Celebrity chefs’ reverence for ramen – the subject of the first-ever issue of Lucky Peach, David Chang’s uber-hip food quarterly, and a recurring theme on Anthony Bourdain’s shows – has helped a nation of eaters understand there’s much more to the genre than the noodle packages they bought for a dime apiece as college students. But now that ramen’s common, it’s tsukemen’s turn.
Like ramen, tsukemen is composed of noodles, pork, egg and vegetal accoutrements. But if ramen is a symphony, tsukemen is a concerto, with each component taking a solo turn. Instead of mixing the elements together in a bowl of hot broth, a tsukemen chef serves the noodles, naked and cool, alongside a concentrated dipping broth. Tsukemen – pronounced SKEH-men, almost like lemon – is ideal for warm days.
And since Charleston sees its share of warm days, it’s excellent news that Xiao Bao Biscuit last week snuck tsukemen onto its menu. It’s based on a tsukemen that the restaurant’s owners sampled on their recent trip to Japan: The bracing dose of yuzu in the dip is a salute to that sleek noodle house’s preparation, although chef Joshua Walker says he had to puzzle out the remaining ingredients.
The list includes chicken, instead of pork, broth, which gives the balanced sauce a sheer, clean quality. And the pork in the bowl is pulled pork instead of pork belly, further taming the richness that makes ramen unsuitable in the summer.
Most importantly, though, the noodles are chewy and thick; the greens are hearty and the hard-boiled egg is velvety at the center. Have at it.