Thursday, May 4, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - Ramen Heads

A quality meal does not have to mean expensive, white tablecloth, suit and tie on fine china at a fancy roped off establishment. A diner can obtain a life altering food experience for $8.00 according to the four time raining Ramen King of Japan Osamu Tomita. Tomita's shop in Masuto, Chiba has only 10 seats a quality that the films narrator finds common to the best Ramen Houses as they are all tiny. Lines start at 6:30 in the morning for the 11 AM seating. But the first arrivals will not be in line for 5 hours instead the meticulous Tomita invented an ingenious system where costumers get tickets that correspond to their seating time. They are told to be at the house 10 minutes before they are too be seated. This system has cut down the lines out from of the shop by three fold.

Director Koki Shigeno takes the subject seriously as he does the history and importance of Ramen to Japan. It was a hearty food that workers could consume quickly when facing long days working to rebuild Japan after the Second World War. The historical tour of the meal starts back in 1910 when Chinese cooks brought the noodles and gamey meats to the island through the changes many that occurred by accident that produced the various forms of the dish that appear today.

The piece visits shops of other Ramen masters around the island but is at its best when Tomito is on screen. He is personally involved in every aspect of the preparation of the meal so much so that the shop is closed if he cannot make it into work. The broth stews for at least three day. He combines 4 different types to make the broth for the day. Only he stirs and pours it at the exact moment of readiness when the colour, density, blend and balance is correct. His witches brew of ingredients simmer for 27 hours. Additives include dry fish, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and pigs head. But the item he most obsesses on is noodles. He uses 4 types of flour, meads by hand looking for a thick firm  strands that will not tear. His noodles are longer than most other shops to give them that slurp ability quality. Tomita wants his noodles to snap like a firecracker in the mouth when slurped.

A couple of the other prominent chefs featured include Inoue who's been running a three mat space in the highest volume Ramen market in Tokyo for 50 years serving the classic soy says based Shoyu version. Hayama is chef in another popular local who's wrinkle is a dried sardine based broth and can be seen in the kitchen pressing his bamboo stocks with a long rolling pins hooked under his knee joint. The third is Fukujo known as the chefs chef who opens at 3:00 P.M. using utensils dating back to the post war era including a wonderful earthenware brazer. He is 74 years old and has worked in the same spot for 64 years. Not a big fan of the current Ramen craze he remembers that the dish is the main food staple for the working class and shakes his head that now Ramen chefs have Michelin ratings.

Ramen Heads is a delicious educational journey into every aspects of a seemingly very simple meal. It's broth; noodles and usually meat but the various and preparation methods for each aspect of the meal are endless. All of the masters featured excel at the craft backed by the best display of food cinematography ever presented on screen. The viewers mouth will be watering as they can almost smell the broth and taste the noodles due to the sharpness of the presentation. It's a fascinating study of several dedicated chefs to their craft making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Ramen Heads | Koki Shigeno | Japan | 2017 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Ramen, Japan, Pork, Noodles, Broth, Chiba, Tokyo, Apprentice, Slurpability.

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