Not Your Roommate's Ramen
Tamashii Ramen House
Ramen noodles have generally been considered a cheap and easy instant food consumed mostly by broke college students without proper kitchens. We Oklahomans have only known the styrofoam cups or plastic wrapped packs of dried noodles accompanied by sodium-rich seasoning packets. We are now learning that ramen is actually a hearty Japanese dish with several regional variations.
Wakana Kamesato Sebacher, co-founder of Tamashii Ramen, remembers the reactions she’d receive when talking about her new business venture with local friends. “Even when we were trying to open the place, our friends were like, ‘Matt and Wakana, you’re crazy. There’s ramen you can buy from Wal-Mart!’” she chuckles.
At the time, there wasn’t a dedicated ramen shop in the area. Some of the local sushi and Japanese restaurants would occasionally run it as a special, but for noodle soup, Oklahoma City was strictly a pho town. Twelve years ago when Wakana moved here from Okinawa for school, she found a glaring hole in our culinary scene. “I noticed there were a lot of sushi restaurants, but not the food I grew up with,” Wakana recalls. “I ate sushi too, but that was more like a special occasion. I didn’t see any ramen, I didn’t see any comfort food, so I always wanted to eat that.”
After graduating college and working as a CPA, Wakana still had the craving for the hot and savory bowls of noodles from her childhood. She and her husband, Matthew, had been dreaming of becoming business owners. Even though they had hardly any restaurant experience, Matt’s passion for cooking and Wakana’s desire to bring Japanese food to the metro led them to open Tamashii Ramen House in 2015.
Throughout the first few weeks, the city’s enthusiastic response overwhelmed the couple. Their broth takes ten to twelve hours to cook, and in the early days, Tamashii often had to close early because they sold out so quickly. Without any industry experience, Wakana and Matthew knew they had to listen to their seasoned line cooks and staff members. Improved techniques as well as trial and error enabled them to adjust and thrive.
In Japan, one can sample a substantial diversity of ramen styles, depending upon the town or region in which you find yourself. Savory ramen might use chicken or pork broth, sometimes with a lot of soy sauce. Rich varieties include miso or butter.
Tamashii specializes in tonkotsu, a style that originated in Kyushu in southern Japan and can be found in yatai, or street stalls, all around the island. Tonkotsu is arguably the most popular style in Japan, known for its rich, strongly flavored broth. Pork bones and collagen are boiled for hours, and the broth is then seasoned at the time of service. Tamashii serves theirs with tender pork belly, bonito flakes, thinly sliced scallions, and a creamy soft-boiled egg.
Although the broth is usually what people consider as the distinctive part of ramen, the noodles carry just as much importance. Those curly dried bricks of noodles from store bought instant ramen are a far cry from what the authentic shops use. Because Tamashii’s fairly small location doesn’t have the room to make their own noodles, they contract with Sun Noodles in Los Angeles. Sun has three factories in the United States and provides high quality and custom noodles to some of the best ramen restaurants in the country, including David Chang’s famed Momofuku in New York City.
“Before we opened the restaurant, we knew exactly what kind of noodles we wanted to do,” Wakana explains. “We wanted to have more wavy style instead of straight, thin. A little thicker noodles with a chewiness so they can taste it.” After going back and forth with several different batches, Sun hit upon a style that was perfect for what Tamashii envisioned.
Although their specialty is ramen, Tamashii offers other classic Japanese dishes to help expand Oklahomans’ perceptions of what the country has to offer. Gyoza, a potsticker filled with cabbage and pork, are handmade in house every day. Their takoyaki is another excellent appetizer: little fried dumplings full of tender octopus and drizzled with Kewpie mayonnaise.
To continue sharing their love of a variety of Japanese dishes, Wakana and Matt will soon be opening a food truck next door that will feature a favorite dessert often sold on the streets: crepes. The Japanese style crepe is loaded with fruit and sweet fillings, then rolled into a handheld cone.
If you’ve only ever tried the kind of ramen that sells ten for a dollar, try Tamashii this winter and find your new favorite comfort food.
> Tamashii Ramen, 321 NW 8th St, Oklahoma City