There are few things I love more than ramen. Rich broths, firm, chewy noodles, fresh, pickled, and preserved veggies, marinated soft-boiled eggs… when all aspects are perfect, the result is, well, perfection. However, I’ve found one ramen niche that is just lacking: vegetarian.
First, let’s clear the record: I eat meat. Almost every time I order ramen, I order tonkotsu (pork) based broths. Why? The flavor is simply unmatched. I understand that is strange considering I will be delving into vegetarian ramen only, and I also know this may be off-putting to some, but hear me out.
I want to love vegetarian ramen. I want to experience the same taste and satisfaction I get from my favorite tonkotsu broth without resorting to meat/bones. I cook exclusively vegetarian at home and I resist eating meat often while out, but a great bowl of tonkotsu ramen is still hard for me to pass up. The richness… meatiness… it surely can be replicated, but adequate substitutes are few and far between. Though some are certainly tasty, a bowl of vegetarian ramen is generally not comparable its meaty counterpart.
Vegetarian ramen broths are often too gritty, too thick, too watered-down, or just lack depth of flavor. Ramen toppings are often neglected as well in vegetarian bowls, and rarely show signs of effort. Topping with plain sliced tofu as a sad protein replacement or just stuffing the bowl with fresh veggies are common blunders:
Additionally, some toppings which seem vegetarian are often not. For example, menma and ajitama often include meat in the marinades (Weipa or leftover chashu marinade, respectively). It is a sad day when vegetarians can’t even enjoy bamboo, let alone the delicious flavor and textures packed in chashu or the pools of pork fat that gather at the top of especially delectable bowls. These elements would be even more enjoyable if I could sink my teeth in and know that no animal had been harmed in the process.
I am optimistic that all of these elements can be replicated to stand up to even the best non-veg ramen, and I am on a mission to find out how. Follow my journey of testing recipes, experimenting, and (hopefully) reaching my goal–a perfect bowl of vegetarian ramen.