The Yakuza series! It’s a Japanese video game franchise that combines high melodrama and low-brow goofiness with lots of surprisingly sincere moments and I love it. My husband and I enjoy playing games together, especially RPGs, and Yakuza 0 was the first Yakuza game we played. This recipe is a tribute to that experience and a nod to the love of food, including ramen, you can find in the games.
But what is Yakuza 0 about? Our story takes place in Japan during the 1980s economic boom and follows the characters Kiryu and Majima, both exiled from their respective yakuza crime families, as they seek redemption and a chance to gain back their former lives. Kiryu lives in Kamurocho, a fictional district inspired by the very real Kabukicho in Tokyo. The recipe here is inspired by the ramen he eats at a restaurant called Tengokuken. From appearance and type, it appears inspired by something called Tokyo style shoyu ramen.
Disclaimer before we get into the dirty details: I am not a ramen expert, nor is this authentic Japanese ramen. It is a fusion of research, images and information from the Yakuza 0 game, and what was available to me as an American home cook.
What is ramen?
Ramen is a Japanese dish consisting of Chinese wheat noodles in a usually meat or fish based broth, often flavored with seasonings like soy sauce or miso, and accompanied by an array of toppings. Many regions and cities in Japan have their own specialty ramen types, though they can differ even among restaurants in the same area. Good ramen generally has five elements: broth, tare (a seasoned sauce), noodles, aromatic oil or fat, and toppings. We will be discussing each of these parts and how they relate to the Tokyo, or Kamurocho, style ramen from Yakuza 0.
My research indicated that most Tokyo style (and therefore Kamurocho) style broths are chicken-based, with elements of dashi broth. I’ve included that here in the recipe with roasted chicken carcass bits and aromatics simmered on a low heat for a long time with kombu and bonito flakes. The kombu and bonito flakes, traditional dashi ingredients, add a very mild fishy taste and some extra savory depth.
If you’re short on time, however, you can always cheat by simmering store-bought chicken broth or stock with ginger, scallions, garlic, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dashi granules or dashi broth for about 30 minutes. You’re welcome to use kombu and bonito flakes instead of dashi granules if you have those on hand.
Seasoning Sauce, or Tare
You’ve probably noticed that I called the recipe a shoyu ramen.
What is that, and why does it matter?
Ramen is usually divided into three categories and they’re all based on tare, the seasoning sauce that brings flavor to your soup bowl. The main ingredient in the tare determines the type of ramen: salt for shio ramen; fermented soybeans for miso ramen; and soy sauce for shoyu ramen, the kind we’re making. Tare is quite strong and the general rule is a ratio of 1:10 for tare and broth in each bowl, though that can vary depending on your taste.
To streamline this ramen recipe, I didn’t make a separate tare and instead used the leftover braising liquid from the pork belly recipe. Two birds with one stone and all that!
Honestly? Unless you’re ambitious enough to make your own, just buy the best ramen noodles you can afford—preferably fresh or frozen. If you can’t find any, try boiling thin pasta noodles with 2-3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of salt in 1 gallon of water. Rinse the noodles under cold water after cooking if you’re worried about a strong baking soda taste.
Aromatic Oil or Fat
Sitting on the surface of the soup is an aromatic oil (although sometimes animal fats, like butter or pork fatback, are used along with or instead of plant-based oils). As aroma is an important part of our sense of taste, experienced cooks can use aromatic oils and fats to add new dimensions of flavor to ramen bowls.
For this ramen I used toasted sesame oil because it’s accessible in most American supermarkets and requires no preparation. Toasted sesame oil adds nuttiness to the ramen, but don’t feel limited to just sesame oil. Experiment with different oils and fats, like a nice spicy chili oil, or even make your own flavored oil, like the black garlic oil called mayu.
The fun customizable part on top of all the other fun customizable parts! Ramen toppings vary vastly between restaurants, cities, and regions, but typical Tokyo style ramen toppings include: sliced, braised pork belly called chashu; marinated, boiled egg, called ajitsuke tamago; menma, or lacto-fermented bamboo shoots; blanched, chopped spinach; a sheet of nori, a kind of seaweed; kamaboko, or Japanese fish cake; and sliced scallions.
