Last week, we were able to attend Ramen Expo USA 2018, which was the second year for this Ramen-tacular event. And it was bigger and better than last year! Checkout the following video of Ramen Expo USA 2018! And read below to see our review of this year’s event!
As you can see, there was more to see, and of course eat, this year at Ramen Expo USA 2018. The great people at Ramen Expo USA gave us media passes and let us run loose, so that we could provide you with a full review of all the Ramen-related fun. We made sure to eat plenty of food…as part of our very scientific research of course! Haha!
Fuji Foods USA
The first vendor on our journey was Fuji Foods USA, who makes flavored broths for ramen. We were a bit disappointed with them last year, but this year we are happy to say they did a much better job.
We tried their Shoyu Ramen first, which had a nice, salty broth. It was also very light, as you would expect from a shoyu-style ramen.
Next we tried their Tonkotsu Ramen, which they had difficulty with last year. One of the members of my team really liked this ramen, though I felt that the tonkotsu broth was not as deep as I am used to. Still, I think Fuji Foods is doing a fair job of “dialing-in” on ramen-flavor profiles, and their tonkotsu was much better than last year.
Also, I could tell that this year they placed more focus on bringing good noodles to pair with their broths. The noodles were both chewy and helped support the broth. Keep fighting Fuji Foods, because you are heading in the right direction.
We would be happy to try more of both of these broths, and you can see them too at: Fuji Foods USA
Takara Ramen Inc.
I was really excited about our next stop, since Takara Ramen was my favorite ramen of last year’s event. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly waned a bit after a few minutes in their booth.
Last year, Takara brought their Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen, which had an amazing deep and buttery flavor, and their portion size was the largest of last year’s event. This year, however, they chose to go with their Spicy Miso Ramen, which came in one of the smallest portion sizes at this year’s event.
But beyond the small portion size, the Spicy Miso seemed to rely too heavily on the “spiciness” of the dish, which masked the remainder of the ramen profile. But, to be fair, once you pushed through the spiciness, you could see that the rest of the ramen had good underlying flavor notes—they just weren’t very visible in this dish.
The overall feel of the booth seemed more business-focused in the beginning, though they warmed-up during the rest of the day.
I know Takara Ramen can do so much better, and I still think they have some of the best Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen I have ever tasted—I just wish they brought some this year. Still, I recommend that you look them up, and try their ramen, because it really is great: Takara Ramen
Wakou USA Inc.
Wakou USA brought three very different ramen versions with them this year, and I can honestly say they were very, very good.
Their Creamy Chicken Ramen was particularly tasty, and it only took me a little while to figure out why I liked it so much. Close your eyes and imagine the taste of a warm bowl of chicken soup, and then put ramen noodles in it—and that’s what it is tastes like!
But that’s not all. It also has seafood inside of it. Take a look here:
If you look closely, you can see clams and shrimp inside of the ramen. But don’t worry, this does not give it a “fishy” taste, and is actually a very good complement to the chicken soup flavor. And along with the wavy noodles, it makes this ramen a very hearty meal.
This is the kind of chicken noodle ramen that I want the next time I’m feeling sick. Get some for yourself here: Wakou USA
Yamachan Ramen was also back this year, and they brought plenty of ramen with them. Their ramen is consistently good, and always feels like you are eating a nice, home-made bowl of ramen. I think the best word to describe their ramen is “comforting”.
But what sets Yamachan Ramen apart is their happy staff, and their generosity to the public. I believe everyone that stopped by their booth walked away with a bag full of ramen noodle samples, with broths and sauces too. I know we did!
We have made Yamachan Ramen at home in the past, and it is so easy to do because they also provide you with step-by-step instructions, so anyone can do it. Head-over to Yamachan Ramen’s site, and grab some noodles to make your own home-made bowl of ramen: Yamachan Ramen
Nipponham Group/Day-Lee Pride
The next vendor we visited was Nipponham Group, which makes foods like Gyoza and Karage. This year the gyoza they brought was their pork & leek and chicken & leek gyoza. Both were very good, especially when you dipped them in the wonderful sauces they provided. Everything is better with sauce….I mean, our name is JapanSauce, haha.
The great thing about the gyoza was that it was cooked right next to the serving area, so the gyoza was nice and toasty with a warm filling.
