Shoyu Ramen @ Ryowa Ramen House, Berkeley

Shoyu ramen with pork, spinach, and bamboo shoots.

Living in the Napa Valley, I’ve long been searching for a decent bowl of ramen that doesn’t require a bridge toll. Unfortunately, there’s no realistic solution to this problem, so far as I can tell. For what it’s worth, I can at least find the Vietnamese counterpart to ramen at Pho #1 in Vallejo, which I also recommend wholeheartedly. But despite their superficial similarities, pho is not ramen, and the latter dish still requires a $5 trek across the Carquinez Bridge, if not the Golden Gate. I mention this fact only to vent my slight frustration, and to point out that the Napa culinary scene is far from comprehensive, as heralded as it is.

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I decided upon Ryowa Ramen House in Berkeley this week, which has the added perk of being next door to a quaint little Asian-themed bookstore, Eastwind Books on University. Although Eastwind only offers only a small selection of used cookbooks, I scored a nice find on my last visit, a very early edition of “Pei Mei’s Chinese Cookbook Volume II.” Published in 1972, the book represents the middle of a three-part series, and devotes equal time to Chinese and English (recipes on the left-facing pages are written in Chinese, while the English translations are on the right). Many folks regard Wu Pei-Mei as the Julia Child of China, and I would have to agree that this comparison proves accurate on many levels. Pei-Mei’s books are landmark publications, and together, this seminal trilogy provides the most definitive collection of Chinese recipes written in English.

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Ryowa’s Lunch Special “B” is pictured above, and this combination offers a great bargain at just $8.50 (the ramen is a decently-sized lunch portion, and is accompanied by fried rice and three gyoza). The “shoyu” style of ramen features a soy-flavored broth, though Ryowa also offers the other standard ramen options, such as a simple salt broth or a miso-based broth. The shoyu broth remains my favorite variation, and Ryowa’s version of shoyu boasts terrific depth of flavor. The pork cutlets were also a highlight of the dish, and I found that they were tender enough to exceed my expectations. I love when that happens.

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