Ramen has captivated the culinary imaginations of audiences for decades. Whether it’s the sheer joy of slurping noodles or the secrecy of the stock recipe, the cultish appreciation for the art of ramen goes deep. Keita Abe, head chef and owner of Sydney yakitori restaurant Chaco Bar, is a ramen disciple and produces one of the best bowls in Australia.
Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (1985) is a Japanese comedy film dedicated entirely to the gastronomic exploration of mastering a perfect recipe and the complexity of the nation’s relationship with noodles and soup. It was touted as the first “ramen western” and continues to inspire namesake ramen restaurants worldwide. Ramen has captivated the culinary imaginations of audiences for decades. Whether it’s the sheer joy of slurping noodles or the secrecy of the stock recipe, the cultish appreciation for the art of ramen goes deep. Keita Abe, head chef and owner of Sydney yakitori restaurant Chaco Bar, is a ramen disciple and produces one of the best bowls in Australia. Six months after opening his hole-in-the-wall eatery in 2014, he began serving sublime ramen outside regular kitchen hours, and it continues to be everything that’s right in the world. Aromatic broth with plump, fatty globules coat your throat while you chew al dente noodles, making you feel simply blissful. Two sheets of crispy nori balance on the glistening fatty surface dancing above the gleaming ribbons of leeks, shoots and sprouts. At the centre, a slice of wobbly pork belly and soft-boiled egg sit in perfect harmony.
For Abe, there was no hesitation in making ramen and yakitori within the one kitchen; the two are naturally linked together in his hometown of Fukuoka. “It is what the city is famous for. You usually see trucks serving both yakitori and ramen,” says Abe. “And I didn’t want to serve the same menu all day.” Since opening, Chaco Bar’s ramen service has drifted discreetly between yakitori hours to an increasing number of customers with both the appetite and addiction. The only seemingly obvious reason as to why the restaurant hasn’t become totally chaotic can be attributed to an idiosyncratic serving schedule: dinner on Monday, all day Sunday, lunch from Wednesday to Saturday, off on Tuesday. But what is it about ramen which makes it seem so divine and almost ritualistic? “It is in the balance” says Abe. “You have to maintain all levels of flavour in the stock throughout the six-hour process. It also relies on feeling — how the chef pictures their ramen.” For those seeking daily indulgence, Chaco Bar will soon separate into two eateries, with the new site in Potts Point focussing on yakitori and the current fixture serving ramen with an expanded offering such as the rarely found, consommé-like soup called chin tan. “It is very nice and gentle, served with a delicate, fine touch,” Abe promises. Should your appetite find you at Chaco Bar for a bowl of fat-shimmering silky soup or salaciously salted fish stock, consider Abe’s suggestion: “Make lots of noise. Embrace the air.” Or perhaps think of the the words of the ramen master in Tampopo: “Observe the whole bowl. Savour the aromas. Appreciate its gestalt.”