Saigon Ramen is a spicy miso style ramen recipe with flavours and toppings inspired by some of Saigon’s most iconic street food.
Ramen originated in China and made its way to Japan in the mid-19th century. That original version consisted of wheat noodles topped with Chinese-style roast pork. The dish became considerably more popular in the period immediately after WWII when rice was scarce. Multiple versions of ramen evolved, and by the 1980’s it had become a Japanese cultural icon, famous around the world.
Interestingly, the story of Vietnam’s banh mi is very similar. Originating as a French baguette during the French occupation, it became a cheap and widely available food during the 10,000-day war (book) and its aftermath. It too has evolved into several styles and has become famous around the world.
In the spirit of adopting a dish from a foreign cuisine and incorporating local flavours, I present Saigon Miso Ramen. The toppings used for this spicy miso ramen recipe are inspired by some of Saigon’s most iconic dishes and street food, while the broth features elements of both Phở and Bún bò Huế.
The pork and chicken bone broth (nước canh gà heo)
The base broth in this Saigon Miso Ramen is very similar to this pork and chicken bone broth. There is more lemongrass, an ingredient that gives Bún bò Huế its distinctive character. There is also charred onion, charred ginger, and star anise. These bring a hint of beautifully fragrant Phở broth.
Simmering the aromatics together with the pork and chicken bones for many hours produces a wonderfully flavoured broth with hints of Saigon.
Miso tare (tương đậu nành)
Vietnam has its own form of fermented soybeans known as tương. It is most commonly used to make dipping sauces for tofu, vegetables, or gỏi cuốn. As it is not easy to find outside of Vietnam, we use Japanese miso in this spicy miso ramen recipe. If you can buy it, use tương instead of the red miso.
A key component in this tare is the spicy chilli bean paste or doubanjing. This hot and savoury Chinese bean paste is made from fermented broad beans, chilli peppers, soybeans. It adds a little heat and brings even more depth to the Saigon Miso Ramen broth.
Pork braised in coconut juice (thịt kho nước dừa)
Pho may be the best known Vietnamese dish internationally. However, in Vietnam, people don’t cook pho at home. One of the most popular home-cooked dishes, especially in the south, would have to be thịt kho nước dừa – pork belly and eggs cooked in coconut juice and seasoned with fish sauce. It is considered a special dish to prepare during Tết (or Vietnamese New Year).
Our Saigon Miso Ramen recipe substitutes the traditional chashu for thin slices of thịt kho. This is different from how thịt kho is typically prepared – with chunky pieces of pork belly. Instead of cutting it up before cooking, we cook the strip of pork belly whole. We then chill it so that it is easier to cut into thin slices. Finally, a blast from a cooking torch warms these slices up and nicely chars the cut surfaces.
Marinated eggs (trứng ướp)
As mentioned above, thịt kho nước dừa includes eggs as well as the pork belly. Because they are cooked for a long time, they inevitably become hard-boiled eggs. But for many, marinated eggs with runny yolks are an indispensable component of ramen.
The solution is to marinate soft boiled eggs in the braised pork belly cooking liquid. The sweetness of the coconut juice, together with the depth of flavour from the braised pork belly, enhanced with soy sauce and rice vinegar, resulted in really delicious marinated eggs.
Sautéed corn (bắp xào)
In Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture, corn kernels sautéed in butter are a popular topping for ramen, especially miso ramen. In Saigon, sautéed corn, or bắp xào in Vietnamese, is popular street food. It is very cheap and very delicious and usually sold from rolling carts on Saigon streets or local markets. The four key ingredients are cooked corn kernels, dried tiny shrimp, spring onions, and butter. Yes, butter. Another legacy of the French.
There are actually two types of corn that feature in Saigon street food – a white glutinous style of corn, and the more familiar yellow sweet corn.
Scallion and garlic oil (mỡ hành tỏi)
Another street food staple in Saigon is scallion oil. It is commonly used on grilled shellfish and snails. It is also used to coat cobs of corn grilled on street-side carts and as an aromatic addition to banh mì.
Scallion oil is typically made by pouring hot oil over the diced green parts of scallions (aka green/spring onions). For this Saigon Miso Ramen topping, the oil is first used to brown the white parts of the scallions together with a few garlic cloves. This gives the oil an intoxicating aromatic character before it is poured over the fresh green parts of the scallions.
An aromatic oil is another essential ramen topping. Burnt garlic oil is a personal favourite, but not typical of Saigon street food. This scallion and garlic oil fulfils the roles of both an aromatic and a fat, while contributing another Saigon street food flavour component.
Crispy fried shallots (hành phi)
The bowl (Đông Sơn drum motifs)
To underscore where this Saigon Miso Ramen recipe comes from, notice the rim of the bowl it is served in. These bird motifs were inspired by designs found on Đông Sơn drums. These bronze drums were produced around 600 BCE by the Đông Sơn culture of the Red River delta in northern Vietnam and subsequently discovered in multiple locations throughout the country.
The many motifs that decorate these drums continue to inspire todays designers.
Meanwhile, in Japan
Ramen in Japan continues to evolve. Tsuta was the first-ever ramen restaurant to receive a Michelin star. The ramen styles on their menu today demonstrate just how far the art of ramen has progressed.
