This was the second time I ate at Pho Mai, the first visit being a good one. Having heard numerous reports from friends that the quality varied drastically from almost sublime, to bath-water, the knot in my stomach tightened with every labored step. I arrived to find the lights off and doors locked, 2.10pm, said they opened at 2 online. I decided to call my sister for a few minutes and lo and behold, during my call the owner came out and opened the door.
Inside I just ordered the Beef Pho, forgetting to even look at the menu. I chose a vantage point that offered my back to the counter, and a view through a window. My bowl arrived after 5 minutes, placed down by the cheery older owner. He mentioned he was from Saigon, and beamed at the bowl before me quietly adding "This one is better than in Vietnam". Tho I won't call him a liar, he was stretching the truth. The Pho in Oslo doesn't hold a candle to most places in Ho Chi Minh, but far be it from me to go down memory lane now.
Soup was almost perfect. Deeply flavoured, nice hints (but not overpowering) spices, tender beef, solid noodles and a plate of accompaniments that you'd hope for. The addition of the small ginger slices was a treat, and after a few splodges of garlic-chilli paste the bowl sung wonderful melodies.
"Try everything twice"- I've been known to scream in blazen euphoria. Putting it into practice throws up more practical obstacles.
Sapporo Ramen was the first official shop-front Ramen place to open in Oslo in the Ramen-rush of 2016. Sure, I was part of starting the pop-up Tanpopo Ramen in Oslo the year before, where we fiddled around with online recipes and no experience at all with mass-broth-making, facing the complete lack of procuring any decent noodles, and mastering the annoying task of soft boiling and peeling hundreds of eggs. That wave came and went, and people went onto other cloaks and other chefs knives.
With the announcement of Sapporo coming to town, my instant thought was "It's going to be shit", followed closely by: "But I have to try it". The lack of a neighbourhood ramen spot to quell the aching hearts of downpours and ennui had burrowed deep in dark souls of never-ending roundabouts. Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling out of glistening, fatty broth.
I went, faced with the dilemma of wishing for it to be good, but hoping it would be bad so we could continue our pop-up. In short, it was a dire love-extinguishing journey into the very root of inane trespass. The flame of anticipation dealt a murderous plunge. I decided there and then, never to return, and further more, to knock on door and gate with evangelical zeal warning people of the charlatans in white robes.
Just shy of 4 years later, on a befittingly miserable, rainy day, I walked down Telthusbakken to drop off some bottles at the Rema 1000. On the escalators up, I saw a virtually empty restaurant, and decided to tempt fate one more time, and see if improvements had been made. They had.
The spicy bowl was sufficiently red, potentially because the Thai woman was working and they love to kick up the spice a notch. I still needed to add a good few shakes of Togarashi to pep it up the pleasantries. Sadly, they use the same noodles as their incomparably disastrous sister-branch at Ezo; the curly egg noodles that lack pleasing texture. The egg was eons better than Ezo, but still bang on average. This time around the pork had been taken further in its cuisson, and shone a golder brown. Parts of it were dry, parts of it were tasty. Menma was menma-ish, spring onions don't need more than a mention, the most important thing in ramen is the broth. Ultimately, the broth had some umami, balance and depth to it. It was far, far better than the first visit when literally everything was unworthy of digestion.
This ramen would get lost around half-way up to the summit of Broth Mountain, but taking into account we are in a nation raised on taco-fredag, this was a pleasing attribute to the Asian food proliferation in Oslo. As is the case here, not one place does it perfectly, but if you combine the strongest elements of each you could come up with a pretty damn good bowl.
With trepidation colouring my optimism, I stood outside Hrimnir Ramen waiting for my friends to turn up. Bicycles dismounted, we stood in line, placed our weary bodies at an outdoor table, perused the menu, ordered and sat waiting for the hype-ship to approach, dock, and spill it's wares.
