PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ramen is at the heart of Japanese culture but the traditional dish is far from the instant noodles Americans are so familiar with.
Afuri Ramen started in Japan in 2001. After becoming one of the most acclaimed ramen chains in Tokyo, its founder decided to open another location in the U.S. in 2016 and chose Portland. But it wasn’t Portland’s reputation as a foodie town that attracted Afuri Ramen — it was its drinking water.
Marketing Director Yoshi Mecklenberg explained water makes up 99% of the dish so water quality is just as important as other ingredients that go into the broth. Mecklenberg said Portland is one of just a few locations with water similar in quality to that used in Afuri’s main kitchen at the foot of Mt. Afuri.
“It allows us to replicate the same taste of the ramen we serve in Tokyo,” Mecklenberg said of Portland’s water.
Afuri’s signature dish is yuzu shio. It’s a clear broth with a hint of citrus. The yuzu is imported from Japan and just a few people know the full recipe. The chef combines the yuzu with other locally-sourced ingredients to create what some might refer to as comfort food.
“I would hope that having a warm and tasty bowl of ramen is like a hot chocolate and snuggling in the bed on a cold day,” Mecklenberg said.
Making ramen broth is a labor-intensive process. Afuri’s yuzu broth takes six hours to make while its tonkotsu (pork broth) takes eight hours.
The craft requires no small amount of hard work and skill. What goes into it — and when — changes based on the weather and the humidity.
“They have to change the timing and adjust a little bit the ingredients, too, which is something like for me it’s rocket science,” said Mecklenberg.
There’s also an art to assembling the final bowl: each topping is carefully placed in a specific order. At Afuris, serving an imperfect bowl of ramen isn’t an option so customers can expect to enjoy a true taste of Japan.