ALLSTON – Love living in New England, but hate the cold New England winters? When you get that real bone-chilling wind outside, the tastiest way to warm up is with a big bowl of soup and noodles at Totto Ramen in Allston.
When you hear the word ‘ramen’ if you think of a cup of instant noodles, then you’ve never experienced the real deal. Slow-simmered chicken broth. Slurpable noodles. Fresh veggies. The official comfort food of college kids is getting a completely delicious makeover.
Totto Ramen was opened by Nghi Nguyen, a young Vietnamese lawyer who grew up in Dorchester.
“First time I had ramen was in New York,” he recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Damn. This is the best chicken soup I ever had.’”
That New York shop was called Totto Ramen. Nghi became a regular, and one day became inspired.
“I wasn’t happy with my job. I was a lawyer for six years. And then one day I’m sitting behind the desk, I’m reading like a hundred page contact, want to jump out the window, so I was like ‘you know what?
Let me cold email this guy.’” That guy was the owner of the ramen restaurant.
After a couple of years of emailing, calling, and begging the Totto Ramen team in Manhattan, they finally agreed to let Nghi bring the concept to Brighton Ave. in Allston.
While most ramen shops serve tomkatsu, which is a broth made with pork bones, Totto only serves a chicken-based broth.
“Ramen in Japan is the pizza to Americans. There is so many different ways to make it, so many different inventions,” Nghi explained. “For us it starts with all natural chicken, vegetables, spices. Cook that up for six hours. After that it’s all about the noodles. So for us, we use two different types of noodles. One is wavy and one is straight.
“After that it’s all about toppings. We use chicken or pork and then we torch it. And after that the sky’s the limit for toppings. We’ve got scallions, onions, beansprouts, avocados.”
The beauty of ramen is there are so many layers of flavor. The broth is rich and there’s so much depth. It’s OK to get a bit loud when eating at Totto, because slurping your soup is encouraged.
“Over in Japan, it’s customary to slurp. Shows a sign of respect. Like, it’s so good I can’t control myself,” explained Nghi, while slurping his ramen. “Don’t hold back either. Basically the louder the better.”
The basic bowl at Totto Ramen is the Paitan Ramen, boasting savory, slightly thickened chicken broth, a seemingly endless string of noodles, chopped scallions, and thick-slices of char siu pork, tender pork belly that’s torched seconds before it goes in the bowl. Then, there’s the Spicy Ramen, the Extra Spicy Ramen, the Miso Ramen, and a bath tub sized beast known as the Mega Ramen, which is over-stuffed with meat and veggies.
When you take a look around Totto Ramen, with its traditional Japanese wooden interior blended with modern industrial touches, you’ll see some customers sampling steamed pork buns or the torched tuna sashimi with avocado. At every table, and every seat along the counter, everything you could ever want to fill you up, and warm you up, is served by the steaming bowlful.
“As far as walking out of here on a full stomach, you’re not gonna walk out of here hungry,” promised Nghi. “It’s 10-12 bucks for a bowl, and you’ll walk out of here feeling pretty good. It’s cooked with love. And you can taste the difference immediately.”
You can find Totto Ramen at 169 Brighton Ave in Allston, and online at tottoramen.com.
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