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The Dish: Dive in to customizable noodle bowls

Seafood ramen at Ramen Bowls in Lawrence.

Haole ramen at Ramen Bowls in Lawrence.

Ramen Bowls in Lawrence serves noodle bowls like owners Shantel and Tim Grace ate while living in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Veggie ramen noodle bowl at Bo Ling's.

Ink

Last summer, Bo Ling’s opened a sleek new restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.

The restaurant, at 4701 Jefferson St., has a menu that’s pretty similar to the Bo Ling’s locations in the City Market, Zona Rosa, Lenexa and Overland Park. But the Plaza Bo Ling’s serves a variety of noodle bowls — a trend owner Richard Ng says is hot on the coasts.

“Here, it’s a little slower to catch on,” Ng says, because a lot of American customers don’t know how to drink broth. Or they’re scared off by ramen noodles because they think they’re those super-cheap instant noodles that sustain college students. Or they think noodle soup is something you eat when you’re sick.

But in China and other Asian countries, Ng says, “people eat soup noodles year-round.”

After tasting Bo Ling’s ramen, I’ve decided to work noodle bowls into my regular rotation.

The Chinese restaurant serves its wheat ramen noodles in comically large bowls loaded with piping-hot broth. I ordered the vegetarian version ($11.95), brimming with a garden’s worth of napa cabbage, mushrooms, snow peas, spinach, carrots, green onions and fresh cilantro.

The huge bowl came with a huge spoon — after I fished out the fresh, supple noodles with my chopsticks, I used the spoon to sip the flavor-packed vegetarian broth, which Ng says is made with shiitake mushrooms.

“At the end, you pick up your bowl,” Ng says, and slurp down the rest of the broth.

I didn’t get that far — I ate until I was full and still left with a quart to-go container full of noodles — but I was glad, because those were some damn good leftovers.

The Bo Ling’s on the Plaza serves eight noodle bowls (from tofu and seaweed to spicy beef and Malaysian curry) that are completely customizable — you get to choose the broth (chicken, pork, beef, vegetable) and the type of noodles. Aside from ramen, there are udon noodles, which are slightly thicker than ramen, nutty-flavored soba noodles and gluten-free rice noodles.

The other Bo Ling’s locations serve a Long Life noodle bowl ($11.95) with big hunks of jumbo shrimp, chicken, egg, baby bok choy and spinach.

Lawrence has noodle bowls, too

Earlier this year, Tim and Shantel Grace moved home to Kansas from Honolulu and opened Ramen Bowls at 125 E. 10th St. in Lawrence.

Ramen Bowls serves bowls like the ones the Graces devoured in Honolulu’s Chinatown, where “ramen is everywhere,” Shantel says. There, they learned the traditional way to eat ramen.

“You want the noodles in your chopsticks, with the spoon holding broth right under the noodles,” Shantel says. That helps the noodles soak up more broth.

Slurping is “vital” to the ramen experience, she adds.

The restaurant’s Haole Ramen ($8.50) is a good way for noodle newbies to ease in. Topped with braised, pulled chicken, carrots and spring onions, it’s as comforting as a big bowl of chicken noodle soup. Which, essentially, it is.

I like the healing Hoyland Farm special ($11), a bowl of ramen topped with lots of wilted greens from a farm outside Lawrence. And I’m curious (but not brave enough) to try the $20 Ghost Ramen Challenge.

Here’s how the challenge works: You get a bowl of double-noodle, double-ghost pepper ramen topped with grilled pork belly and soy sauce-braised egg. If you slurp down every drop, your meal is free, and you walk out with bragging rights and a “Ghost Ramen Conquerer” T-shirt. Shantel Grace says that about eight customers have won the challenge so far.

One more spicy challenge

Sama Zama, 425 Westport Rd., also offers a scorcher of a ramen challenge.

If you can finish a bowl of Sama Zama’s super-spicy ramen ($14 regularly, or $16 with the challenge) without taking a bathroom break, then your meal is free. Winners often get a $10 gift card and their picture on the “Wall of Lava.”

Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes about dining every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at sgish@kcstar.com or tweet @sarah_gish.

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