Au revoir, cronut. The next big food craze is here.
Last Saturday, a crowd of more than 300 people gathered at the Smorgasburg, an outdoor food flea market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and braved the pouring rain to try the ramen burger: a beef patty sandwiched between two fried ramen buns.
The ramen burger is the brainchild of Keizo Shimamoto, a 35-year-old ramen blogger turned ramen chef. It’s composed of a USDA prime beef patty with a 75-25 lean-to-fat ratio that’s cooked medium-rare to well-done and slathered in a “secret” shoyu sauce; ramen noodles from Sun Noodle, a New Jersey–based ramen manufacturer; some spiced-up arugula; and scallions on top. Only 150 ramen burgers were made available to the public at a price of $8 apiece.
“The juices from the patty soak into the ramen noodles and it resembles a ramen soup,” Shimamoto told The Daily Beast.
And Shimamoto’s story is an interesting one. In 2008, the Los Angeles native started Go Ramen—a ramen blog—and went all over California and Las Vegas, sampling any ramen he could find. That same year, he took a trip to Japan and traveled from the northernmost island of Hokkaido to the southernmost island of Kyushu.
“In 28 days, I visited 21 different cities and ate 55 bowls of ramen,” he says. “I’m second-generation Japanese, so my parents would take me back to Japan, and it’s one of the foods I fell in love with. Now, it brings back this nostalgic feeling of comfort.”
At the time of his trip, Shimamoto was working at a mortgage company, as well as doing occasional programming work for a friend’s company, Proventure Consulting, based in Los Angeles.
“Right after the subprime mortgage crisis, it was all really up in the air,” he says. “Plus, I really enjoyed ramen, and wanted to learn more about it, so I decided to move to Japan.”
He moved across the Pacific in 2009, and worked at three different ramen noodle shops in Japan. At one of them, Bassanova, he worked his way up to manager. About two years ago, while still in Japan, Shimamoto saw ramen burgers start to gain traction, albeit with a slightly different technique: instead of a beef patty, the Japanese used a chashu pork filling, and the ramen buns weren’t as congealed.
Shimamoto’s ramen burger idea began to pick up speed after he was featured in a short film called Ramen Dreams that premiered at the 2012 NYC Food Film Festival in October. The director, Michael McAteer, met Shimamoto in Japan in 2010, and was so impressed by his bowl of ramen that he was inspired to make a film. Ramen Dreams ended up winning Best Short at the festival, and Shimamoto was introduced to the festival’s director, George Motz, who hosts the Travel Channel show Burger Land. The two became friends, and would go out and eat burgers and ramen together. Motz also introduced Shimamoto to plenty of contacts in the burger industry.
About two months ago, Shimamoto moved to New York to put his ramen burger idea into effect. And three weeks ago, the first ramen burger was born.
According to Shimamoto, his shoyu sauce is meat-free and takes “about 4 to 5 hours to make.” The ramen bun’s creation is “a trade secret.” The ingredients, he says, are mostly organic. So far, the only type of ramen burger that he’s released is the Shoyu Ramen Burger, but he has plenty of other ideas in mind.
“Hopefully, we can start debuting them when we get a permanent place at Smorgasburg,” says Shimamoto. “There are so many possibilities I have in my head.”
Currently, Shimamoto is working part-time at a ramen shop in New York City while dreaming up new ramen burger variations. Eventually, he’d like to find a permanent shop where he could sell his creations, which he’d call Ramen Burger. But for now, you’ll have to line up at the Smorgasburg on Saturday to try and get your hands on one of the city’s hottest food items. Fans usually begin lining up around 9 a.m., a good two hours before Shimamoto’s stand opens for business.
“It’s just so good,” he says. “The juices from the burger and the secret sauce, that shoyu flavor, come into your mouth, while your tongue separates the noodles. It’s a different experience from any other burger.”