processed fish cake popular in Japan. I tried the broth first, lowering my porcelain duck spoon down past all the toppings to filter out some of the liquid. My friend had butter added to her broth, to make it a bit more luscious and velvety, though I must say that my butter-free soup was already rich enough and positively packed with earthy miso umami and porcine zest. I guess that´s what boiling piggy bones overnight for 15 hours does to the cooking liquid. Next, a round of pork, which I wolfed down in one large bite. The meat was heavenly, with alternating layers of firm, dense flesh and jiggly smooth pork fat all swirled into one. Each slice fell apart into an undulating string of pork meat when picked up, but was easily mashed together in my spoon to form a single, very satisfying mouthful. The noodles were fantastic too, tight and elastic with a bite still left to them, but otherwise perfectly soft and starchy smooth on the exterior. They were mixed up with the bean sprouts, which provided a watery, fresh crunch and a coolness that counterbalanced the soft, warm noodles. I saved the delicate little poached egg for last, eating it all at once to fully enjoy the bright yellow yolk loaded with flavor. And so I bounced around my bowl taking alternating bites of chewy noodle, firm and crisp bits of bamboo, fatty and delicious mouthfuls of pork, and some spoons of thick broth to wash it all down. I managed to finish a good three-fourths of my bowl, including all of the broth, which was just too difficult to leave behind
We left the place completely satiated, having paid around €16 each, line-beer and a glass of white wine included.
NOTE: Glancing at myself in the mirror before retiring to bed later that night I noticed that my eyed looked a tad puffy. I shrugged it off thinking that this was just signs of fatigue but when I woke up the next morning with my eyes swollen almost completely shut, it quickly became clear that I am, in fact, allergic to some ingredient in Hiroki´s miso ramen. Unfortunately, ramen has quite a few ingredients so it´s pretty tough to identify the culprit. And the whole thing is pretty weird because I lived and ate local stuff daily in Hong Kong for almost 6 months and was never affected by things like 5 spice, ginger, nori, soy. Maybe it has developed since then…
It´s a very sad fact indeed that I won´t be returning to this particular ramen-ya for some time but only because of this pesky allergy issue. Nevertheless, I consider myself lucky to have gone on this adventure. Just knowing that decent ramen does exist in Barcelona and being able to recommend it to those hungry for it was perhaps worth the trouble of all the eye-drops and day off work that followed indulging in that delicious bowl of noodles.