Saigon Spicy Miso Ramen with street food topics
- 600 g pork bones pigs trotters and knuckles work well
- 600 g chicken leg bones and wings
- 2 onions, large halved. Leave the skin on if it is in good condition. Just wash it
- 1 head garlic Halved width-wise
- 200 g fresh ginger 2 large pieces
- 2 stalks lemongrass top end cut off, bottom end smashed a little
- 4 star anise
- 3 cardamon pods
- 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 30 g yellow rock sugar or raw sugar
- 4 litres water
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 30 g fresh ginger, grated
- 10 g butter
- 100 g shiro miso “white” but really light yellow colored miso
- 100 g aka miso red miso
- 20 g Doubanjiang spicy chili bean sauce
- 20 g sesame paste or tahini
- 70 ml soy sauce
- 70 ml mirin or sake
- 20 g honey
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 20 ml rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Pork Braised in Coconut Juice
- 400 g pork belly in one piece, often sold as strips
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 shallots, crushed
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp coconut caramel
- 3 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 litre fresh coconut juice
- 6 eggs
- 300 ml pork braising liquid from the Pork Braised in Coconut Juice
- 100 ml Tbsp soy sauce
- 15 ml rice vinegar
- 1 cob corn
- 15 g dried tiny shrimp
- 4 spring onions
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 35 g butter
Scallion and garlic oil
- 10-15 scallions/spring onions
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 60 ml canola oil or other neutral tasting oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white sugar
- 720 g fresh ramen noodles 120 g per serving
- Crispy fried shallots
Broth (1 day ahead)
- Preheat the oven to 200 degC
- Wash and dice half of the ginger.
- Put the pork bones, the pork belly to be used for the braised pork, and the diced ginger in a large saucepan and fill with cold water to 30mm or so above the bones.
- Bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, skimming off the scum regularly.
- Drain, discarding the water.
- Rinse the pork bones and belly under running water, then allow to drain and dry a little.
- Refer to the Pork Braised in Coconut Juice section for next steps with the pork belly.
- Halve lengthways the other 100 g piece of fresh ginger.
- Put the onion, garlic and ginger on a baking tray and broil until starting to blacken.
- Put the pork bones, chicken wings and leg bones, and charred aromatics into a large saucepan. Add in the lemongrass stalks, star anise, shiitake mushrooms, rock sugar, and 4 liters of water.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer.
- Simmer for 8 hours. Top up with hot water occasionally to maintain the same water level.
- Remove and discard the solids and strain the stock through a fine strainer.
- Add some ice cubes to chill the stock quickly, or sit the saucepan in an even larger container of iced water.
- Store in the refrigerator overnight. Discard any congealed fat.
Pork Braised in Coconut Juice (thịt kho nước dừa) (1 day ahead)
- Rub the crushed garlic and shallots, and salt and pepper into the pork belly. Set aside for 30-60 minutes.
- Brush the onion and garlic from the pork belly and set aside. Otherwise it will burn when we brown the pork.
- In a heavy based, high sided pan, heat the oil.
- Add the pork belly and brown each side.
- Add the reserved onion and garlic and stir until starting to brown.
- Add to the saucepan the coconut juice, the fish sauce, and the coconut caramel.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum that collects on the top.
- Cover and simmer for 90 minutes.
- Remove the pork belly from the braising liquid, allow to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until required the next day.
- Allow the braising liquid to cool then use for the marinated eggs.
Eggs marinated in pork braising liquid (1 day ahead)
- Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
- Pierce the eggs at the wider end with a needle or egg piercer. This removes the air pocket and makes them easier to peel.
- Lower the eggs into the water and cook for exactly 6 minutes. Turn the eggs occasionally in the first minute to help the yolks be centered.
- Transfer the eggs to an ice bath to halt the cooking.
- Carefully peel the eggs, starting at the wider end that was pierced.
- Stir the soy sauce and vinegar into 300 ml of the pork braising liquid.
- Put the eggs and pork braising liquid into a zip-lock plastic bag, remove any air, and seal.
- Store in the refrigerator for 24 hours, moving occasionally to ensure even coverage of the marinade.
- Drain after 24 hours and discard the marinade. Store in the refrigerator until needed.
- Wash and chop the scallions, keeping the white parts separate from the green.
- Dice the garlic.
- Over a low heat, fry the white parts of the scallions and garlic in the oil until they are dark brown. 15-20 minutes.
- Strain the oil through a fine strainer.
- Return the oil to the pan and add the green parts of the scallions.
- Put over a medium heat until bubbles start forming, then remove from the heat.
- Soak the dried shrimps in boiling water.
- Boil the cob of corn for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the water and allow to cool.
- Slice the kernels off the cob then break up any clumps.
- Clean and dice the spring onions.
- In a wok or skillet, sauté the spring onions and corn kernels in 20 g of the butter.
- Drain the shrimps from the soaking liquid and add to them to the wok together with the fish sauce. Stir fry another couple of minutes.
- Reheat if necessary before serving.
- Add a nob of butter (2-3 g) atop the corn when serving
- Sauté the crushed garlic and grated ginger in the butter until fragrant.
- Add all the other tare ingredients to the pan except for the vinegar.
- Over a medium low heat, stir until combined and steam starts rising. Do not boil. Remove from the heat.
- Stir in the rice vinegar.
- Cut the pork belly into 4-5mm thick slices. This should only be done after the pork belly has been in the refrigerator overnight otherwise it is likely to break apart.
- Lay the pork slices on a tray and blast with a heat gun, blow torch, or under a hot broiler.
- Reheat the sautéed corn if necessary.
- Boil the noodles according to the packet instructions. Usually 2-3 minutes for fresh noodles, or 5 minutes for dried.
- 30 ml tare to 300 ml broth.
- Add a small knob of butter (2-3 g) atop the corn when serving