Tapas and small plates remain the driving force behind many of the hot restaurants in and around Washington, D.C. However, a new craze has arrived, and it's something that every college student with about 25 cents in his or her pocket and a way to heat up water has indulged in at one time or another: ramen.
In the United States, ramen has long been the realm of the super-cheap college meal. According to the BBC in 2008, 94 billion packages of instant ramen are consumed annually across the globe.
However, in Japan, ramen is a serious art. Bowls aren't cheap throwaways with hardened blocks of noodles, but instead, they incorporate a huge range of ingredients, spices, oils, toppings, and specialty add-ons. There are regions with distinct flavor profiles and styles, and restaurants with renowned ramen masters.
Now, Washington, D.C., seems to be getting in on the fun with a variety of high-end and authentic ramen shops opening up in and around town.
The newest and most heavily hyped is Daikaya, located 705 Sixth St. NW in Penn Quarter. Daikaya serves four types of Sapporo-style ramen: miso, shio (salt), shoyu (soy), and vegan.
"We are dedicated to making good ramen. Our team started this effort with three weeks of intensive training under our ramen master in Sapporo almost three years ago," said co-owner Daisuke Utagawa in a press statement.
The aforementioned ramen master, Sakae Ishida, recently traveled from Japan to pay a visit to the new establishment and give his approval.
Clearly, if you hadn't believed it yet, this is serious stuff.
TAAN Noodles, located at 1817 Columbia Road NW in Adams Morgan, serves three types of ramen: pork-based, duck-based, and vegetarian.
The vegetarian option is based on cream corn and tomatoes, while a fourth menu variety includes both pork and duck together. Each can be topped off with add-ons such as pork belly, duck confit, chicken confit, or extra noodles.
TAAN is neighbors with Sakuramen, located at 2441 18th St. NW in Adams Morgan. As opposed to Daikaya, Sakuramen does not favor one particular style or cultural influence.
So you'll find a variety of influences and flavors at Sakuramen -- everything from the Chosun ramen, a Korean-inspired dish, to the D.C. Miso, a tribute to the local area, with multiple styles of noodles and broths on the menu. Extra toppings include roasted pork, Korean-style sliced beef, eggs, bacon, kimchi, and a "spicy fireball" flavor injection.
Toki Underground, located at 1234 H St. NE, is likely the most prominent and well-known of D.C.'s ramen hangouts. It opened in April 2011, making it a veteran in the D.C. ramen scene. The trendy spot also showcases a variety of music and art, what they call "people we admire ... things that inspire."
They offer five core ramen dishes inspired from a Hakata-style ramen shop in Taipei, including curry chicken, kimchi, red miso, and vegetarian, in addition to the Toki Classic. Specialty add-ons include pulled pork, pork cheek, and the "Toki Endorphin Sauce," a homemade sriracha.
Head outside the District to Wheaton, Maryland, and you'll find Ren's Ramen at 11403 Amherst Ave. Ren's, like Daikaya, focuses on Sapporo-style ramen, with wavy, medium-thick noodles.
They offer miso, salt, and soy flavors and their own flavor and spice combinations. Extra add-ons include several choices of seaweed, corn, stewed fatty pork, and bamboo shoots.
Have your own favorite ramen or Asian noodle spot in or around Washington, D.C.? Share your top picks and tips with other readers in the comments below.
Jake Emen is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland, with experience covering local news stories and events for a number of online publications. He also provides online marketing solutions for local businesses via WashingtonDCSEO.net.