Many Americans may associate the word “ramen” with hardened blocks of instant noodles and single-serving flavor packets. But the traditional Japanese comfort food is making a comeback in the U.S. and particularly here in New York. The city is reportedly home to the fastest growing ramen market in the country. Unbeknownst to most, this east coast ramen boom is largely supplied by a single factory in Teterboro, New Jersey.
Sun Noodle New Jersey supplies tailor-made ramen noodles to the majority of the ramen shops along the east coast, with recent expansion efforts stretching to the south. The New Jersey factory was the brainchild of Kenshiro Uki, a third-generation ramen noodle maker from Hawaii. Uki’s father, Hidehito Uki, brought his own father’s noodle recipe from Japan and opened the original Sun Noodle factory in Hawaii in 1981. After seeing the growing market on the east coast, Kenshiro Uki brought the family company to Teterboro in 2012.
Uki describes the general trend in the U.S. from instant to gourmet ramen as a “reverse import.”
“…In Japan it started with artisan ramen and then Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen for people throughout the war. And in the US, we started with instant ramen, and now we’re doing this artisan craft ramen,” Uki told MetroFocus multimedia producer, Marisa Wong.
While the factory churns out 30,000 servings of custom-made noodles daily, Sun Noodle is more than just a noodle manufacturer – it is also home to RamenLab, a ramen R&D laboratory and tasting kitchen. RamenLab represents Sun Noodle’s ongoing efforts to elevate ramen in the U.S. and educate chefs and consumers about its lesser known subtleties. Uki partnered with Chef Shigetoshi Nakamura, once recognized as Japan’s #1 ramen chef, to execute the concept.
“If they don’t have knowledge of the ramen, people are just eating. It’s either good or bad,” says Nakamura. ‘And that’s very sad for me, because this ramen includes a lot of technique, passion, and some kind of hoping – like mother makes for their children.”
RamenLab is soon to open in Manhattan’s Nolita district, making Sun Noodle’s wildly popular ramen flights more accessible for New York City’s foodies.