In recent years, we've witnessed the rise of ramen from dorm room staple to hot commodity of the restaurant scene. Ramen has become an international trend, exploding in popularity in the States where ramen-yas are becoming destinations of choice for dining out — and especially date night. Noodles bathing amongst succulent pork or seafood in a simmered savory broth and sprinkled with nori and scallions (these aren't your college Cup 'O Noodles) are just a bowlful of the reasons why ramen dates are the best dates.
Does the simplicity (or even the slurping) have you skeptical? Don't shy away from the ramen date. Keeping it simple doesn't mean you have to compromise. It's low key but not lazy. Choosing a ramen house as your first (or latest) spot shows you have good taste (and care that your food does too), and are "with it" in terms of what's happening now. The ramen renaissance has redefined the status of the Japanese noodle, and today, descriptors like "full bodied" and "complex" are appropriately applied to your bowl. It's also intimate. Ramen joints are typically smaller, understated venues inviting cozy intimacy with close seating to accommodate the hungry hoards, meaning you and your partner will likely be situated in thigh-grazing proximity. Last but not least, it's endearing. You're showing your special someone (or most promising right swipe) you want to share the experience of soul-satisying stewed pork soaking up the spicy and savory flavorings surrounding it with them.
So the next time you're looking to set the stage for romance, do it over a hot bowl of fully loaded shio ramen. You can thank me later.
1. It warms you up
For starters, ramen is comfort food, and gets everyone feeling cozy and snug. Even prior to ordering, there's a warmth to the atmosphere as you enter the restaurant, and ramen-yas often have open kitchens, meaning the steam rising from the long-simmering soy bean broth is permeating the place with alluring aromas. When it comes time to order, ramen menus are usually quite straightforward, meaning there's little pressure to be decisive. Once you make your choice, you can take comfort in knowing it was the right one (because you can't go wrong).
2. Slurping breaks the ice
Sure, dining etiquette is to be adhered to, especially during a date. But contrary to most contexts, when it comes to consuming ramen, loud slurping is not only condoned, but absolutely encouraged. When making first impressions, succumbing to slurps can be vulnerable. But if the date is a first, the person across the table is just as nervous as you, and your common awkwardness will act as an ice-breaker. At the very least, it serves as something to laugh about.
3. You both get to show off your chopstick skills (or lack thereof)
Chopsticks are an imperative part of the ramen date, no matter where you or your date land on the chopstick-use skill spectrum. Most importantly, they get the ramen out of the bowl and into your mouth. As an aside, they offer another means of comic relief and conversation. If you're a pro, it's an opportunity to demonstrate your manual dexterity. If you're still getting a grip, so to speak, on the culinary utensils, it's another thing to laugh about, and shows you're able to be a good sport. Either way, go with the flow, and if you're of the second school, it's only a matter of time before the minced pork buried in your bowl is begging you to step up your chopstick game.
4. Drinks abound
At least two things that can be expected on any ramen menu, besides the ramen, are sake and Japanese beer. Among these are usually more choices — at least an Ichiban and Sapporo for the beer, and sake in its palatable varieties of hot, cold, and then some. It's fair to say there's something for everyone. Better yet, beer and sake can be, and often are, drunk together. Not necessarily recommended for your romantic dinner for two, sake bombs might be the most synergistic, and notorious, of these pairings.
5. It's well-priced
Whether you're going dutch, or it's someone's treat, no one will walk away from dinner feeling like they just put down their whole paycheck. Ramen bowls are well-priced, and even those on the steeper end never venture into how-am-I-paying-the-rent territory. It's also worth noting that a moderately priced main course leaves you more money to spend on No. 4.
6. It rarely disappoints
Even if you don't book a table for two at the latest celebrity-chef epicurean experiment, or at the speakeasy-style hole-in-the-wall ramen house that has restaurant reviewers writing sonnets, it's essentially guaranteed that you'll walk away from your ramen date satisfied and full. You might even find the latest object of your affection to be in your bowl rather than sitting across from you at the table. However the date goes, chances are something you'll both agree on is that the noodles hit all the right notes, and it was a night well-spent.
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