Sometimes you find gems in the most unlikely of places.
Tucked down one end of the Eating World food court in Chinatown, is a small stall decorated only with a hanging red curtain and a menu printed on a huge cardboard sign. Gumshara serves traditional Japanese ramen, and in the short time since opening, has gathered a legion of devoted followers.
Traditional Japanese ramen
One of its first and most vocal fans was probably Lotus head chef Dan Hong who would tweet about ramen so great, it was chronic, an expression which has now been enthusiastically adopted by some Twitter fans as "chronic ramen" or simply "the chronic".
Why such a fuss? The cardboard sign at the front of the stall explains, in Japanese and English, how the ramen stock is made. The soup uses only pork bones and water, the bones cooked down until the marrow and tendons break down, enriching the soup with collagen. This becomes a soup known as tonkotsu, or pork bone soup.
How many bones? Try 120 kilograms' worth. Each. Day.
The sign above the condiments tray gives some indication about the type of ramen you can expect. There's a sense of ominous expectation about a sign that instructs you to inform staff "if you prefer less salty or less thick soup".
Given her own confessed weekly obsession, I'm not surprised to bump into aptronym when I'm there. She enquires politely about getting a sneak peak into the kitchen and when Chef Mori nods obligingly, I'm not far behind in following!
The kitchen behind the curtain is simple and functional. A stainless steel benchtop holds containers of the ramen trimmings and against the wall are two enormous stock pots and a wok burner.
The soup is all about the bones. Mori emphasises again how he uses 120kg of pork bones a day, quickly opening a box and showing me the bones inside.
The two stock pots
Two stock pots are constantly on the go. On the right is his thick and rich master stock, one that takes seven days to create. On the left is a lighter stock made from 40kg of pork white bones. This lighter, milkier-looking stock is used for the Hakata ramen, and is also called upon when customers request tonkotsu soup dilution.
White bones in the lighter stock
Each stock uses only pork bones and water. "No salt, no sugar, no MSG" he tells empthatically. "Only pork bone. And water". The only salt comes from soy sauce which is added after the soup has been ladled into a customer's bowl.
Boiling the tonkotsu soup
This simple combination of ingredients belies the complexity of the process involved in preparation. Later on when I chat again with Mori, I find out a little more about his story.
Mori, who moved to Australia from Japan in 1985, only began making ramen relatively recently. Quitting his job as a managing director of a jewellery company, he returned to Japan and undertook tutelage at the famous Muteppou ramen shop in Kyoto, recently voted as having the 2nd-best ramen in all of Japan. Muteppou has ramen houses in Nara and Osaka, although it's the shop in Kyoto which is most famous. At Muteppou, people will happily queue for an hour for a bowl of their famed ramen.
The black banner hanging at his stall in Eating World reads Ramen Muteppou, acknowledging the source of his tonkotsu ramen training.
The banner on the left acknowledges Muteppou
To become a tonkotsu ramen takes a minimum of five years. When told this, Mori urged for a fast-track of training. He trained for 1.5 years but had to work 18-hour days, seven days a week. In that time he says he made 100,000 bowls of ramen, an average of 180 bowls per day.
He returned to Australia and opened Gumshara in February of this year.
Mori stirs the tonkotsu stock
The tonkotsu stock is a fickle beast. Because of the high fat content, it only keeps for 12 hours. Each day, Mori boils the stock at 10am and 10pm, even coming in when the shop is closed on Mondays, to ensure the stock doesn't spoil.
Using what looks like a huge length of steel, he stirs the pot constantly. Every now and then he uses a small pot to lift out a muddle of broken bones and cartilage, pouring it into a sieve and then banging the pot and sieve together so the precious stock is filtered back into the pot. The small bones are then removed.
At 3.30pm each day, he says, the pot on the left is thrown out and some of the stock on the right is transferred. The process of boiling down new bones in both pots begins again.
