I’m sure the regular patrons of Orochon Ramen were quite thrilled when their little corner of the world got a big time spotlight on Man Vs. Food. I’m equally sure their excitement is over now that Man Vs. Food has left, and all that’s left is a bunch of semi-foodies wandering in now that the place is famous.
Let us remove Man Vs. Food for the moment, and concentrate on what matters. The food. Before even looking at Orochon’s website, I knew Orochon’s cultural ties hailed from the North of Japan. Why? Well, for one, according to the website, Orochon is a Ainu name.
The Ainu are an indigenous people native to both Japan and Russia (and the Sakhalin Islands). Culturally, you can see a lot of similarities between the Ainu and our own Native Americans in the Northwest, in terms of costume and artwork. According to Wikipedia:
The exact number of living Ainu is unknown. This is due to confusion over mixed heritages and to ethnic issues in Japan resulting in those with Ainu backgrounds hiding their identities. In Japan, because of intermarriage over many years with Japanese, the concept of a pure Ainu ethnic group is no longer feasible. Official estimates of the population are of around 25,000, while the unofficial number is upward of 200,000 people.
That’s all set-up for saying Orochon is an Ainu word for Bravery.
We also know Orochon Ramen is from the North of Japan because of the addition of corn into their Ramen. Our Post-World War II occupation of Japan introduced a few of American foods into the Japanese mainstream. Some stuck, like corn did in the north.
According to Wikipedia, Ramen noodles are basically made from wheat flour, salt, water, and Kansui (a type of alkaline mineral water). For you, all you have to really know is that proper Ramen has a bright yellow color and has chewy texture. Throw your Ramen against the wall, and if it sticks, it’s cooked just right.
But please, don’t embarrass this website. Leave your Ramen in the bowl, and enjoy.
The original Orochon Ramen was small. Between the inside and the outside, I’m thinking room for about 40 people. It gets crowded fast, so be prepared to wait in a line, particularly around lunch. Also, look at the menu in advance. While all they serve is Ramen, you have to customize your bowl, as well as set the spice level. (NOTE: The Burbank Location? Way bigger.)
Now, Man Vs. Food also popularized the Orochon’s House Special No. 2 Challenge. Basically, you have 30 minutes to eat their hottest, spiciest, most dangerous bowl of soup they have (a bowl that even the owner of the Restaurant won’t try). I don’t recommend this. I’m not sure how much worth it is to try to eat something that will put you in physical pain in order to win a spot on the “Wall of Flame” next to Adam Richman.
Look, Orochon is a damn good Ramen place. That should be enough.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Okay, newsflash, you’re getting the Ramen. There are other things on the menu, but they’re just sides. You’re here for the Ramen, and like I said before, you need to make some decisions.
One, you need to choose a broth: Miso, Soy Sauce or Salt. I always go with Miso, but that’s just me.
Then you need to choose a spice level. The higher the number, the less spicy the broth is. Seven is their lowest level. One is approaching (mind you, only approaching the Special No. 2 level). I started with Number Four, and got a mildly salty experience. I think next time, I’m hopping up to Number Two or Three.
Bear in mind, Number two is in no relation to Special No. 2, which is the dangerous stuff.
After that, you choose your extras and your toppings. You can choose from:
Cha-Shu Pork Slice Egg Corn Green Onion Bamboo Saute Extra Noodles Bean Sprouts Garlic Butter Tofu Jalapeño (man, are you asking for it) Extra Meat Extra Vegetables
Now, mind you…these are not free. You don’t get X number automatically with your order. Each of these items ranges from $.50 to $2.00 (Extra Vegetables). But they do add flavor and texture to your customized soup, so choose well.
Me? I went with Egg, Corn, Green Onion, Butter and Bean Sprouts. Fairly traditional.
For you vegetarians, there is a Vegetarian version of the soup available. Make sure you ask.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Enjoy some Ramen first before trying to make it to the Wall of Flame. I wouldn’t try it at all, but if you really want to…try some Ramen and at least experience what the good stuff is before you go down that road.
UPDATE: April 28, 2012: Okay, the newest Orochon Ramen has been open all of a week, and there have been a few bugs in the system.
The place is open, but not quite ready for primetime. (If you read Facebook or Yelp, the criticism I just leveled will seem mild in comparison).
Basically, the Waitstaff means well, but they will keep you waiting a good bit while they determine which end is up. I’ve eaten at their Little Tokyo branch, which ran like a well-oiled machine so believe you me, they will get it figured out. Sooner better than later, Orochon.
To give you an idea of how organized they are right now, I think Yelp and maybe this site are the only two on the web that have their Burbank Address available. And yes, I’m including the Orochon site in that list of negligence.
PARKING: Oy. Parking is Little Tokyo is neither fun, nor cheap. I wound up Parking in a small lot off Onizuka Street (named for the Astronaut who gave his life in the Challenger Disaster). Eight bucks (and just an hour) later I realized that the Mall Orochon is located in, has its own parking, but I doubt it would have been any cheaper. Just find a space, and go with God. It’s the best you can do.
UPDATE: April 28, 2012: Parking for the Burbank Location is a breeze. Consult our Burbank Parking Map for Garages and locales. And no matter what, you’ll be parking for free…unless you do something that earns you a ticket.