Miyabi 45th Turns (Devilishly) Onibaba Ramen

Shio ramen at Miyabi 45th

Shio ramen at Miyabi 45th

She calls her pop-up Onibaba Ramen, explaining that “Onibaba refers to a mythical Japanese demon that bears the appearance of a maniacal old woman and feasts on humans.” But in straying from her usual soba-making to “dabble in the dark side of ramen,” Mutsuko Soma is, in most ways, far from a maniacal old woman. In fact, this methodical, relatively young woman is capitalizing on the ramen boom and quickly setting the quality bar high, enabling the rest of us humans to enjoy the feasting.

Mutsuko Soma, making ramen

Mutsuko Soma, making ramen

Soba-master Soma is enjoying a chance to play with new noodles at her Miyabi 45th restaurant, saying that while “the process of making soba is unchanging with the same few broths and techniques, with ramen there are varying styles, broths, and garnishes.” But in making ramen, she’s maintaining a unique soba connection. “Ramen is traditionally cooked in a basket called the tebo, but for Onibaba’s ramen, I cook the ramen in a similar fashion as soba,” says Soma, elaborating “We shock the ramen in ice water after cooking and then reheat it quickly in its cooking liquid before serving. I find that cooking the ramen this way leads to it having a better texture.”

Final touches to the ramen

Final touches to the ramen

The thin, slightly wavy noodles she served at an Onibaba soft opening event last week were great. Soma’s ramen hits on all the marks often missed at Seattle’s other ramen restaurants: noodles not cooked too soft, chashu that’s flavorful and fatty, eggs with runny yolks, and soup that’s still hot—plus plentiful. Minor quibble: Hopefully Soma will spring for bigger-sized bowls now that she’s doing ramen regularly, as the soba bowls are somewhat small for proper ramen eating.

A look at the noodles

A look at the noodles

Onibaba’s first offering (10/8) is shio (salt) ramen, a welcome break from the overabundance of heavy tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen in the Seattle area. For this soup, Soma adds sea bream and shrimp heads to pork and chicken to create a slightly “oceanic” broth that’s complex, but still what the Japanese call sappari—clean-tasting and light. Some might say that the soup is too salty (some restaurants serve reduced-salt versions of ramen to cater to non-Japanese customers), but I applaud Soma for being bold with her ramen and keeping it real.

Festivities from the first night

Festivities from the first night

Shio ramen won’t be available for long, though, as Onibaba’s menu will change weekly for its Wednesday-only ramen lunch. Soma plans to cycle through all of the traditional ramen varieties (including shoyu, miso, and even tonkotsu) before eventually exploring more modern or alternative styles. But I hope Onibaba doesn’t go too alternative. We have enough of that in Seattle, with no one striving for the same level of perfection of traditional preparations that Soma seems to be seeking—and reaching.

(Originally published on the Voracious blog on October 6 and in Seattle Weekly on October 8.) 

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