- - Monday, March 30, 2015

Howard Chang bends over a steaming pot placed on a narrow kitchen counter, ladling out bowlfuls of thick soup over and over. The head chef at Toki Underground (1234 H St. NE) serves up to 180 gallons of broth before the end of a busy night at his 20-seat ramen shop and has to work fast to keep up with orders.

Toki has been serving its popular tonkotsu broth since it opened several years ago, although pork and chicken bone broth has been served in ramen restaurants for decades. But bone broth, made from meat bones at such restaurants as Red Apron and Halsa as a sort of stand-alone, innovative health food, has made a comeback that even Mr. Chang can’t explain.

“The traditional ramen broth recipe begins with boiling down animal bone and skin, [so] ‘bone broth’ isn’t some novel concept,” he said.

Mr. Chang knows ramen broth. While he was growing up in a Taiwanese household, his grandmother often made the stock from scratch with boiled-down chicken bones and even whole chicken thighs.

These restaurants often say their stock simmers for over 24 hours compared with 12 hours or less, which reportedly allows for collagen, iron, magnesium and calcium to seep into the liquid.

Mr. Chang said the cooking time can vary greatly depending on the kind of ramen stock being made.

“We make a tonkotsu broth,” he said, “which is actually cooked for over 24 hours. The result is this thicker, stickier broth.”

Tonkotsu also has a distinctly heavier taste, and some customers prefer the thinner shoyu broth that Myo Htun offers at Chaplin’s (1501 Ninth St. NW). Mr. Htun, who worked as a ramen chef in Tokyo for 20 years before coming to the U.S., boils down his chicken bones for six hours, which gives the stock a lighter taste and color.

Customers looking for an even lighter broth can go to Daikaya (705 Sixth St. NW) for shio. Chef Katsuya Fukushima cooks the pork, chicken and beef bones for five hours, a shio method he studied in Japan under ramen master Sakae Ishida, or “Ishida-san,” as Mr. Fukushima calls him.

Connoisseurs who trust that a long-simmered bone broth has some health benefits go with the tonkotsu, but those who don’t find the heavier, richer stock appealing probably won’t shave precious years off their lives by getting shoyou or shio ramen instead.

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