All these components are visible in the image of the Kamurocho shoyu ramen in-game. Differences include the use of a specific type of scallion, negi, and a fish cake with a swirl design, narutomaki. I’ve included the recipe for the chashu below, as the liquid also acts as the tare for the ramen, but everything else would either have to be prepared at home or sourced. Items like menma might prove more tricky to find, and if you can’t, that’s okay! Just leave them out or consider replacing them with a different topping you’d like—one of the reasons this post took so long was how much time I spent looking for local narutomaki and menma.
What are your favorite ramen toppings and types? Are there any other foods from the Yakuza series you’d like to see? Leave a comment below, and if you’d like to support the blog you can check out my Patreon!
4½ pounds chicken carcass bones or fresh wings (can add stripped rotisserie chickens)
1 bunch spring onions
4 carrots, cut into ½ inch thick rounds
1 bulb garlic, roots removed, cut in half
1 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into ¼ inch pieces
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 6-inch piece of kombu
2½ grams of dried bonito flakes
- Roast the chicken wings and fresh chicken pieces, if using, in an oven safe pot (like a dutch oven) at 425° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. (To prevent sticking, you can lightly spray a neutral flavored oil on the bottom of the pot before adding the chicken.) Add carrots and roast for another 20 minutes on the bottom rack.
- Put the oven safe pot on the stove and add 2 cups of water. Over medium-high heat, scrape up the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to deglaze it and bring to a boil.
- Add the rest of your chicken bones, spring onions ripped in half, garlic, ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, bonito flakes, and 8 cups of water. Stir and bring to a simmer over high heat; there should be only a few bubbles around the edges of the pot.
- Reduce the heat to as low as you can and simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours, skimming scum and fat off the top. Strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, discarding the solids. Cool and then refrigerate, removing fat from the surface of the broth before reheating. Makes about 7 cups.
Chashu and Tare
2-3 lb piece pork belly, skin removed
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup sake
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bunch scallions, ripped in half
2-3 inch piece of ginger, cut in ¼ inch slices
- If the pork is less than 2 inches thick, roll tightly into a log and tie with butcher’s twine to keep the shape; otherwise, leave the pork belly as is. In a lidded pot big enough to hold the pork belly, sear over medium high heat until brown on all sides. Turn as necessary.
- Mix together the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Remove the browned pork belly to a plate, then wipe down the pot with a paper towel to remove excess fat to reduce the possibility of a grease fire in the next step. You can reserve the fat before cleaning the pot, if desired.
- Pour in your sake to deglaze your cookware, scraping up any caramelized brown bits stuck in the bottom. Add your soy sauce mixture, pork belly, garlic cloves, scallions, and ginger back to the pot. Bring the mixture up to a simmer.
- Once you see bubbles, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with the lid, and let the pork belly simmer for about 2 ½ hours until tender. Turn it occasionally to make sure the whole pork belly gets a dip in the braising liquid.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let the pork belly cool in its liquids for 1 hour before storing in a container with the braising liquid and letting it chill overnight.
Assembling the Ramen
For 1 bowl:
2-3 tablespoons tare
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, chili oil, or other aromatic oil/fat
1½ cups broth
3-4 ounces fresh or dried ramen noodles
2 ¼-inch slices of chashu, butcher’s twine removed
2 narutomaki slices
Half a marinated (ajitsuke tamago) or hard boiled egg
Spinach, blanched and chopped
Scallions, thinly sliced
Nori sheet, cut to preferred size
- If you want it to be restaurant quality, warm your bowl if you can. Otherwise, begin warming the broth and boiling the water for the noodles.
- Prepare and lay out your toppings (chashu, narutomaki, egg, spinach, menma, scallions, nori) so they are ready to go.
- In the bottom of the bowl, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of your tare left over from your chashu braising liquid, to taste. Add roughly 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, chili oil, or other aromatic oil of your choice to taste.
- Start cooking your noodles according to package directions. Combine the warmed broth with the tare and oil mixture in the bowl; check the seasoning and make sure it’s to your liking.
- When the noodles are cooked, drain them and shake off any excess water. Add them to the broth and try to pick them up and fold them slightly so the top is flat. Arrange toppings on the flat noodles and serve hot.