Pork Overload at Yamada-Ya Ramen

Kotteri Tonkotsu soup with kakuni
Kotteri Tonkotsu soup with kakuni

Even though Orange County has its share of first-rate ramen shops, I'm afraid it's just been demoted to second-tier loser. There's an escalating pork arms race waged by the new-school purveyors of tonkotsu (pork bone) soup in the South Bay such as Ramen Mottainai and Yamada Ya. It's off the Weekly's usual beat, and this part of LA is better covered by bloggers such as Rameniac and our sister paper, but I've got heart-stopping news to share.

People, meet the extra-rich kotteri tonkotsu soup at Yamada Ya in Torrance.

I happened by this Tuesday, the first day this new soup was rolled out. In Japanese, "kotteri" means extra-fatty. If you order kotteri in Fountain Valley's Shin Sen Gumi, they'll add a touch more liquid pork fat to your bowl. Shops in Japan will go further, ladling in small globules of nearly melted pork back fat (se abura in Japanese). Yamada Ya delivers the richest, pork-fattiest bowl of ramen in Southern California. Just have your cardiologist's pager on speed dial because you might need it.

There are basically three kinds of tonkotsu soup to choose from, all based on vigorously boiling the marrow out of pork bones. Lots of other ingredients go into the broth, including what I suspect are dried kelp and niboshi, dried fish, that add a dashi-like flavor to the soup. Shio tonkotsu is the most basic soup, seasoned with salt. Shoyu tontotsu is flavored with soy sauce. This newest creation, kotteri, is the shio tonkotsu plus black sesame, heaps of extra pork fat and raw garlic cloves you crush into your bowl with a garlic press. Add a whole lot of that raw garlic because your heart can use all the help it can get to process the liquid lard.

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Here, you can also choose from two kinds of noodles: a thin, Hakata-style like you'd find at Shin Sen Gumi, or a fat noodle that looks like lo mein. It's an unwritten rule at any ramen shop that you can ask for your noodles cooked firmer or softer.

That slab of meat that looks like bacon? It's a quarter-inch-thick, 8-inch-long slice of kakuni, a super-sized slab of braised pork belly. I wish I can tell you it was stewed until buttery and falling apart, but it was actually the underwhelming lowlight of the dish. The lean meat was still tough, and the fat wasn't rendered nearly long enough. The special toroniku chashu at Costa Mesa's Santouka Ramen blows it out of the water.  If you call it kakuni, I expect tender pork that crumbles under your gaze.

A solid slick of golden pork fat floats in the spoon; globs of white back fat, too.
A solid slick of golden pork fat floats in the spoon; globs of white back fat, too.

It might be that Yamada Ya pays attention to online feedback from bloggers. A month ago, I was complaining on Chowhound that its soup wasn't rich enough. Others chimed in wishing for se abura globs such as those you'd find in Japan. This new soup is a big bowl of STFU for yours truly and other pork-worshipping whiners of my ilk. Yamada-san, thanks for paying attention, and perhaps get a portable defibrillator for the shop because, well, you never know.

Now, will one of the ramenyasan in Orange County please pick up the gauntlet and give us a balls-out kotteri soup like Yamada Ya's?

Ramen Yamada Ya. 3118 W. 182nd St., Torrance, (310) 380-5555. A larger, second location is opening in Culver City this spring. Cash only.

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