Book Review: Ivan Ramen

Title: Ivan Ramen
Author: Ivan Orkin
Format: e-ARC from NetGalley
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 5/5

This book was not quite what I expected, but I loved it even more than I thought I would! I assumed this would be a standard  cookbook, the kind where it’s mostly recipes with some side bars about the author and his restaurant. What I got instead was a memoir followed by a cookbook – almost like two separate shorter books bound together.

Don’t let the word memoir scare you away though! I am NOT a memoir fan. But I absolutely loved reading about Ivan’s food journey and how he built his ramen reputation as a white guy from NY. The memoir portion is well written, conversational, and feels real. It’s almost like you asked him to tell you his story over a cup of coffee (tea?) and he walked you through how he got to where he is today. To be completely honest, I left my poor husband waiting while I kept rushing through one more chapter before we headed out to run errands over the weekend.

So after you get through the first part of the book and you’ve fallen in love with Ivan and his chutzpa, you get to see his recipes. I was a little surprised, because this portion of the book is not chatty. I’ve become so used to books with lots of little anecdotes and conversations attached to each recipe that it was a little of a shock to have a short intro, some clarification on alternatives, and then the recipe. Just to be clear – I don’t think this is a bad thing (in fact, the chattiness of some cookbooks gets on my nerves), it was just unexpected. The recipe section walks you through how to put together a bowl of ramen (and make all the separate parts), but also gives you different ways to use up ingredients for non-ramen dishes. Guys – there was a recipe for a CUBAN SANDWICH in a Ramen cookbook. I’m still not sure I approve (I was really hoping for lots of ramen recipes, because I love ramen and there’s nowhere to get it in Grand Rapids), but I love that he didn’t feel limited. And in the author’s defense, the cuban sandwich used up some slow cooked pork belly from another recipe.

I didn’t see any impossible to find ingredients, although some recipes will require you to make friends with a local butcher or brave your local ethnic market. Also, I keep a well stocked Asian pantry, so it’s possible that you may have more of a challenge with some recipes or techniques, but there are detailed instructions and really the whole thing is presented as labor intensive, but doable, achievable, and delicious.

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