I don’t like standing in lines. Not for a premiere movie tickets, not for the newest techie gadget, not for the sales on Friday after Thanksgiving. (Having to spend hours away from classes while waiting in never-ending lines, depending on mercy of the office harpies at the University of Belgrade just to be issued a monthly bus pass clearly does not count. That I endured this at the age before smart phones were invented, makes the experience even more traumatic).
So when I learned that Keizo Shimamoto would be serving 500 ramen burgers last Saturday at 11:00 am at Mitsuwa Market, a Japanese chain store in my neighboring Torrance, I deliberately failed to set the alarm. Yes, I was determined to go, as I was curious about the concept, but I knew that I am not that hard-core to camp in front of a store for a food item, no matter how highly recommended and hyped.
The recovering journalist in me woke up and nudged me to get up just in time to make it close to the end of the line at 10:30. I felt empowered by finding a decent parking place and exercised my patience for a while, relieved when more and more people queued up behind me. But when they announced that I probably would not get to be the one of the chosen 500 to sample the $8.00 ramen burger, along with a few dozen of my crestfallen neighbors who stood in line behind the coveted corner, I had to rethink my strategy.
I stayed in place for a few minutes, thinking that there might be some vegetarians ahead who might forfeit their burgers. The logic prevailed, though, and I decided to head to the store and be the journalist, experiencing the event vicariously and taking testimonies, resigned that it was not in my cards that day to taste the trendy fusion burger.
I positioned myself in front of the stall hosting Ramen Burger crew and started taking photos of busy hands assembling the burgers, minutes before the hungry hordes were allowed to enter. Ramen noodles, already cooked and shaped into sturdy disks, were placed onto a griddle until golden brown and crispy. A charbroiled hamburger patty fit perfectly on top of one of the rounds, followed by a secret shoyu sauce, a few leaves of arugula, chopped scallions, and another ramen round. It was neatly folded in a pleated paper wrapper constructed specifically to prevent the juices and sauce from seeping out.
I happened to be at the right place and the right time to see Keizo Shimamoto, the guy behind the the ramen burger fame, pass one of the burgers to his mother, who declared that she had never tasted one of her son’s inventions before. Even better, I stood next to the CBS News cameraman who passed his burger to me, as he was on a diet. I figured it was research combined with a good deed and bit into it.
I expected the ramen bun to fall apart at the first attack, but it was surprisingly sturdy. According to Keizo, this is not your usual instant ramen, but rather custom made by respectable Sun Noodle company in New Jersey. It took me much longer to finish this burger, and it kept me full for quite some time. It was an unusual combination of flavors and textures, which is typical for fusion cooking, and while I still prefer a classic hamburger, I would not mind breaking the routine with this umami-rich newest food sensation.
Keizo’s story is an inspiring one. Born, raised, and educated in southern California, he entered the work force as a computer programmer, only to depart to Japan to study ramen, in pursuit of his dream. After four years he returned with an idea of a ramen burger which combines his two culinary loves, and almost overnight became a frenzied success. It seems that things are moving incredibly fast for this one-man enterprise, as the demands are clearly going through the roof. He is riding the wave with a smile, knowing that all his work has finally paid off and his dream became a reality. He and his ramen burger are here to stay, and I would not be surprised to see Keizo more frequently back on the West coast.
A few hundred photos and a full belly later, I slowly made my way out of the store, where the line was shorter, but still winding around a couple of corners. Keizo’s ramen burger was satisfying, but did not convince me that anything is worth waiting in line for hours in midday southern California sun.