Ramen noodles in hanging baskets
Fresh ramen noodles are cooked in hanging baskets submerged in boiling water. The noodle baskets are removed, two at a time, and then standing in the middle of the kitchen, he swings downwards in a series of swift arcs to drain the water, a method common in almost all ramen houses on Japan but not often seen here. It makes for almost-dry noodles but a somewhat slippery floor!
Draining the ramen
Searing the pork rib bone
The pork spare rib noodle is a limited offering, with only ten bowls per day. A chunk of pork is seared in a huge wok over a fierce burner.
Aerating the ramen
Once the noodles and stock are placed in each bowl, Mori's assistant is charged with ensuring the soup is thoroughly mixed into the ramen. He uses chopsticks to lift strands of ramen, ensuring the noodles are clump-free and that they are well coated with stock.
BBQ pork noodle $12
with soft-boiled seasoned egg $1.50
The behind-the-scenes tour only gives me a great appreciation of the ramen I'm about to eat. As we survey our bowls of noodles, Dave takes a first sip and remarks "it's so thick you could almost chew it.
Thin slices of fat-ribboned pork circle his bowl of BBQ pork noodle. The soft-boiled egg has a wonderfully gooey textured yolk, and as he slowly makes his way through the dish he notes how even the eggs start to absorb the deep-brown hue of the stock from the outside in.
Pork spare rib noodle $13 (only ten per day)
with chilli pickled cabbage $1.50
My pork spare rib noodle is a generous serve of noodle in a tonkotsu stock that is so thick it's opaque. At first it doesn't taste overly fatty, more like a reduction of a hearty stew. It comes with a sheet of nori and a mound of finely chopped green onion. I've ordered the chilli pickled cabbage thinking it will help with digestion, but it's quite mild and not as sour as I expected, more like musard pickle.
Pickled ginger, pickled garlic and sesame seeds
The tray of complimentary condiments is worth raiding. Sesame seeds add nuttiness, and pickled garlic adds a subdued caramelised heat. It's the pickled ginger that offers the most respite for my palate, a cleansing freshness that's increasingly called for, particularly by the time I'm a third of the way in.
Pork spare rib
The pork spare rib has been helpfully scored along to top, making for easy eating. There's plenty of meat on the bone, and the pork itself is tender with a golden sheen.
The soup is so thick with collagen that if you do leave the soup unattended for a period of time, it will develop a skin. You will also find the soup steadily absorbed by the noodles, plumping them into thicker and fatter strands.
The richness of the soup does creep up on you, and despite my confidence I could eat the entire bowl easily, I find I'm the victim of an embarrassing defeat. And I very rarely don't finish my meal.
My net result: FAIL
Dave's result: Credit
Using a small amount of video footage captured on the day, you can watch a brief YouTube clip I've created showing the tonkotsu stock and filtering process below.
In a world seemingly over-run with fast food and slick advertising, there's much joy to be found in one man in Chinatown patiently tending his tonkotsu stock, and making ramen, one bowl at a time.
Gumshara stall at Eating World
NB. Gumshara was recently featured in a segment on the three best ramen shops in Sydney by Thai channel Natui TV. The segment featured Ichi Ban Boshi, Menya and Gumshara. View it here, although be warned the segment is almost entirely spoken in Thai http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5dO7Rgjh4k
View Larger Map
Eating World Harbour Plaza
Shop 209, 25-29 Dixon Street
(enter from Goulburn Street or Factory Street)
Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-10pm
Closed on Mondays
This has been included as an Intrepid Eat on Grab Your Fork's Top 10 Sydney Eats for Tourists. Read the entire list here.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Tonkotsu -- Ichi Ban Boshi, Sydney
Japanese ramen -- Ajisen Ramen, Haymarket
Japanese ramen -- Ichi Ban Boshi, Sydney (Feb08) and (Aug05)
Japanese ramen -- Menya Japan Noodle Bar, Haymarket
Japanese ramen -- Ramen Kan, Haymarket (Aug 05), (Nov 04)
Japanese ramen -- Ryo's Noodles, Crows Nest (Mar08), (Aug07) and (Jul07)
Japanese ramen -- Tokyo Ramen, Hornsby
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7/27/2009 01:23:00 a.m.