The karage they brought was also good, because you really can’t go wrong with breaded chicken bites. And this year, Nipponham Group did a better job of keeping the gyoza and karage warm, which is one of the reasons I came back for more.
Also, an addition to their menu this year was their pork (pictured above) and chicken chashu samples. I enjoyed the pork chashu more than the chicken, but both were tender and juicy.
You can grab some gyoza or karage here: Day-Lee Pride
Koh-Itten Iwata Co., Ltd.
Koh-Itten was another returning vendor from last year’s event, and they brought along all of their wonderful miso. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my favorite ramen dish is Miso Ramen, and you can’t have a good bowl of miso ramen without high quality miso. And Koh-Itten is the place to go for miso.
Their Hokkaido miso is like an explosion of flavor, both bold and rich, without being over-powering. And the great thing about their miso is that it is versatile, and can be used in many different dishes beyond just ramen.
We always enjoy chatting with the team at Koh-Itten, as they are enthusiastic about their products, and happy to share their miso knowledge with everyone. The team at Koh-Itten did give us a large bag of their Hokkaido Miso, so that we could try it home, and we are excited to bring you some of those dishes in the near future.
We also interviewed the Koh-Itten team, so please lookout for that interview soon. In the meantime, take a look at their miso here: Koh-Itten
Cocci Lab Inc.
Cocci Lab Inc. was one of the new vendors this year, and their ramen products are all soybean-based.
I tried some of there So-Ya Noodles, which are gluten-free, soybean-based noodles. These noodles were slightly thicker and flatter than standard ramen noodles, but worked well with the ramen broth. The interesting thing is that these noodles definitely tasted much healthier than other noodles, and they reminded me of a whole wheat-style pasta. Cocci Lab’s goal is to provide a “vegetarian” ramen, that is low carb and low fat. Who would have thought that I would be reviewing a “healthy” ramen, but here we are! Haha.
Cocci also brought soybean-based chashu and soy crackers, keeping with the soybean theme. They really do love soybeans! The soybean chashu was a bit salty, but worked well with the simpler taste of the noodles.
If you want to learn more about Cocci Lab’s soy-bean products, take a look here: Cocci Lab Inc.
JFC International Inc.
JFC International brought products from Riken Vitamin and Myojo.
Riken Vitamin was introducing their new “Number 24” ramen noodles, which are a thin-style ramen. These noodles had good texture and color, but the broth that was paired with the noodles was lackluster. The problem with the broth was that it had a very “briny” flavor, which left an odd after-taste with each bite.
As I have mentioned in the past, a good bowl of ramen is a balance between the noodles and the broth. If one isn’t working, then it will likely result in a mediocre dish. Still, I did enjoy Riken’s new noodles, and would be happy to have a bowl of their noodles–just in a different broth.
You can see more of Riken’s noodles here: Riken Vitamin
You can see the rest of JFC International’s products here: JFC International
Akita was another new vendor to this year’s event. Their ramen consisted of brown rice noodles, which are gluten free and are also supposed to be a healthy take on traditional ramen. Personally, I’m a fan of brown rice, so the taste of these noodles felt very familiar to me. Of course, if you aren’t a fan of brown rice, then these noodles may not be the right choice for you.
Sun Noodle was outstanding again this year. They were serving their Miso Ramen, which had a wonderfully deep miso flavor.
The noodles were exceptional—of course!—both bouncy and chewy, and left you satisfied and wanting more. Sun Noodle definitely does noodles the right way.
The ramen broth was equally as good. It was nice and fatty, which complemented the chewy noodles so well. You can always tell that Sun Noodle really takes the time to create an experience with their ramen. And it really comes down to the details, such as the way they included some cracked pepper in the dish–creating a light kick at the end.
This was definitely my favorite ramen bowl of this year’s event. The Sun Noodle team was very nice, the presentation of the ramen bowl was very appealing, and, lucky for me, they also had the biggest portion sample of all the vendors. You could easily see that this was the bowl everyone wanted to try, as they had a long line of people for almost the entire day.
I recommend you head to their site and grab some ramen noodles as soon as you can…but first finish reading the rest of this review, haha: Sun Noodle
The third of the “healthy” ramen vendors at this year’s event was Marukome USA.
