Last time in Austin, one of my dear Austin friends insisted on buying us some supper. Asked what we were interested in, and I made a snarky comment about seeing a ramen place: recall I am of an age.
No, or yes, for me, Ramen Noodles means little packets of a rock-hard noodle (like) substances, with included flavor packets, that, at one time, were nothing more than salt, animal fur, and dreaded MSG. “Natural flavors with nothing natural.” The animal fur was natural, I think. At the university, I would use a “ramen noodle” index for the grocery store, wherein the noddles were between 3 to 6 packets of noodles for a dollar.
Cold, broke, lonely nights in a student barrio kind of food, am I right?
In Austin, elsewhere, too, but for sure in Austin? Ramen Noodles are now a delicacy. Might be my own willful display ignorance.
We all agreed to meet, had the phone look up the address, South Lamar, just south of the river. Headed over after the show on a Saturday.
“You rolled by, looked at the line, and I could see it in your eyes, ‘no way,’ but here you are, look, I saved us a spot!” Red-headed Capricorn of note and fame in her own right.
It was a half-hour wait, in a line hugging the wall of the outside of the building. Being an inveterate people watcher, I made a few notes. The girls in line behind us? Mentioned that last year, when they were freshmen, put their current age around 20, maybe? Perhaps 19?
On the other side, there were two “couples,” as in two guys and two girls, ostensibly paired up, but the guys were drinking some kind of sake drink, warm sake from a china pitcher. Old enough to drink, but not much more.
Fortified Japanese rice wine?
Looking closely, we were all clearly 30 years older than anyone else there. Maybe only 20 years older than the help, but that’s a guess, at best.I snapped a quick image of a sticker on the wall, outside the place, “The revolution will not be televised.” Yet, is anyone in that crowd aware of the original source? Or, in my case, a secondary source, and its tertiary implications?
After the wait, the Cap paid for dinner, it was a collection of bowls of soup with various noddles and sundry other stuff. “Pork bone broth, very healthy, full of good stuff, excellent for the immune system, better than regular beef bone broth,” she explained.
Came with an egg, a slice of meat, and noodles in a rich, flavorful broth. As an addendum, for me, I added “Fire Bowl” that was a paste of Thai chili, just to be on the safe side. The place was a small, crowded spot, on a weekend night, wherein the attire was actively casual, and as noted, much younger.The appetizer was some kind of — I’m upset that I was tricked — Brussel Sprout, but it was so tastefully fixed, I hardly noticed. Think: grilled with good sauce, sweet and salty, savory. This is Texas, and if it can be grilled, it will be so.
When my “entrée” arrived, along with that side of “Fire Bowl,” I tasted the broth, first. Then I sampled the paste, cried a tear, ate about a third of the bowl, then added the paste to the rest. Well worth the half-hour wait in a line full of kids approximately a half my age. Extremely good food, filling, tasteful, seemed to be properly prepared, and the ambiance itself?
One of the servers, maybe a busboy, I’m unsure, had that Austin-dazed grin, on his back, the shirt, “Slurp and destroy.” All eerily similar to another kind of Austin fusion cuisine I loved years ago, pho.
Did I make a pig of myself? It was pork bone broth. Do the math on that.
The sake sipping couples from the line outside were seated in the same area as we were. One guy never looked up from his phone. I mean, the whole time. The other guy had along explanation as to the tradition of everyone at the table supposedly slurping from their bowl, at the end of the meal so no one would seem like the sloppiest eater. Everyone in the party was supposed to upend the bowl to slurp the remains, and in doing so — in conjunction? All ill-manners would be avoided.
“You just made that up.”
Two important images emerged, and the most pronounced was how the age thing stuck with me.
“No, man, look: they’re all dressed in casual wear. They aren’t going out; they’re going home. Remember? They don’t go out until 10 tonight.”
Or later, I guess.
The other was the quality of the food, and the way it felt like a smoky noodle den in old Tokyo. Or someplace. The noise, the clang, the bustle, and the fare itself. Really was good. Not a flavor pallet I’m intimately familiar with, but as a tourist? Excellent, and judging by crowd and line, more than just acceptable.
Ramen Tattoo, or some such name. For an Old Austin point of reference? Across the street from Maudie’s Too, a forever favorite. In a sea of change, some things remain a constant.
Tip of the hat to that Red-Headed Cap for supper — it was awesome.