My main sticking point with previously avoiding Hrimnir was the notion of "Nordic Ramen". Whilst not adverse to evolution, ramen is something I tend to prefer in traditional constructs. However, after the overall disappointment of Oslo's other noodle-shelters, I decided it time to brave the waters. On recommendation from a few people I trusted, I opted for the Spicy Miso Ramen and a side of Chilli-oil. The service was polite and observant, the outside seating soaked up the dying rays of Oslo's translucent summer, the prices a little on the steep side considering Ezo (in all it's diabolical atrophy) was a full 60 Kr cheaper.
Thoughts of the budget conscious were cast aside upon closer inspection of the arrived bowl. It shone with care and contemplation. No short cuts here, no fooling the customer. What we ate was a bowl of Nordic Ramen which if slightly edited could be on the way to glory. To fully explain this I would have to wade into the waters of personal preferences, and honestly nobody cares to hear that. I shall therefore just critique what was in my vessel.
The soup (with the addition of the chilli oil) was quite rich, flavoursome and had a mild hit of heat. The pork neck, tho not my favourite cut since it tends to resemble boiled ham as opposed to the luxurious texture of pork belly, delivered on flavour and was sufficiently tender. The noodles were straight, still retaining some bite. The only slight diversion was the egg, which, tho perfectly cooked, was aggressively salty even for a salt-fornicater. The addition of the charred cabbage neither added nor subtracted anything from the meal, but was highly preferred to tinned sweetcorn (satan). The "famous" Jerusalem Artichokes, tho not my personal OMG moment, served their purpose in cutting through the richness of the soup with pops of acidity. I just feel they could have used half the amount.
Overall, a much better experience than I (needlessly) feared, and most definitely the best bowl of "Ramen" you can hope to find in Oslo. At least this place is staying true to their philosophy, and making a bowl that they are proud of, and whether you think Ramen can be bastardised is your own moral dilemma, i'll happily eat this over anything else in town for the time being.
In most situations I will try to not slaughter a restaurant due to the fact that tastes are subjective, and more often than not the driving force behind it is a person who's trying. Well, in this case I have to open the gates of wrath.
I have tried Inage's food before. His other branch of ramen at Sapporo, was a gargantuan fuck-chamber of mediocrity when they opened up a few years ago. I remember it so distinctly that I never ventured back. The poor fuckers couldn't get ANYTHING right... Well, now he has branched off due to his "success" in feeding noodle soups to a loyal customer base who I stress to venture have never had a good bowl in their lives, or smoke too many cigarettes, He pushes the thread of authenticity under a blanket of jumping on a bandwagon and actually having no natural ability to re-create Ramen in an edible form.
Ezo, his new flagship spot next to the dazzlingly vomitous facade of beard oil merchants next door, shines with a brave announcement of intent. Come here for hipster, fashionable ramen. One positive, he doesn't hike up the price towards the 200 NOK mark like so many other places in town, cough cough. At 140 Kr for the Shoyu Bowl, you can't at least argue with the cost. However, after completion of said bargain, you realise you'd happily pay more for something edible.
The noodles had this magic power of tasting over-cooked and under-cooked at the same time. The pork was not trimmed properly or rendered so the fat had that awful raw-white-fat taste that would make you send a lamb rack hurtling back to the kitchen, the soup was devoid of any depth and sweet like christmas pudding, the sprinkling of spring onion the only thing that tasted as it should, because it hadn't been barbarised by the chefs hand. To add final insult to the frostiest of injuries, the crown of golden yolked redemption (the egg) was bitten into and subsequently discarded. How they manage to almost hard boil it and then dunk it in vinegar so that it soaks up all of the astringency but no flavours of mirin, soy, that it's supposed to have. Wonders never cease in the realm of cluelessness.
I am starting to have severe suspicions of this man's intentions, because by my experience the Japanese are very studious in their approaches to food and do nothing half-assed. Well, this my friends is the epitome of half-assed. It was downright embarassing.
