It doesn’t take cold, miserable weather to work my taste receptors into a frenzied dance for hot, delicious soup – but it certainly doesn’t hurt either that Portland’s climate is favorably tailored to the cuisine more or less year-round.
Tucked back in the unassuming alley that is SE 33rd just a half block north of Hawthorne, one of the city’s newest and best contributions of the always-welcome brothy banquet comes from a food truck by the name of Umai. Run by two local musicians, Austin Moore and Forest Carter, a guitarist and drummer respectively that have played in bands together for years, their signature dish is a Japanese style ramen to die for, among other fantastical things on the menu. And after only nine months in operation, the cart’s food has proved itself more than worthy of their name, which means “delicious” in Japanese.
The ramen ($10) comes in three different broths: Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy) and Miso. I prefer the Miso as there’s something about its not-too-salty, rich, yet subtle umami flavor that makes it the perfect base. Don’t shy away from adding classic shichimi spice for heat, which they have available at the window. The noodles are hand-made daily, and done beautifully. Unless you’re of the vegetarian persuasion, the soup boasts a healthy serving of pork shoulder that is cooked to perfection – just the right amount of crispy on the outside, and a tender, juicy wonderland on the inside. Perhaps the nail in the coffin of my love for this ramen however is the addition of pickled shitaki mushrooms – they’re good enough to convert those haters of the fungus among us.
But that’s not all these guys are nailing. The Chicken Karaage Sandwich ($8) just might be the best damn chicken sandwich in town. Don’t doubt me or try to call my bullshit, just go try it for yourself. Karaage is the Japanese take on America’s southern-style fried chicken, but ingeniously marinated in garlic, ginger and soy before being breaded and fried crispy. The slabs of chicken are generous in size and sit atop a fresh mini-baguette lathered with mouthwatering bacon chutney, layered with a bok choy coleslaw and topped with some of their kale and sesame salad. Need I say more? OK. You can also order the Chicken Karaage as a side (3 or 4 pieces) for only $4.
For those who might bitch about their ten dollar price for ramen, here are some reasons to reconsider your grievance: making every single batch of noodles by hand daily is a serious labor of love and the payoff is an indisputably superior freshness and flavor; and, all of the ingredients are locally sourced and made fresh. Consider this a challenge, foodies – if you can find me a better bowl of ramen in Portland with handmade noodles and the fixins to outdo the flavors of Umai’s broth, pork shoulder, pickled shitakis, and soft boiled egg, all for under $10… I’ll eat my shoe.