Ivan Orkin’s story is stuff of legend in the global food community. Against the odds, he established one of the top ramen shops in Tokyo – Ivan Ramen. In a city in where ramen enjoys cult-like status, that would be no mean feat for a Japanese chef – for a foreigner it’s unheard of.
A self described “Jewish Kid from Long Island”, Ivan always knew that his food dream lay on foreign shores. Armed with a degree in Japanese from the University of Colorado Boulder, he immediately moved to Japan after graduation and cemented his love of everything Japanese. Today he owns one of Tokyo’s hottest ramen bars, two more in New York, has published a Japanese cookbook, Ivan Ramen (“Love, obsession and recipes from Tokyo’s most unlikely noodle joint”) and, we’re proud to say, is an official Intrepid Foodie.
We sat down with Ivan to discuss all things Japanese and delicious.
1. What are the five dishes you can’t leave Japan without eating?
Definitely Tempura – each item is cooked and served one at a time from vegetables to fish and shellfish. Find a good izakaya, get to know your concierge and tell them to recommendation places off the tourist path.
French and Italian food cuisine is wonderful here, not just the Michelin-starred places. And of course eating ramen makes a lot of sense, there are 10,000 shops in Tokyo alone.
2. Why is it essential to slurp your ramen?
Because the ramen is hot, when you inhale the noodles, it cools them and allows you to eat them at their best.
3. What makes Tokyo one of the world’s most exciting destinations for food?
Tokyo is obsessed with newness and is constantly evolving, and this applies to the food scene. The seafood is unparalleled, its farming country grows the best tomatoes and it’s a very seasonal place. Some fish and vegetables are only at their peak for a few days each year. Food is really celebrated on TV, in print media, everywhere. It’s a national obsession.
4. What are your top Japanese beverages?
Japanese beer goes really well with food. I like Suntory Malts or Asahi Super Dry on a hot day. Shochu is a white distilled alcohol made from barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat and rice, try is neat or on the rocks. And you’re missing out if you don’t really explore the world of sake. Some breweries are very small, making only limited amounts that aren’t available outside of Japan. You can have sake, hot, warm or cold, depending on the style.
5. Why is Kappabashi Street the ultimate one-stop shopping strip for food nerds?
Like New York City’s Bowery St, there are knife shops, chair shops, utensil shops, plastic food shops. Kappabashi is where chefs and restaurateurs buy their wares.
6. What are three words you would use to describe your perfect bowl of ramen?
A perfect bowl of ramen is hot, has noodles and soup balanced together, the right amount of fat and it has to be slurpable. That’s very important.
Feature image Ivan Ramen in Tokyo c/o Holly, Flickr