Supa Ya Ramen started out as a supper club in 2019 following chef Luke Findlay’s epiphany while in Tokyo earlier in the year. “It all stared,” he writes in the introduction to his book, “on a grey Wednesday morning, when I was sitting on a bus heading north out of town. One of my best mates Hannell and I were in Tokyo and I was about to eat one of the most transformative bowls of food of my life”.
As openings to cookbooks go it's pretty striking, but so is Findlay’s story. That bus trip led the former Bubala and NOPI chef to a ramen shop called Ichifuku that specialised in miso-style ramen, rather than the more ubiquitous tonkotsu style, prompting Findlay to undertake a voyage through as many different styles of ramen as possible and ultimately to open a ramen bowl concept in his own kitchen back home.
Findlay’s approach to serving ‘traditionally inauthentic’ ramen - or ‘ramen reinvented’ to use the book’s subtitle - often combining bold flavour combinations with British influences struck a chord with Londoners keen to get a taste of what Japan’s ‘new wave’ young chefs were doing. Here in his debut book he has now documented this approach to impactful effect.
Much of the book is given over to what Findlay labels as simply ‘bowls’, although within this category dishes vary greatly, some featuring noodles, others not, some soupy, others served more dry. A few bowls will be familiar to those who frequent ramen bars - a roast chicken and corn bowl with noodles and a mapo tofu mazesoba being two examples of styles you might come across - but the majority are deliciously different. Take, for example, the fired cabbage and cheese bowl, which Findlay questions whether it isa bowl of ramen or cheesy pasta; the mortadella wontonmen, clams and wild garlic bowl; and the slow roast tomato, bacon, onion and jalapeno hash bowl.
Beyond this section, that will keep even the most hardened of experimental ramen makers busy for some time, Findlay turns his attention to flavoured oils and fat, seasonings and soups and then toppings, and pickles and ferments, all of which form the basis of many of the recipes that precede these chapters. With a final flourish, there’s also a snack section where recipes for dishes such as tofu whip; duck fat hash browns with ham, Kewpie mayo and caviar; and chilli fried peas with green pil pil and goat’s curd can be found.
Supa Ya Ramen the book might not be the most beautifully laid out cookbook - the change in font and size in the recipes is slightly jarring - but in reality this only adds to the idiosyncratic and eclectic style of Findlay’s dishes. Here is a book not designed for the coffee table but to be used, to have its pages sullied with soy sauce, chilli oil and mayonnaise, with numerous folds bookmarking favourite combinations.
Start cooking from page one and go on a similar culinary expedition that Findlay did four years ago, but from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Supa Ya Ramen - Ramen reinvented
Author: Luke Findlay
Number of pages: 191
Standout dish: Smoked bacon, morel and truffle mapo tufu bowl
Publisher and price: Pavilion Books, £26