“In Japan, only a lunatic would go to the bother of making noodles” declares our teacher as we pound flour and water. Not being the world’s most patient cook, I wondered if I’d live to regret tonight. But having spent many a lunch break slurping the hearty fare in Kanada-Ya, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to try out Sozai, the UK’s first Japanese Cooking School. Raring for Ramen, I dashed over to Aldgate to uncover the culinary secrets of the Far East.
Ramen for the uninitiated is a Japanese soup dish. And in Japan, Ramen Bars are the equivalent of the late-night kebab stop after a heavy night on the Sake. The spicy broth, meat and noodles are perfect to mop out the excess alcohol, particularly if you’re heading to work the next day. Spreading across the capital quicker than you can raise a chopstick, Ramen bars are now all the rage with London office workers. And thanks to Sozai Cooking School, you can now make these dishes at home and bring the leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
Entering a cosy cocoon of orange, I’m slightly perturbed to leaf through five different recipe sheets. Would I make it in time for my last tube home? Or would I head straight to work after the class? Getting down to action, I note with relief that the heavy slog will be done by pressure cooker – leaving us to make light work of the sauces and noodles.
Once the flour water, salt and bicarbonate of soda mixture transforms into sticky dough, we’re instructed to knead it fifty times. In Japanese cooking precision is everything. Pounding with all my might, the dough finally starts to stick together around the fiftieth attempt. Whisked off to cool in cling film for thirty minutes, it is ceremonially battered into submission another fifty times before being deemed ready for its transformation.
Next comes the exciting bit as we get to grips with the pasta machine. Again patience is a virtue here. Are home-made noodles really worth the faff? Once the dough enters the machine, the process is however surprisingly quick despite having to pass through five “thinning” stages.
The dramatic climax proves worth the wait as the flabby dough transforms into svelte, slinky strips – worthy of Masterchef. We’re all absurdly proud of our creations and I find myself eating my words and seriously considering buying a pasta maker. Something I never would have dreamed of doing before.
Ramen can be eaten cold and tonight we’re learning to make a deliciously refreshing cold Ramen sauce. Adding a dash of Rice Vinegar, Soy Sauce, cold water, sugar and Sesame oil, we spice things up further with a surprising dollop of English mustard, white sesame seeds and chilli oil. The effect sears through the taste buds in a cacophony of contrasting flavours. Our mouths water at the prospect of what’s to come.
By 9.00pm, we’re famished and ready to eat. Accompanied with a refreshing glass of Japanese beer, I opt first for the cold Ramen dish. Consisting of cold noodles, minced pork and Miso sauce, served with slivers of cucumber, ham, omelette and extra mustard, it’s the perfect summer dish – fresh and zingy and incredibly moreish.
The final dish we try is the hot Ramen soup. Consisting of a chicken stock soup, noodles, Char Shu pork, Ramen Eggs, spring onions and Nori dry seaweed, it’s a glorious mish mash of flavours and textures – hot and spicy, sweet and sour. And most importantly hearty and warming. Satisfied murmurs echo around the table as we all sheepishly head back for second and third helpings. It’s one of those dishes you just can’t get enough of and I can see why it’s the perfect dish for a post-work drinks binge.
Leaving Sozai armed with complementary jars of Miso paste, Soy Sauce and Rice Vinegar, I make a determined resolve to rock my Ramen recipes at home. Lunch break leftovers may never be the same again.
I was invited to attend Sozai Cooking School as part of a promotion partnered with Ladies in Blogging.