If you've read any of my articles on Oslo food, you'll know that I pine for the old days of Hai Cafe. Since they shut, there have been rumours of a re-opening, but nothing reached fruition. Dalat was visited once almost a decade ago, and I remember not being overly impressed, and honestly quite put off by the over-riding smell of wet dog and dried fish. Times have changed, and without Hai to tempt my hardly earned Kroners, and others more recently tested, I made it a point to give them a second chance and see if things had improved.
In short, they had.
The smell was rather more pleasant. The service was friendlier than I remembered (tho i'd take a grumpy asshole and retching odours if the soup was up to par). I ordered their Beef Pho and sat watching the ice cubes in my water glass melt quicker than was reasonable. It was a scorching day.
Bowl came a'balancing, and I sipped the broth clean before pouring and tearing in condiments and improvements. It was better than I remembered, but also had that over-sweet taste that I wasn't the biggest fan of. Too much cinnamon or star anise tilting the balance. The beef was rather dry and chewy, the meatball standard and the noodles were as expected. Garnishes aside, since they generally are raw ingredients bought in, the chili garlic paste had a pleasant kick, and added much needed tempering of the sweetness.
Ultimately, the bowl was a good substitution for the vacuum left by Hai, and probably ranked as the best bowl of Pho i've tried so far in Oslo, since Pho Mai swings so wildly in consistency.
I purposely chose the bowl without canned sweetcorn due to my pedantic avoidance of such vagaries. The location was agreeable to dine & depart, although the acoustics were treacherous. The Nagoya bowl arrived at my table from the friendly server, and my accomplices Tonkotsu bowls. I noticed the pool of oil floating on mine, and was slightly hesitant about the repercussions of such excess.
Half way down the bowl, the verdict was in. A totally acceptable bowl of noodle soup, but nothing more than that. The noodles had a slight chew to them, the egg was standard, the addition of crisp bean sprouts is always a plus, and there was an underlying trace of chilli, but it didn't do enough to counter-act the sweetness of the broth. I know some ramen styles are supposed to be oily, but this pushed the envelope onto the fringes. I had a sip of my friends Tonkotsu and if it had been toned down for the local palate i'd understand, because it lacked the deep richness and body that real Tonkotsu possesses. However, for what it was, it was.
In the world of epic ramen, this spot ranks up there. Though KL is perhaps one of the best cities on earth for good food, there isn't a massive amount of Ramen spots considering the size of the city. Tho you can get a masterful bowl of Tonkotsu at Bari-Uma, Kagura sets the standard when it comes to Tori-Paitan.
Chicken ramen with the spiciest sting, toothsome noodles, amazing egg and nice sliced chicken that almost tasted of pork. Hit up this spot in BB if you ever need to be found in that area of town.
Smack bang in the middle of a South Indian cluster of divine proportions stands this trendy Nyonya eatery. Replete with the token naked brick walls, a hipster bicycle by the entrance, signage done with tongue-in-cheek forethought, and a clinically clean appearance, I had doubts about how the food would venture.
This was a very decent Laksa. Definitely nowhere near the top tier of KL's offerings, but decent. My main gripe would have been the choice of noodles. They were oddly uncomfortable to eat. Broth and accompaniments all held their own, but the noodles dragged all things beneath the murky surface.
The wonderful thing about Asia is that it constantly surprises you. In Europe most people wouldn't be caught dead eating at a shopping mall, but in Asia you can find some of the best food there. Nyonya Tingkat is no exception. Spectacularly rich and spicy curry laksa with everything on point.
You'd be hard pushed to find more delicious laksa anywhere in KL
I crave Pho weekly, and despite being in the cradle of all things delicious, I had to venture out and try this spot.
Generally dismissive of shopping malls, based on a pure hatred for my fellow man, I avoid them like the plague. However, Asia has a habit of placing the best restaurants in Air Conditioned malls or food courts, so I have to bite my tongue, don my sunglasses and squeeze through the throngs of happy shoppers.
This ended up being a satisfactory bowl, but nothing more. Everything tasted fine, but the broth was sweet and lacking in depth. It made me wish I had just stuck with local food since the options were so astoundingly varied.
