The first meal I had in Tokyo was at Ivan Ramen. I was staying in a hotel on the other side of the city, and to get there I had to ride the Tokyo Metro to Shinjuku Station, then take a commuter train to Roka-koen. Tokyo is tricky to navigate because you need to know Japanese to read almost all of the street signs, but you can make your way around if you count the traffic lights that, for some unknown but helpful reason, are marked on most maps. I got off the train, walked to a traffic light, turned left and looked for a rundown shopping center with a ten-seat noodle bar in the front.
Ivan Orkin was behind the counter. This was well before he opened Ivan Slurp Shop and Ivan Ramen in New York, and published a cookbook, and was the subject of so many profiles that his weird and wonderful story grew familiar (Long Island boy opens ramen shop, becomes big in Japan). Orkin showed me how to use the vending machine outside of his shop you use to prepay for ramen in Japan. Then, he made me a bowl of noodles and answered all the questions I fired at him — because it was clear to me from the moment I watched how the other customers ate that I had been doing it wrong for years. It wasn’t until I went to Ivan Ramen that I realized I knew little about ramen.
The next time I saw Orkin, he was sitting in front of Ivan Slurp Shop in Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen on the western edge of Manhattan. Orkin went behind the counter and made me a bowl of noodles. He prepared the shio, which is now a dish that I will suddenly crave with a longing that’s almost violent, but it wasn’t the same as what I had eaten in Tokyo. The noodles were rye noodles — made with rye flour, because he had to change his noodles to account for the flour he could get in the United States. It wasn’t until I started talking flour with Orkin that I realized I knew little about making noodles.
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