Since moving to Japan in the midst of its coldest winter in 48 years, I have found great comfort in slurping up a hot bowl of ramen on chilly evenings when I’m coming home from work. There’s something undeniably satisfying in that mix of noodles, meat, veggies, and a soft-boiled egg all soaked in a salty broth that makes it quite hard to beat, and though I consider myself culinarily competent, it’s never something I’d attempted to make (those cups of microwavable ramen do not constitute as ‘making your own ramen.’) And, don’t even get me started on my love affair with gyoza. The employees at my neighborhood’s gyoza shop can attest to my deep-seated devotion to gyoza solely based on the frequency at which I go there to eat nothing but gyoza, even with their extensive menu of other options to choose from. So, you can see why this ramen and gyoza class in Tokyo was basically a dreams-meet-reality opportunity for me.
The location of the class is quite ideal, nestled in the charming Asakusa, near the Sensō-ji temple. I’d never been before and was thrilled to have such a wonderful introduction to the neighborhood. Upon arriving to the class for what would be my first cooking class ever, I was admittedly a bit nervous. I wondered if we would really have ample time to make everything without some kind of sorcery. The broth, the meat, the eggs and, on top of all that, the gyoza too?! I would later find out that 90 minutes really was enough time for all of this, which makes the possibility of making your own ramen and gyoza at home a very real one.
Masahito-san started with introducing us to the basics of ramen and explained that what we would be making was the traditional Tokyo-style ramen, which uses shoyu broth as its base. A balanced broth is absolutely crucial to achieving the perfect ramen, and ours included both chicken and fish stock, mirin (sweet cooking sake), kombu (kelp), and soy sauce, all which was left to simmer while we prepared the rest. We learned the precise way to get that perfect jammy egg we all know and love, and the savory sauce that it’s soaked in. One of the biggest takeaways from this class for me that I am excited to incorporate into my everyday cooking was the method in which we cooked and marinated the meat that went into our ramen. It was a simple process with only four ingredients, but it showed me how you can boost the umami of meats to add an undeniable depth and richness to their flavor profile. While we let the components of our ramen simmer, we switched gears to the gyoza.
Despite being a die-hard gyoza fan, I’d never in a million years even considered making my own. It seemed a daunting and complicated task, with the potential for so much to go haywire. However, after this class, I have a new-found appreciation for not only the food itself but the process in which they’re made. It all begins with what goes inside the gyoza, which includes a few vegetables (cabbage being the primary one), a few simple spices, and some minced meat. Then came the more delicate of the steps involved — the construction of the gyoza itself. At first, I had a lot of trouble with the fold that’s done around the edge to securely seal the gyoza’s innards. There’s a precise way in which it’s done that requires a certain amount of manual dexterity and patience that I was initially unaware I possessed, but that was revealed with lots of help from Masahito-san and his wife. I was on cloud nine when I finally got the hang of it, and only then did I understand why gyoza-making parties are such a popular thing in Japan. He showed us how gyoza are simultaneously fried and steamed in a flower design, then carefully flipped to preserve its shape. I felt such pride and joy when I saw the beautiful gyoza flower I had just flipped to fruition. All that was left was to taste the final products, and I was so ready to after all our hard work. I don’t know if it had something to do with being the fruit of our own labor, but that bowl of ramen was honestly the best I’ve ever had. Everything about it was absolutely perfect, and that’s all I have to say.
If you are in Tokyo and have a knack for cooking, I would definitely add taking this ramen and gyoza class to your itinerary. In fact, if you don’t have a knack or any interest in cooking, I’d say all the more reason to take one – you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it! These two are one of the loveliest and liveliest couples I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and truly made the experience one of my favorite memories in Japan.
An avid enthusiast of all things related to kawaii, food, and technology, Dianna is finding Tokyo to be the perfect place for exploring anything you could have an interest in. Originally from Texas, she moved to Tokyo to do research in the field of natural-language processing and is constantly marveling at the awe-inspiring culture and dynamic landscape of Japan.