Kintaro Ramen in Changzhou's Xinbei District
Kintaro Ramen in Changzhou’s Xinbei District

How much do you really love your favorite food? Enough to travel across town for it? Across the country? Across oceans? If it were to disappear from your life tomorrow, what lengths would you go to recreate it? This is the problem faced by Allen Hu. After years spent in Vancouver, Canada, soaking up the broth at one of the city’s artisan ramen shops, Kintaro Ramen, Mr. Hu found himself deeply missing the Japanese comfort food upon his return to Changzhou.

你到底有多喜欢你最爱的食物?你愿意长途跋涉甚至跨国越洋专程前去吃吗?如果明天它将从你的生活中消失,你愿意花多少时间去学做它?这正是Allen之前所面对的问题。在加拿大温哥华待了好几年,胡先生经常去当地拉面店,一回到常州,胡先生竟发现自己如此怀念那碗日式拉面。

For all Changzhou’s fabulous wealth of noodles, finding a bowl of ramen that captured the spirit and flavors of the noodles he left on the other side of an ocean proved beyond challenging. Even frequent trips to Japan could only do so much to satisfy Mr. Hu’s ramen lust. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t be the only person in Changzhou looking for an authentic bowl of ramen. There had to be other fans of the urban Japanese staple somewhere in town. They just needed a ramen shop to appear, and they would as well. Loyal in his devotion, he named his new noodle dream Kintaro in honor of the Vancouver restaurant that inspired its birth.

常州真的非常多面馆,但想找一碗跟他在大洋彼岸吃过的味道相似的拉面真的太难了。虽然经常去日本,还是不能满足胡先生对拉面的喜爱。胡先生觉得他肯定不会是常州唯一一位一心寻找一碗正宗日式拉面的人,肯定还有其他跟他一样热衷日式拉面的人,他们一定都盼着有那样一家拉面店营业。对日本拉面的执着,胡先生给他的面店起名金太郎,灵感就来源于温哥华的那家餐厅。

Kintaro Ramen
Kintaro’s signature ramen noodle dish

The Ramen Road

Ramen, or 日式拉面 (Rìshì Lāmiàn or “Japanese-style pulled noodles”), have travelled a long and circuitous route to Kintaro’s kitchen from their humble origins… in China’s Inner Mongolia. When the noodles were brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants sometime around the turn of the 20th century, they represented an advanced innovation in noodle-making that hadn’t been seen before in the island nation. Thanks to the addition of kansui, a mineral-rich water, the noodles could be stretched longer and hold their structure better in soups than the native “soba.”

其实日式拉面可是经过了一段迂回曲折的过程才由不起眼的小吃演变成后来金太郎餐厅里提供的日式拉面的,说起来,日式拉面竟源于中国内蒙古。大约20世纪,前去日本发展的中国人把面条带入日本,他们想要创新岛国没有的面条做法。多亏了碱水,也就是富含丰富矿物质的水做出来的面条比当地的 “荞麦面”更筋道。

Originally served up in a simple clear broth from street carts and in Chinese restaurants, the Japanese were fond enough of the snack that they began customizing it with local additions and heartier broths, that they soon turned what was originally a simple warm meal accompaniment or between meal snack into a full-fledged meal. Despite these customizations, ramen was referred to as “Chinese-style Soba” until Momofuku Ando invented a way of flash-frying the noodles and packaged them up in disposable cups, changing the lives and diets of future broke college students for generations to come.

最初的日式拉面只是在日本街边小推车和中餐馆售卖,慢慢地,日本日也爱上了这道富有日本特色且添加健康的肉汤的面,他们很快把这道最初只是一个简单佐餐或餐间零食的小吃变成正餐。之前的拉面指的是“中式荞麦面”,后来安藤百福改良面条制成现代化的泡面,改变了无数人尤其是大学生的生活和饮食习惯。

By the 1980s, ramen had become so ubiquitous in Japan that Japanese businessmen, obsessed with the dish, quit their jobs to take up ramen-making as a full-time art form, starting up artisanal ramen shops, devoted to crafting the perfect bowl of noodles. For a similar trend today, you might compare those ramen-preneurs to the hot young hipsters who quit their high-flying tech and finance jobs to start up microbreweries.

到20世纪80年代,拉面在日本几乎是无处不在,许多痴迷于拉面的商人甚至辞掉工作专门研究拉面,开手工拉面店,潜心制作一碗完美的面条。如今也有类似趋势,那些拉面的人就好比辞去高科技和金融工作开精酿啤酒吧的热血年轻潮人。

Much like microbreweries, trend-setting urban centers loved these boutique ramen shops. Small restaurants like Kintaro Ramen soon popped up in metropolises like Vancouver, thousands of miles from the land that had become associated with the noodle soup. That a man born in China would fall in love with a Japanese-infused Chinese invention in a noodle shop in Canada is probably used as an example to illustrate globalization in a textbook somewhere.

