I think it might be the toughest decision to make in the whole wide world of dining. Just pick up the menu in almost any ramen restaurant and you’ll find at least ten, maybe twenty different ramens to choose from.
You’ll see words like shio and shoyu, hakate and hiyashi, le-kei, kare and kitakata, wakayama and takayama. I think there are people who live in Tokyo, where there are more than 5,000 ramen shops, who don’t even know what some of these ramens consist of. I’ve been a ramen regular for about ten years now and I can’t tell you what half of them taste like.
In San Miguel de Allende, being a ramen regular is a little easier. There’s only one restaurant with a wide array of ramens and, mostly, they’re the most well-known ones.
The restaurant is Chikatana and, earlier this year, what was originally launched as an Asian/Mexican fusion restaurant became much more of an Asian restaurant and, more specifically, much more of a Japanese Asian restaurant when Chikatana owner, Aleysha Serrato Garfias welcomed a new partner, Satoru Takeda.
With highly regarded Japanese/Mexican chef Satoru on the team, Chikatana went from one to six ramens and, during the Covid-19 crisis, they’re still offering four choices. Three of the four are familiar to me, so, to make it easier for you to choose, I thought I might share a few spoonfuls of wisdom.
First, though, a bit about ramen. Ramen’s popularity in North America began about 20 years ago with cello packages of instant ramen that, at about a buck a pack, quickly rivaled mac and cheese as the favorite fast dinner in college dorms. At around that same time, chef-driven ramen restaurants started to show up in major cities and, today, in places like my second home, Toronto, there are over 50 to choose from.
Ramen starts with broth and noodles. The broth is usually created by roasting and boiling pork bones for many, many hours, but the ramen could have a fish, chicken, beef or even a vegetarian base. The noodles are always from wheat and never from rice and originated in China. And then there are the extra added attractions and variations that result in those multi-page ramen menus.
But, as mentioned, in San Miguel, at Chikatana, there are just four you need to know about.
I usually like to work my way from bottom to top when I do a list but I’m going to start with my favorite of, not just Chikatana’s ramens, but all ramens.
I’ve had Japanese chefs tell me they’ve simmered their bones for tonkotsu ramen for 20 hours; Chef Saturo told me he simmers them for 48 hours.
“And there’s not just pork in there”, the chef told me, “there are bones from other meats, as well.”
In to Chikatana’s tonkotsu goes soybean sprouts, perfectly cooked eggs, green onions, sesame seeds, what they call kikarague (and I call wood ear) mushrooms, and a generous amount of marinated then roasted pork belly.
Tonkotsu is the ramen for meat lovers who welcome a a little fat with their meat. I want to try so many other ramens but I find it almost impossible not to order Tonkotsu.
This is Tokyo’s favorite ramen and “Chef Sato’s favorite ramen” according to Chikatana’s co-owner Aleysha.
The broth of shoyu is clearer than tonkotsu and usually based on chicken and vegetables. Though it’s still meaty, there is a much more of a soy sauce flavor. The added attractions are also similar and, at Chikatana, they still include slices of their scrumptious pork belly.
Shoyu is fairly light on the palate but is still tangy, salty, and savory.
This soybean-based broth is Don Day’s Wife’s favorite ramen. She rarely uses the word “umami” but, when she does, it’s usually about miso ramen.
Chikatana’s version is vegan but could fool even a carnivore like me. They put their individual signature on it by adding portobello mushrooms and kernels of corn. The flavor is nutty, slightly sweet, yet still very hearty.
This is a ramen I haven’t tasted…yet (it’s very difficult not to always order tonkotsu) but I do know that tantamen is the Japanese version of the Sichuan specialty, dandan noodles, which I used to eat a lot of in Toronto’s Chinatown. Tantamen is a spicy chile and sesame broth that usually contains minced pork but, at Chikatana, Chef Sato includes ground beef. Other additions in his recipe include spinach, green onions, jicama and black garlic oil.
That’s it, for the four ramens currently at Chikatana. Do try at least one style soon. I’ll bet you’ll be trying another one soon after. You might even become ramen regulars like Don Day’s Wife and I.
Chikatana ramen is available for pick-up or delivery directly, from 2:00 to 7:30 pm, every day except Wednesday and Thursday by calling 415 100 1286 or you can order through Uber Eats.