The Gaijin Who Makes Great Ramen

As a ramen maniakku or enthusiast myself, I reread Lucky Peach‘s debut Ramen Issue once a year. The issue has an essay by chef Ivan Orkin, where he tells what it was like operating a ramen restaurant in Japan, as a gaijin, or outsider. Lucky Peach is a food quarterly started by chef David Chang and writer Peter Meehan in 2011. The Ramen Issue is long out of print and fetches wildly high prices on eBay and Amazon, but Lucky Peach published Orkin’s essay online for the first time, just for us. Here’s an excerpt:

The first big break came at the end of August, when I was asked to make an appearance on one of the big prime-time talk shows. The episode aired on a Sunday night; on Monday, there was a line of thirty people outside a half hour before we opened. After that, the crowds kept up every day without fail. At least ten people waiting to get in every weekday, and at least thirty every weekend. Lines even in the midst of a typhoon, which happened more than once.

Following the fans came the second wave of blog entries, good and bad. My favorites were from the infamous Channel 2 websites, where anonymous writers go after everything and everyone, and where being criticized means you’ve finally arrived. Many of the threads were conspiracy theories: some people believed I was a front for a large Korean corporation, others that I was a front for a Japanese chef. The best theory was that I was actually Japanese, and only pretending to be a foreigner. It was an idea so good I wished I’d made it up myself.

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