Zen Box Izakaya is a relatively new Japanese restaurant in downtown owned by John Ng and Lina Goh. I sat down with them recently to talk about ramen and the twin cities food scene. John and Lina have always loved food. However, their original career paths were nowhere near where they are now. John studied architecture in San Francisco and Lina was a financial major in New Zealand. John and Lina met on a chat room and after a few years of chatting they ended up meeting and moving to San Francisco. Soon after they got married. When John was at school he started as a busboy to help pay for his education and ended up becoming an executive chef under Chef Koji Okada one of the first chefs to introduce the art of ramen to San Francisco in the 1980s. Roughly, 10 years ago they opened a lunch spot in the skyway. All of their dedicated lunch customers would tell them they want to bring their friends and family to enjoy their delicious Japanese food so they decided to officially open a restaurant.
When the average Minnesotan hears ramen they think college, being broke, and a microwave. However, this is not your mama’s ramen. Ramen is becoming big all over the country. We’re talking complex broths with hours and hours of simmering. Subtle flavors and nuances that create unbelievable final results. John and I talked about what made his ramen special and he told me it was the time. Plain and simple. Patience. Traditional ramen is a pork based broth with noodles, eggs, scallions, pork, fish cakes, nori (toasted seaweed), etc. That being said, there really isn’t a wrong way to do ramen. I remember reading about a parmesan broth ramen with sea urchin. I’ve recently been trying to explain to people who love Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) that ramen is the Japanese version. It’s basically Japanese soul food. Humble ingredients that are nurtured into something magical.
The Ramen Attack is going to be a block party outside of Zen Box. Owner John Ng, Chef Mihoko Obunai (contender of Food Network’s Chopped, and awarded “Best Ramen in Atlanta” by Atlanta Magazine), and Chef Shige Nakamura Executive Chef of Sun Noodle’s Ramen Lab,(the youngest of Japan’s “Four Ramen Devas” – the gods of the cuisine – and one of the industry’s top ramen chefs) will all be showcasing their variations on ramen. The event is sponsored by Sun Noodle’s Ramen Lab who make noodles for some very famous restaurants including: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ivan Ramen and Ramen Yebisu to name a few. There will also be beer, sake, a DJ and traditional Japanese drums Mu Daiko.
The event will be going on Sunday, September 29, beginning at noon and runs until 6 pm. I know what your thinking. Downtown on a Sunday at noon? There’s a Vikings game there’s no way you want to deal with the traffic. Well guess what, this Sunday the Vikings are playing in London. There is no excuse to not get down there and start slurpin’. They’ll be shutting down part of Portland Avenue for the event. Under 16 years old is free admission and alcohol wristbands will be $2. For any sort of updates you can check out the Zen Box Facebook Page.