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China Daily (USA) - - LIFE / DINING -

t 2:40 pm a week ago, the sign read­ing “Sorry, noo­dles sold out” was put out­side Ra­men Nagi Uni­ver­sal Noo­dle in Shang­hai’s K11 ArtMall.

It was just the sec­ond week after the Tokyo ra­men chain opened its first out­let in China: 400 bowls of noo­dles had been sold in fewer than four hours. Peo­ple line up when the shop opens at 10amto slurp the rich pork-broth noo­dles.

“We’ve learned that Shang­hainese love noo­dles, but we didn’t know the love could be as thick as our noo­dle soup,” says Son­oda Nobuhiro, co-owner and chef of Nagi, with a help­less grin.

Four hun­dred bowls of noo­dles— or, more pre­cisely, soup — is the max­i­mum the Shang­hai store cur­rently can of­fer a day. It takes 20 hours to sim­mer the in­tensely meaty, opaque pale tonkotsu broth, which, like the white can­vas of an oil paint­ing, is the base for all types of noo­dle of­fered. There is just one cus­tom-made stove tucked be­hind the open kitchen of the store, where the broth is sim­mer­ing away even when the en­tire mall is closed.

“We sell a sim­i­lar amount of noo­dles at our (orig­i­nal) Shin­juku store. It took us around 10 years to achieve that,” says Nobuhiro, who has been work­ing in Shang­hai for three months to get the newout­let up and run­ning.

In Ja­pan, where there are es­ti­mated to be more than 80,000 ra­men shops, the noo­dle scene is much more com­pet­i­tive. But Nobuhiro and Ikuta Satoshi, the restau­rant’s founder, have man­aged to sur­vive and stand out.

In 2013, seven years after they started their hole-in-the-wall noo­dle busi­ness, Nagi was voted best ra­men and cham­pion for Tokyo Ra­men of the Year Award, against some 30,000 com­peti­tors.

“The trick never lies in the bowl,” says Nobuhiro.

“WhenIkuta first started the busi­ness, the noo­dles weren’t re­ally good. But Ikuta lis­tens and im­proves ev­ery day,” says Nobuhiro, re­call­ing the days when the two were boil­ing noo­dles at a tra­di­tional shop in their 20s and “the kitchen was so small that you ei­ther be­friend your col­leagues or go mad”.

Dur­ing the early years in Tokyo, be­fore busi­ness picked up, the found­ing team chal­lenged them­selves to cre­ate one new type of ra­men ev­ery sin­gle day for a whole year. Cre­ative, if not crazy, th­ey­came up with vari­a­tions in­clud­ing the ra­men surf and turf — dried baby sar­dine-in­fused tonkotsu broth and con­densed tonkotsu broth, us­ing three times the amount of pork bones to sim­mer the broth with onethird of the wa­ter of the stan­dard.

“The rich, pork fla­vor ex­plodes in the mouth like a bomb,” says Nobuhiro of his fa­vorite cre­ation, adding that the reg­u­lar ver­sion is a mere bul­let by com­par­i­son.

It took about two years for the team to pre­pare for the first out­let in China, in­clud­ing find­ing the right breed of pigs for pork, and try­ing lit­er­ally about 60 types of noo­dles pop­u­lar in Shang­hai to learn about lo­cal tastes. (His fa­vorite dis­cov­ery: Chi­nese soup noo­dles topped with wok­fried bull­frog.) The team has been so fas­tid­i­ous about the soup that a spe­cial

We’ve learned that Shang­hainese love noo­dles, but we didn’t know the love could be as thick as our noo­dle soup.”

Son­oda Nobuhiro,

co-owner and chef of Nagi

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