One of the recurring complaints about Ren’s Ramen in Bethesda, which I reviewed this week in Young & Hungry, is that its soups, starting at $10 per bowl, are way too expensive. A sample quote from Ren’s Yelp page:
Bowls start at $10 (!) with just one slice of pork, some bean sprouts, and one leaf of seaweed…no egg, no corn, no butter, no nothing! If you get a properly loaded up bowl, it would cost you at least $15. For ramen.
Without any prompting, Kaz Okochi, the chef behind Kaz Sushi Bistro, told me last week that it can be expensive to make the Japanese soup. Every ramen house is different, of course, so it’s impossible to know exactly the process that Ren’s follows to prepare its soups (particularly because, like noodle houses in Japan, the owners prefer to keep it a secret). But I do know that Ren’s imports custom-made ramen noodles from Japan.
Now allow me to speculate: Those noodles are probably more expensive than the 5-for-$1 instant ramen you bought in college.
What’s more, the roast pork, the pork bones and fat used for the stock, the soy sauce, the house-made miso-paste….all of these ingredients cost real money. Plus, as Okochi pointed out to me, you have to figure in labor costs. “It’s a lot of labor to make ramen,” he says.
It’s interesting, but Okochi tells me that people in Japan seem to understand that ramen houses don’t make much money per bowl, which is why customers and business owners almost have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to the soup. They eat it fast, Okochi says, not only because they want to slurp those noodles before they get soggy, but also because customers know that ramen houses rely on volume, volume, volume.
Something to keep in mind, you indignant, budget-minded Yelpers.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery