There’s something pretty darn satisfying when you’ve experienced a really good bowl of noodles. I can name off the top of my head a bunch of them within many of my greatest food experiences of all time.
- There were the Ba Mee Haeng [Thai dried noodles] Dad used to make us for our summer picnics at the beach growing up in NZ. Amazing.
- The Kuaitiao Ruea [boat noodles] at an outside noodle stall near the MBK Mall in Bangkok. Addictive.
- The Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen at Ivan’s Ramen in New York (alongside the greatest chicken wings known to mankind). Exceptional.
- A Curry Laksa at a joint on East Coast Road in Singapore. Dreamy.
- A Tempura Udon at a hole-in-the-wall deep in the heart of the Shinjuku underground train station. The Shiz.
- And then there was the first time I had the tantan ramen at Zool Zool – a ramen bar and lovechild of one of the best fine dining restaurants in Auckland, Kazuya. I'll hold the praise for now, but you know what's coming....
This was a few years back now obviously, but being a massive fan of Kazuya and having just opened, I made a bee line for Zool Zool in its first week. Yo here’s the deal. If there’s a ramen menu in front of me and it offers tantan, I’m all over it. No point looking at any other offering. So I ordered it. I ate it. I dreamed about it. In that order. Yes, the experience was a special one and when a humble bowl of noodles has that kind of effect on you, it’s a keeper. I frequented Zool Zool a few more times in the subsequent months and each time, the experience was as good as the last. And then me and Zool Zool had a decent break from each other. For no other reason than needing to try new places and new dishes.
So after a couple of years, it was time to retest my opinion that this is a true destination dish in Auckland. 14 degrees outside. Wet, windy and cold. The perfect environment to partake in some ramen-loving. And there is no better broth if you’re needing some warmth and to heat your booty up than the tantan. Don't be looking for a light clear consomme type broth here. This is not subtle. Zool Zool’s tantan broth is exceptional. As good as anywhere I’ve had in Japan or other parts of Asia, and certainly the best in Auckland. A city with a number of super solid ramen bars. It’s good at Ramen Takara. It’s good at Ichiban. It’s good at Tanpopo. It’s also good at Ramen Do. These are all excellent ramen joints in their own right, but for me, and it is just a personal opinion, none of them have a ramen dish that surpasses this one. The broth itself has the perfect consistency and texture. Slightly fatty, slightly oily, not too thick but not too watery. But it’s the reddish-golden-brown hues shimmering from the surface that tell you straight to your face – “bro, this gravy is off-the-flippin-hook, and you're about to get mouth-slammed with some major flavour.” When ramen broth is this good, you need to give it a proper bowl-slurp to finish every last drop.
Right, so there’s 2 to 3 things which distinguish a tantan ramen from your more traditional soy-based ramen or tonkotsu styles (pork-bone based broth). First the spice level. There’s a bit of heat, not much (unless you’re a w***y) but enough to make it interesting. Secondly, the broth has a real sesame flavour profile, coming from the sesame tare in the initial preparation. Thirdly, there’s the addition of pork mince which gives the broth its generous dosage of fattiness and viscosity. Put it all together and you have tantan. The actual ramen noodles at Zool Zool are also very worthy. A good healthy portion but not so much that the ramen starts absorbing and sucking too much of the soup up. You want a slightly bitey texture and you get that here. But for me, the tantan is all about flavour. One spoon of that broth will convert you. The ZoolZool version just manages to get the balance right better than any other version in the city. It’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s rich, it’s porky, it’s fatty, it’s sesame-y, it’s full of umami, it’s a dish you need to try if you like noodles and hot liquid. And it gets me every single damn time, just like the orange choc-chip ice-cream at the Event Broadway cinema.
Like the laksa at Selera Café in Newmarket, the tantan ramen at Zool Zool has the Pacino Godfather ability to continually pull you back in….trust me, it will.