就像受欢迎的精酿啤酒吧一样,精品拉面店在引领潮流的市中心肯定也十分受欢迎。这样日式拉面店一入驻像温哥华这样的大城市就广受欢迎,方圆几千里的居民都拜倒在一碗汤下。一个中国人会爱上加拿大面店里一道由中国人发明的注入日本特色的面,这件事大概可以写进教科书某处作为解释说明全球化的例子。

Kintaro Ramen ChangzhouWritten in the Details

Catch a glimpse of the façade of Kintaro, and you know you’ve found something different from the typical eateries crowded in front of Hohai University’s west gate. Angular and simple with an emphasis on natural materials and an open kitchen, Kintaro’s minimalist style stands out.

在河海大学西门对面一排几乎全是餐馆的店铺中,一眼就能感受到金太郎的与众不同。店铺选用天然材料装修,厨房也是开放式的开放式厨房,整个装修风格简约而不简单。

Ramen chef cooking in Kintaro's open kitchen
Ramen chef busy toiling at Kintaro

Designing and renovating the restaurant took an exceedingly long time, thanks to Mr. Hu’s exacting requirements and attention to details. White maple used throughout the interior was imported from Canada. The red oak for the front entry came from the US. Kintaro’s massive front glass wall—shocking up close for its sheer size—had to be custom ordered from Shanghai. “It took ten men to lift it,” Mr. Hu reminisces. Each design decision came with an agonizing amount of work.

胡先生严格的要求和注重细节,餐厅的设计和装修花了相当长一段时间。大面积采用加拿大进口白枫木,大门为全红橡木实木,门口大片玻璃墙面由上海定制运来,“当初可是10个男人才搞得动这块大玻璃解,”胡先生说道。每个设计决策背后都背负着巨大得工作量。

The Dream Brought to Life

As you can imagine, there’s a lot riding on the bowls of noodles at Kintaro. Mr. Hu brought the same attitude he used on the interior design at Kintaro to its food, with a menu as spare as the store front. Little graces the single sheet of dishes aside from a handful of mostly traditional ramen bowls, a token rice dish, and gyoza. While the dishes themselves are limited, you can customize both the bite of your noodles and the leanness of your meat.

金太郎的面做法也十分讲究,胡先生对店里食物的要求跟店铺设计要求一样高。店里除了多种传统的日式拉面,小菜,以及经典的小食。金太郎的拉面每天限量销售,到店可以自己选择面的软硬程度和肉的肥瘦。

We only make 200 bowls of noodles each day. If we run out at 7:30, then we have to close.
我们每天限量200碗面。如果7:30卖完,我们就关门歇业。

“Everything served must look like the pictures on the menu,” Mr. Hu says, “It helps to ensure the quality.” Ingredient and food proportions are strictly regulated and monitored. “We only make 200 bowls of noodles each day. If we run out at 7:30, then we have to close.”

 

“端上桌的食物必须和菜单图片上的一样,”胡先生说,“这样才能保质保量。”配料和主材的比例是严格控制。“我们每天限量200碗面。如果7:30卖完,我们就关门歇业。”

The process of making those two hundred bowls of noodles starts far in advance. The fresh pork for the house-made chashu (BBQ pork) used in several of Kintaro’s ramen varieties begins marinating around 4 days before it finally makes its appearance in a customer’s bowl. Everyday 80kg of bones are boiled for 12 hours to make the broth. Even the spring bamboo used to make menma (a type of fermented bamboo) is sent from a carefully selected village in Fujian to a small factory Mr. Hu set up to supply his restaurant with the ingredient after he failed to source just the right kind.

200碗面的制作需要提前准备很久。五花叉烧采用精选新鲜猪五花,通过独特的制作手法和秘制酱汁,需要四天的腌制才能端上桌;骨汤需要熬制12小时;就连笋干都是福建小山村精选竹笋送到工厂加工的,因为附近没有他想要用的那种食材。

While many ingredients are sourced locally or made in-house from scratch to ensure freshness, a number of products are still imported directly from Japan when taste is on the line. Every three months, a Japanese ramen chef also flies to Changzhou to control quality and flavor, and provide continued training for the staff.

许多原料都是本地采购或自制,以确保新鲜,因为口味需要,一些调味料等都是直接从日本进口。日本当地的一位拉面主厨会专门来常州把关金太郎拉面的质量和味道,并对员工进行培训。

The result of all these preparations, attentions, and limitations is a bowl of noodles crafted to appear shockingly simple with a rich flavor that envelops you in a big, warm hug. Perhaps this is why Kintaro tends to overflow during the weekday lunch rush as college students and young professionals queue up past that massive glass wall. Mr. Hu, it would seem, isn’t the only person in Changzhou who would go to unusual pains for a beautiful and authentic bowl of Japanese-style ramen.

所有的准备、严格要求、限量都是为了给顾客一碗看上去简单味道却很丰富的拉面,让顾客感受到用心和温暖。也许这就是为什么就算是工作日午餐时间金太郎玻璃墙外都排满了人。很显然,胡先生不是常州唯一一个为了正宗日式拉面不惜代价的人。

20-8 Xinhai Yinyuan, Huishan Road, Xinbei District (diagonally across the street from Hohai University’s west gate)

新北区惠山路星海银园20-8商铺(河海大学西门斜对面

 

 


Photo by Theresa Boersma/Richard Fuoco | Translated by Zinia