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Ramen burger: Just hype or culinary breakthrough?

You’ve probably had hybrid food at some point in your life: Californian hand rolls, Korean tacos, Tex-Mex. But have you heard of the Ramen Burger?

Created in the Summer of 2013 in Brooklyn, NY, the ramen burger is essentially a burger, except it uses fried ramen noodles as the buns. Seasonings like a “secret shoyu sauce” and scallions are also used, fusing American and Japanese flavors together artfully. Its creator, Keizo Shimamoto, is no stranger to public attention, having been a central figure in an award-winning food documentary Ramen Dreams (2010). Now, Shimamoto finds himself at the heart of a whirlwind of excitement, both online and in real life.

Source: tif.ne.jp

Source: tif.ne.jp

Unlike the craze over cronuts (croissant-donuts), where crowds staked out a brick-and-mortar New York bakery, Shimamoto’s burgers debuted at a food fair, to wild response. And in case you weren’t aware of the cronut’s stunning popularity, it has traveled the world from Berlin to Singapore. So perhaps we’ll witness this noodle-y creation go viral worldwide too. An unintentional-but-potent media campaign, including an appearance on Good Morning America and a BuzzFeed article, generated even more hype for the ramen burger; when the very first 150 ramen burgers were put up for sale on August third, it took 20 minutes for this sandwich-meets-noodles mashup to be sold out to the ravenous masses. The mad rush and endless lines may puzzle people in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, where the trademarked ‘Kitakata Ramen Burger’ (shown above) has been enjoyed in Furusato-tei restaurant since 2009. The Kitakata Ramen Burger is likely the very one that Shimamoto fell in love with while back in Japan, before taking it, tweaking it (beef patty instead of pork) and presenting it in America.

Source: lavenderlilacdream.blogspot.com

Source: lavenderlilacdream.blogspot.com

But what exactly were those in line hungry for, seeing that the taste and texture of a ramen burger had never yet crossed their waiting lips? Has mob psychology taken over tastebuds? Or have the denizens of New York City somehow telepathically received the collective “mmm” that occurs whenever someone in Japan purchases a ramen burger or a rice burger from fast food chains and family restaurants alike?

Source: jgbthai.com

Source: jgbthai.com

Whatever it is, the ramen burger is making ripples that go far beyond its culinary merits, and is establishing itself as a food fad that’s possibly here to stay. Even Zagat has joined the line for the ramen burger and has a feature on the ramen burger in its video section. But, with every phenomenon that bursts out onto the scene with such spectacular brouhaha, the question must be asked: are the snaking lines in wait because Shimamoto is great, or simply because there is a line?

Perhaps, in our social media-saturated world and with our desire to be part of something viral, the ramen burger is the perfect novelty trend item which we can fixate upon and glorify. It’s wacky, it’s possibly yummy, and most importantly, it’s famous and Instagram/Twitter/Facebook-worthy!

It’s also going coast to coast, debuting in Torrance, California barely a month after its first appearance in August.

Publicity aside, positive comments about the ramen burger from people who have waited hours in line agree that the patty is a delicious, consistent medium-rare tenderness, and that the fried noodle patty is indeed cooked in a way that keeps the bun tight and tolerably oily. Negative comments, perhaps by people who had high expectations after hours in wait, say that the hype is just hype.

Cover image source.

– Min Yi Tan

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