Kogashi - or charred - ramen has arrived in Australia with the Sydney opening of Gogyo, a Japanese chain linked to the popular Ippudo outlets already dotted across the city. Gogyo was the first to create the dark, smoky-flavoured broth that distinguishes kogashi, and it has become the eatery's signature dish, although it also trades in the likes of wagyu tataki from the robata, tonkotsu ramen and a spicy shoyu ramen.
We sat down with Sho Yoshimura, operations manager of Gogyo in Sydney, for the lowdown.
The bar at Gogyo Sydney
First of all, what is this charred ramen?
The charred soup is made from a chicken stock base and seasoned with either shoyu soy sauce or miso. The broth is a clearer chintan-style soup, which Yoshimura says is cooked for six hours rather than the 20 hours it takes to make the pork broth for tonkotsu ramen.
Kogashi hails from Hakata, considered by many to be the ramen capital of Japan. This variety is a fairly recent addition to the ramen family, created in 2000 by Shigemi Kawahara, ramen master and founder of Gogyo.
"People are always trying to come up with new ways of doing ramen," Yoshimura says. "The versatility of the dish is what allowed it to become a soul food in different regions of Japan. It can match the taste and culture of different parts of the country."
Toppings for Gogyo's kogashi include two slices of pork belly, boiled cabbage, half an umami egg, narutomaki (that's the white fish cake with a pink swirl) and roasted nori.
Kogashi miso ramen
How is kogashi ramen made?
It starts with pork lard ("Not a small amount," says Yoshimura) that's heated in a wok over a high flame. For the shoyu kogashi, the lard has to get up to 320˚C while the miso variety requires a slightly less molten 300˚C. This takes between 20 and 30 seconds. An infrared thermometer is used to measure the temperature and, when it's just right, the miso paste or soy sauce is added, at which point smoke (and sometimes flames) erupts. The ramen master waits a few seconds to allow the miso or soy to char up and impart the signature flavour, then adds the chicken broth.
"The broth comes out black," Yoshimura says. "It's slightly bitter, but full of umami."
Why would you want to burn your ramen? The charred broth is about as deeply savoury as you can get.
"We harness the technique of charring it to an optimum level where it's not too bitter but you get this tremendous kick of charred fragrance," Yoshimura says.
Wagyu flank sukiyaki
What does it taste like?
Yoshimura says the miso broth is rich with a hint of sweetness beneath the burnt flavours, while the shoyu is smoother and more fragrant. The shoyu is also slightly lighter in colour.
What type of noodles should I get with my ramen?
You might want to rephrase that to "What type of noodles will I get?" The ramen master knows what's best. Many hours of testing and research have gone into finding the perfect noodle for the kogashi - that being the medium-thin #16F noodle. The 16 refers to the noodle's thickness (a larger number denotes a thinner noodle) and the F stands for flat.
"The noodle needs to withstand the intense heat of the broth so it needs to be thicker for the kogashi," Yoshimura says.
How do you eat it?
Slowly. When the ramen arrives at your table, the broth is about 85˚C and maintains that temperature for up to 10 minutes. "Sip slowly so you don't burn yourself," Yoshimura cautions. And don't be afraid to slurp your noodles; the air you suck in with the noodles helps bring the temperature down. Yoshimura also recommends scooping the broth from the bottom of the bowl for the full flavour hit.
Chilli shoyu ramen
How dangerous to make is this dish?
Don't try this at home. The Gogyo staff are put through their paces to ensure they follow proper and safe techniques. "If you burn the soup base too much, it turns to ash. You need to put the stock in at the right time," Yoshimura says. For Gogyo's Sydney opening in December, chefs from Japan were on hand to train staff.
Isn't there supposed to be actual fire?
Chefs in Japan like to put on a show for diners, coaxing high flames out of the wok before adding the stock, but you're unlikely to see this in Sydney (for one thing, our fire-safety regulations don't allow it).
It's the hottest ramen in town - get to Gogyo for a bowl.
Gogyo, 52-54 Albion St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9212 0003. Lunch daily 11.30am-2.30pm, dinner daily 5.30pm-9.00pm