Potentially the worst bowl I ate in KL. The broth was decent but overpoweringly anchovy-ish, the noodles were alright, but the addition of large parts of gem lettuce was not necessary, niether was the huge plonk of anchovies in the soup too.
An altogether sad affair
KL really is too hot these days. Unnervingly so. Within a second of leaving protective shelter, you are microwaved to the bone with increasing attacks of solar spite. Streets are decimated of life, no shadows seen since everyone crawls in shady spots. The odd lady under an umbrella adds a burst of colour to an otherwise washed palette.
I needed noodles + soup. The weather was annoying me, so my medication was called for in the shape of a vessel filled to the brim with broth. The 300 meters to Peters Pork Noodles felt like the Dakar Rally, shoes blistering on sulphurous pavements. In these parts wind only adds to the misery, like a thousand hot hair dryers peeling the skin off your face.
For once, food was not a comforting embrace. In true style, the food court was packed, therefore heightening the heat levels. The pork was dry as a bone, the soup was fairly ok but inanely un-complex, the egg was an egg, there's not really much more elaboration available.
If the great lord satan actually existed and wasn't just a made-up character to stop teenagers fiddling around, this would be his bed pan. Recalling scenes from Salo 120 days of Sodom, where the entire gathering feasted on yesterdays digested lunch, this comes pretty damn close to what I imagine they (in an artistic sense) had to go through.
Rank, unspeakably rotten-fish tasting broth that looked like mud had committed suicide in a fishes stomach and the fish subsequently got diarrhea and expelled it all out, somehow coaxing a boiled egg to shed half of it's skin and float above the defecation bleating for a rescue team. What they expect the small sliver of lime to do to this monstrosity is beyond me.
Inherantly evil, without any redeeming factors, yet rammed with locals slurping their way to the fires and demons of fable-like dungeons.
I would squeeze through an anaconda's anus, battling my way through it's main cavity until an arm was free, douse myself in gasoline, light a match and sacrifice myself and the guilt-free reptile, rather than ever touch this again.
Penang has Laksa and Curry Mee spots galore, but what I found severely lacking was a solid bowl of Ramen. I tried a couple places with no luck, and was on the verge of giving up when the fight to live returned. I commandeered a cab, hurtled north, walked around the block a few times waiting for it to open, was told by the waitress "It's salty so if you want it less salty order with extra broth". I reassured her it was ok. I was right. This was top notch ramen. Everything, except perhaps the slightly dry-chewy pork, was on point.
You could easily find worse ramen than this in Tokyo, or anywhere in Japan for that matter. This is well made, and well balanced and bloody delicious.
Such an experience I had to write an entire blog post about it.
Anthony Bourdain first turned me onto this spot by his reaction to the first spoonful. Mark Wiens headed here also and seemed enraptured by the flavours. I had to make a pilgrimage, and am happy I did, but won't be repeating it any time soon.
In short, the broth was unnervingly fishy... that pungent intense fishiness that pushes dishes over the edge for my liking. However, after forcing myself to eat a large portion of it I ended up changing my mind slightly. I'll never eat it again, but it was worth the experience.
Penang is not a town I planned on eating ramen in, simply for the fact that they have so much delicious food here other than that. However, after 3 weeks I started getting tiny creepings of cravings. I researched and found out Rising Ramen and another spot that was 10 kilometers away, were the go-to spots here.
I hurried into my Grab, found Rising Ramen in a shopping mall, ordered their Tonkotsu Ramen and sat watching the workers all glued to their phones... what a world we live in.
Lets get this out of the way. There are two things I hate in a bowl of ramen, one is FUCKING CORN, the other is pork that's been torched before serving. Ok, so your chef thinks it looks sexy with the black spattering of burn marks? Well, it tastes like shit. It's not pleasant to eat pork with a lingering taste of butane, it takes away the luxury of well made pork.
