Ryos Japanese, Crows Nest - Sydney
Ramen comes in various forms and feel from different parts of Japan - Ryo's offer a distinct Tokyo taste in stock soup and texture of thin noodles. Although favourite soups come laden with rich brews in pork and chicken, Ryo's does also provide a distinctive blend of both fish and pork stock ( or tonkotsu-gyokai). The intensity of the soups at Ryo's seem to appear lighter, but that does not detract from a rewarding taste. One tends to compare ramen experiences with those of the home country, in the nearby Korean peninsular and in various joints, upmarket or not, scattered in homes and hubs in various immigrant portions of Western cities. Not only is the quality of the soup important, but I reckon the cut and taste of well chosen pork or chicken cuts do affect the overall sensation. When one consumes ramen, one must acknowledge the origins of this dish, essentially street food, echoing of working class struggles, the charm and expertise of individuals who labour over the art and joy of cooking them and the village like communal atmosphere which has nurtured this quintessential East Asian inspiration. It may be also important to not mix up judgements of ramen with those aspects in slurping up pasta or partaking Chinese vermicelli, for although possibly related by history and culture, ramen stands a world apart from pasta and its other variations originating in different geographical regions. Ramen culture echoes the uniqueness and nuances of Japanese society.
Ryo's on the lower north shore of greater Sydney has an unassuming facade outside and is rather small inside, offering only a few tables and a stooled bar counter for clients. Whatever space on the walls are filled up with hand written strips of paper, reminiscent of Nippon temples and Tibetan impressions. "Ryo" means to be magnificent, excel and exceed. In this respect, this particular business lives up to its name, in attracting people to line up outside its small shop front, to make them come back for more and create a positive representation of street food in a corner of Crows Nest away from the main strip of cafes and restaurants. A rather tanned guy opens its doors occasionally to admit two or three customers at a time. This is a place where it pays to arrive early, otherwise one would be caught with a sure test of the limits of one's patience - and it can be rather warm lining up under the full sun along Falcon Street. There is not an extensive menu list - but you do have options in dumplings and side snacks if you do not want noodles. You inevitably end up sharing tables with strangers who can potentially be friends - and that is the purpose of it all, to partake food together in a communal fashion. The prices are rather reasonable when compared with the Ippudos of the world - and in this respect, I am reminded more of the Menya joints in Sydney CBD than anything else. The compulsory egg is served with each Ryo bowl, which is smaller than its competitors. One thing about Ryo is that you eat as fast as you can, go and allow other people to take your seat. Maybe it should be located near transport hubs and rail stations, where a never ending of passer-bys can take care of their meals and move on.
I also am reminded of Vietnamese pho joints around Sydney, where diner turnover, speed of service and a practical approach add to the value of doing a business. Yes, there is the contraption of sauces, the chopstick pairs and the folded serviette paper sitting and staring at us from the table. There is a family of four hovering behind me near the door. The several people who share our table just speak enjoyably in Mandarin, with not a word of English from them. You can have a spicy variation of the soup, although I often prefer the clear version instead. What I wondered is the signature difference between Tokyo ramen with other versions? Is it Hakata styled tonkotsu or pork bone cuts, or having sweet dried sardines or bonito with chicken to build up the broth? Must the stock be a bit fatty to bring out the flavours? Shoyu, or soy sauce, must be cleverly used in a diligent way to avoid leaving an excessive lingering of thirstiness in clients - and natural flavours are to be preferred, instead of resorting to the easy option of adding MSG. Tokyo's ramen are often found along narrow and tiny lanes. What is always a winner are having those chunky chashu pork slices to adorn a piping hot bowl of ramen.
Not far from Falcon Street is a hidden hub of cafes with breakfast and brunch menus, barista made coffees and one - Scurro's - with some cakes and sweet stuff. Such is the beauty and specialness of Australian cities and suburban areas. You can have your Japanese and still top up with Italian, modern Australian and the best of produce and ingredients. The day had got unseasonably warm and once again Australia was to witness a change in the Commonwealth Government in elections held for the 28th Prime Minister and the 44th term of Government in the nation. Multi-culturalism marches on and has become irreversible. The benefits in the fusion and availability of different cuisines around the world are not to be taken for granted.