Imagine you're walking down a busy street at night. In Japan. The sidewalk is slippery and your hood is drenched. You're cold, hungry, and desperately wishing for something warm.
You turn the corner into a dark alley and stumble upon a tiny restaurant. You push the door open a crack.
Inside, five cooks shout out in a chorus "Irrashaimase!" as you enter the tiny space, a warm oasis from the harsh elements outside. The cooks are hard at work, hand-kneading ramen noodles. Steam rises from countless pots of water boiling the fresh noodles. You tentatively request "the most famous dish" (your Japanese is lacking and that is all you can muster). The noodle soup that emerges is perfect: fat chewy noodles, piping hot broth, and deliciously tender slices of fragrant roast pork.
If only I could relive that moment again. That was me, back in April, stumbling upon Suzuran in a dark alley in Shibuya, Japan. Since then, I have not stopped in a ramen restaurant in the States, fearing it would be nothing like that experience. Well, nine months later, I finally tried my first ramen place in Boston after leaving Japan.
Being at Sapporo Ramen is almost reminiscent of being at a noodle bar in Japan, although the effect gets a bit lost once you realize you're actually in a small university/mall. It's nothing like being at Suzuran, but if you stay in the little foodstall area and use your imagination, you can almost believe you are in Japan. After all, you are surrounded by other tiny Japanese eateries, and the atmosphere of the place feels Japanese enough, I guess.
The space at Sapporo Ramen is tiny, crowded, and minimalistic. The cooks stand right in front, feverishly working to churn out hot, piping bowls of ramen. Although there's no "Irrashaimase!" when you first enter, the staff is friendly enough. The ramen broth is deep, rich, and flavorful, a result of bones simmering for hours over a low flame.
Despite the simplicity, there are cute reminder of Japan at each table.
Spicy Miso Ramen
And the dishes are good. Soy based broths, Miso-based broths. You can even get a sesame version, which has a super deep sesame flavor, although it's quite rich and I had trouble finishing it.
This place is simple, cheap, authentic, and extremely popular. During busy times, be prepared to wait in line for one of the handful of available tables.
Even if you don't like ramen, the Porter Exchange Mall is worth visiting if you like Japanese stuff in general. There are many great reasonably priced eateries such as Cafe Mami (Japanese curry, hamburgs, etc), Bluefin (sushi sit-down restaurant), Cho Cho's (Korean food), a boba tea stand, a sushi bar, and a few other small eateries with which I am not as familiar. There's a Japanese bakery as well. Not to mention an awesome gift shop that sells some of my favorite Japanese characters. All in all, a great place to visit!
Oh how I miss Japan!
Porter Exchange Mall
1815 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140
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