Ramen – It’s What Dreams Are Made Of

I’ve become quite the ramen connoisseur (read: snob). A good friend of mine from high school recently introduced me to the culture of ramen in Boston. I’ve never had “real” ramen other than the instant kind I used to eat as a penniless college kid in New Hampshire. I was eager to indulge in and experience what I sensed everyone, including my friend, have been obsessing over.

Ramen noodles—like many things in Japanese culture—originated in China and are made of flour, water, salt and kansui, an alkaline-rich water that when combined with the rest of the ingredients in ramen, allows for that elastic texture that gives the noodles its wonderful appeal. Since the 1980s when ramen rose to fame in Japan, it has been “perfected” and every region has its own version of the noodles and broth—which is often cooked for hours until a rich, fatty flavor and delightful aroma are achieved. Depending on the style of ramen one orders at a restaurant, the toppings—which can include nori, sweet corn, a soft boiled egg, scallions, kimchi, pickled bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, also vary from shop to shop.

Ramen has become so popular outside of Japan that many shops have sprung up in countries all over the world, including the United States. In cities like Boston, even hotels and non-ramen restaurants are serving up the delectable dish one night a week as a special. Most of the establishments we’ve visited in the Boston-area are hole-in-the-wall places with limited seating, usually accept only cash and have very long lines to get in, but the reward is a comforting bowl of ramen in salty broth and invigorating flavors.

When my friend and I decided to meet-up and catch up on life, it was only natural that we chose Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square in Cambridge. The first of many visits to other ramen restaurants in the area, this popular shop—as a sign above the kitchen reads—doesn’t make ramen, it makes dreams. “Yume” translates to dreams in Japanese and “katare” to tell. Eating at Yume Wo Katare is an experience to be had by anyone who’s had a bowl of ramen before. Even if you think you’ve seen it all, this place should be at the top of your “ramen list,” if you have such a thing that is. From the long lines to the cheesy quotes that decorate the tiny room, finishing the small bowl—piled high with crunchy bean sprouts, garlic, chopped scallions and two pieces of very flavorful pork strips—of ramen at Yume Wo Katare can get you a loud “Good Job,” “Very Good Job,” or “Perfect” shout-out from the kitchen staff. And if you don’t, you’ll still get an encouraging “Next Time!” and regardless whether you finish your bowl or not, you’ll be asked to stand up, introduce yourself and share your dreams and aspirations with everyone present. And whether your dream is to cure cancer or travel the world, everyone will cheer you on, this is the place where dreams are made; not ramen.

The sharing of dreams and aspirations doesn’t have to end at Yume Wo Katare, for every bowl of ramen deserves to be shared with great company. In my time going from ramen shop to ramen shop in Boston, I’ve learned that not all ramen is the same and no matter how many times you’ve got to explain it to people why this is not the same ramen they get at the supermarket, the best way to get them to experience the passion that goes into making this dish, is to take them on a ramen journey similar to the one I’m currently on. I’ve also learned from observation that most of the conversations that happen over ramen, happen in silence or over a cold beer after (unfortunately, we have yet to come across a ramen shop in Boston that serves some good ol’ Japanese brews). Slurping is encouraged and so is eating fast—you want the noodles to retain their elasticity and the broth its warmth.

With so many ramen options springing up all over Boston, I’m looking forward to many more conversations over a bowl of ramen with thoughtful company. If I’m going to keep pursuing learning Japanese and nurturing my interest in the culture, I might as well do it through the food.


July 13, 2016 “Boston Takes Step to Elevate Citgo Sign From LED Beacon to Landmark,” The New York Times.

June 25, 2016 “Who Needs Reviews?,” WOSU Public Media-the Ohio State University.

June 20, 2016 Runner-Up Best Local Blog, The Boston A-List and City Voter

June 19, 2016 “Where to Get More Local Arts Coverage Now That The Globe Has Cut Back,” Universal Hub.

January 9, 2015 “Bringing Back the Nerdocracy,” Art F City.

September 04, 2012 “Big Red & Shiny Rises From the Dead,” The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

January 26, 2012, “Artblog.net is back, plus more local blogs,” The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

January 17, 2012, “Boston’s Rich Trove of Murals,” Boston.com/Boston Globe.

December 17, 2011, “23 Local Bloggers to Follow on Twitter & Why,” BostonInno.

November-December 2011 “Tweet, Tweet” Connections, Peabody Essex Museum.

Review: Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints

Decorative Paper with Design of Chrysanthemums.Unknown Artist. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

The use of trees, flowers and festivals as subjects in Japanese prints of the Edo period (1615-1867) more than any other subject matter, reflected the realities, ambitions, aspirations, and tastes of the time. The pleasures of festivals, grand events, and entertainment, as well as the expansive landscapes depicted in woodblock prints, allowed people to “escape” the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Edo (modern day Tokyo). Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints (January 22 through August 28, 2011) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston celebrates the popular subjects of flowers and festivals as they appear in this medium.

Plum Garden of Kameido Hiroshige I, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Denman Waldo Ross Collection

Ukiyo-e or “images of the floating world” woodblock prints depict commoners, specifically those living in urban centers and the red light district. Prints served as advertisements highlighting the latest trends in travel, the women of the red light district, local cuisine and other hedonistic pursuits. In their own time, these prints were not meant to be great works of art, but rather, items that anyone could own and dispose of at their own discretion.

In Buddhism, the term ukiyo-e was used to describe the impermanence of the world humans lived in, the ever changing nature of everything that is around us. In the Edo period, this term took on a life of its own and referred to the world of the pleasure district “a quarter of the city which houses courtesans, their attendants, and the theaters, where Kabuki plays and Bunraku performances were presented” (Penelope Mason,  History of Japanese Art, 278).

Maple Leaves at Kaian-Ji Temple in Tokyo, from the series Thirty Six Selected Flowers Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Mrs. Arthur Croft—The Gardner Brewer Collection

Changes in the four seasons, small or drastic did not go unnoticed for printmakers in Edo. Works by the artists in the exhibition capture the subtleties of the transition between seasons, from the delicate structure of plum blossoms to the bright golden color of maple leaves in autumn. Starting clockwise, we embark on a delightful journey, with a print of a warbler perched on a red plum branch alongside prints of plum and cherry trees in full bloom. The changes in the seasons unfold before our eyes as one wanders from print to print.

Among the most fascinating prints on view are those by Suzuki Harunobu, known for being one of the first artists to create polychrome prints and Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858), Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shegenobu, 1826-1869) Kitagawa Utamaro I, Torii Kiyonaga and Hokusai among others.

Suzuki Harunobu’s prints are richly textured and highly sophisticated due to their incredible colors and details. Throughout his artistic career, Harunobu attempted to depict well known beautiful women of his time, but since ukiyo-e artists were not allowed to depict respectable, well known ladies, most were subject to censorship. This explains the shift from depicting women to prints that  emphasized the landscapes of Edo and its surrounding towns. A pioneer in landscape prints, Katsushika Hokusai laid the ground work for what eventually became a phenomenon among commoners; the purchasing of prints as travel mementos.

Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo 1866, Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

Memorable woodblock prints in the exhibition include Hiroshige’s Plum Garden of Kameido 1856-58, later copied by Van Gogh in Flowering Plum Tree and Hiroshige’s II Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo, 1866 from the series Thirty-six Selected Flowers. The Museum of Fine Arts has the finest, oldest and largest collection of Japanese art outside of Japan. The prints in Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints are just a few dozen out of thousands in the museum’s vast holding.