Of all the meals I have eaten in Penang this will go down as a disappointment. Not necessarily a terrible bowl of ramen, but just lacking those touches that elevate it to great. The broth was alright, but lacked umami. The egg was fine but had no marinade so was largely tasteless, the noodles at least were cooked well so they retained some integrity, but the pork... oh dear..
I think i'll just stick to Laksa since i'm in the land that perfected it.
You find gems in the most unnassuming spots. A tiny cafe specialising in pastries and coffee, who'd a thunk they did the best Taiwanese Beef Noodle soup in town? A recipe passed down from the owners mother, this soup battled against even the best over the ocean in Taiwan. Superbly dark and rich broth, tender as tears beef, decent noodles and crunchy greens served with a smile.
I'm telling you, if I lived in Penang i'd be here once a week.
Famous for both their white curry mee (before you tarnish it with chilli paste) and their chicken, it's highly advisable to order both if you make it out here.
Sensational curry mee with a delicious broth elevated even higher by their home-made chilli oil.
A small hole in the wall spot that serves pretty decent beef pho. Bonus points for being walking distance to Ome by Spacebar so you can get yourself a real coffee after. Tender beef, good beef balls, solid noodles, above average broth: what more do you need?
If there was an award for the sweetest owner/host in Penang, it would surely go to the lady here. Everyone is welcomed in a really kind, considerate way, her manner is so gentle and friendly, and luckily enough for us the food is also really good.
They do a couple of different Laksa, I only managed to try the Lemak Laksa because of other obligations, but it was delicious and slightly different to the Asam Bowls i've eaten in town. The prawn crisp was dynamite!!
Located around the corner from Penang Road Famous Laksa and Rabbit Hole Cafe, this non-descript place is partly concealed by large shutters. Peer inside, dare to walk in, be welcomed by a very friendly owner, and served with a delicious bowl of Curry Mee. Everything was on point here, tho I thought the broth lacked a little bit of depth.
Yet another "legendary" place in Penang, I had to visit the old lady who's been churning out bowls for decades.
The food is delicious, it takes a few sips to get used to the intense flavour, but when you do you'll be addicted.
Not technically a broth-laden bounty of goodness, but noodles-egg-meat -spring onions is enough in my book.
Wrestling with an insane line of locals gathering at their watering-hole, I stood patiently until it was my turn, ordered the spicy version and sat down to feast. Truly truly exceptional. This had a severe chilli kick to it that I adored, the noodles were "al dente" and the mixture with the broken egg yolk was rich, flavoursome and luxurious. I can see why the locals slurp this up.
The promise of Malaysian-ramen wafted through the computer screen. Pan Mee? With bacon? And egg? Sign me up. I followed the grab driver all the way to this small shopfront, walked in, people turned and looked at me in that odd "what the hell is he doing here" way, ordered, sat down and sipped on my ice-coffee.
Of all the bowls of late this wasn't the best, or the worst. The broth was decent, but definitely encouraged greater respect after dumping some chilli paste in. The noodles were pretty standard, the "bacon" was a salty addition and the egg held a deep Chinese spice marinade which was quite delicious.
Overall not a meal that you should smash down the doors to enjoy, but definitely worth trying if you have the time and stomach space.
My feet are a venerable fuck-fest when it comes to problems with my achilles, soles of the feet, arches, anything that goes really. It's been a real bone of contention (pun intended) for quite a few years now, and sometimes leaves me almost immobile which is fine if you have someone to fend for you, but quite problematic when you travel alone. Today the ankle struck!
I managed to hobble down the stairs at the hotel, slide into a taxi, head to a cafe to quell the caffeine pangs. Then set about searching for food within immediate vicinity. Lo and behold! A ramen spot, 25 meters away! I had to do it, for medical reasons.
Mad Ramen was visited, a bowl of black garlic tonkotsu broth ordered, green tea swilled, locale peered at. Bowl came, photos were taken, spoons dipped in, smiles returned to faces, pain momentarily forgotten, and the dance of the firm noodles took centre stage for a few hushed moments.