Two factors have been driving the popularity of ramen in Pittsburgh: the ubiquity and passion for it in other cities and the relative novelty of finding a bowl here.
"Considering that Pittsburgh is not a small city, it is surprising it's so difficult to find here," said Hoon Kim, general manager and owner of Fukuda in Bloomfield, the restaurant that opened on Liberty Avenue this fall.
And yet ramen's profile is rising here. It has been available at Soba in Shadyside and at Lulu's Noodles in Oakland as well as once a month at chef Kevin Sousa's Salt of the Earth in Garfield.
This week, his Station Street restaurant in East Liberty debuted ramen on the lunch and dinner menus.
While many components of Station Street's ramen are quite delicious (see photo), the broth is not yet up to par.
Fukuda also features ramen, though it was not available at dinner last night.
Fukuda is not trying to reinforce the soup's mythology by offering it on occasion.
"As a start up it's reasonably difficult to achieve what we hope to in the first few months of business," said Mr. Kim, who cited manpower and the complexity of the dish as challenges to having ramen on the menu every day.
For example, there are the many ingredients. Executive chef Matt Kemp's broth is made of "pigs' feet, ribs, chicken thighs, onion, green parts of scallions, ginger, kombu and a few other things," said Mr. Kim.
The broth simmers for seven to 12 hours, during which pork belly is browned, then braised for three hours.
"Then it gets mixed with pork belly simmering liquid, which is a whole new set of ingredients," he said.
Mr. Kemp also preps ramen noodles made with Japanese wheat flour in the restaurant kitchen every day.
Even though it's so labor intensive, ramen will become a mainstay at Fukuda, said Mr. Kim, who hopes to offer five to seven varieties for lunch Tuesday through Sunday.
Variations at Fukuda such as tonkotsu (made from pork bones), salt or miso ramen are possibilities, "if we can even get the ingredients."
In the meantime, slurp noodles where and when you can find them.
Melissa McCart photo