Similar to Cocci Lab, the main ingredient in their products is soybean. However, I felt as if the soybean meat they brought fell a bit short of the mark. The meat was a bit dry, and the flavor profile on the meat was confusing.
After a couple of bites, I honed in on the fact that they had added B-B-Q sauce to the dish. I asked the Marukome team about this, and they confirmed my suspicions. They stated that the B-B-Q would help make the dish more tender, but my gut tells me that they were simply trying to capture a traditional Texas flavor in their dish. It just didn’t seem to work this time, as the B-B-Q sauce’s smokiness simply overpowered the meat.
But on the bright-side, we thought their company mascot was great–the bald figure in the picture above.
As always, we would be happy to give their products another taste: Marukome USA
United Foods International
United Foods International focuses on ramen broths, and they brought two versions, a seafood and a vegetarian ramen. The seafood ramen broth had a bit of a “fishy” taste, but overall it was OK. However, the problem with the ramen they provided was the noodles, as they did not connect with the broth in this dish and seemed to taste a bit like cardboard.
My taste buds told me that the noodles had to be “instant ramen” noodles, and after a few questions to the staff, they confirmed that I was right. I can understand that not everyone can have a full kitchen-style setup like Sun Noodle, but I felt that the use of instant ramen took some of the attention away from United Food’s broth.
We would be happy to give United Foods another opportunity to change our minds, and you can see their broth options here: United Foods International
Nishiyama Ramen USA
Nishiyama Ramen had my favorite noodles of the event. They were sampling their miso ramen, which had a very full body and almost a tomato-y taste to it—but in a good way! But the star of the dish was their wavy, chewy noodles, which seem to dance in your mouth each time you take a slurp of their ramen.
My only gripe was that I wish the sample size was larger, because I would have loved to eat a larger portion. We would be happy to try more if Nishiyama Ramen would like to send it our way, haha. Check them out here: Nishiyama Ramen
Hanazen provides Japanese-style meats for ramen dishes and other foods. They brought some chashu, which was fine, but what really caught our attention was their Japanese meatballs.
The meatballs were 80% pork and 20% beef, and had green onion and ginger, with a sushi sauce drizzled on top. The ginger played well with the pork flavor of the meat, and the sushi sauce created a cohesiveness to the flavor. Yeah, they were tasty, and a nice change of pace.
Grab some of these meatballs here: Hana-Zen
Wismettac Asian Foods, Inc.
Wismettac Asian Foods is a distributor of Asian foods, that brought Onnissui products to the event. In particular, they brought these heavenly breaded oysters. These were hands down my favorite food of the entire event!
In short, these are oysters that have been breaded in Japanese panko, and then fried to perfection. It is as simple as that, but the results are insanely good. Crunchy, flaky, and light. And they also had some OtaJoy sauce that you could dip them in, which took them to another level of deliciousness.
I know what you’re thinking, oysters can be an acquired taste. But trust me, these breaded oysters will make you look for the nearest store location in your city. This is the one food I literally had to wait in line for, since each time a new batch would come out, it would immediately disappear into the mouths of a hungry crowd. But it was well worth the wait. And I’m not ashamed to say that a tried them a few times–in the name of journalistic research, of course. Haha!
So yeah, run and find them, buy them, eat them, and thank me later: Wismettac
Otafuku brought their amazing okonomiyaki again this year, and it was one of those dishes that I was looking forward to for weeks. And I was not disappointed!
Otafuku’s okonomiyaki comes in at a very, very close second place for my favorite food of the entire event. I’ll say it again. When you take a bite of their okonomiyaki, it feels like you are in a dream and you don’t want to wake up.
The great thing about this dish is that they are cooking it right in front of you, so it comes out nice and warm and full of fresh flavor. The sauce is poured on top, while the Japanese mayo is drizzled across each bite. It melts in your mouth in a gooey explosion of sweet sauce and crunchy Japanese pancake.
Did I go back for seconds, yes. Thirds? Yes. And the staff was very gracious with allowing everyone to eat as much as they liked. I tried buying another jug of their sauce again this year, but they weren’t selling it at the event. But hey Otafuku Foods, feel free to send a sample our way!
I think you get my point, you should hurry up and get some Otafuku okonomiyaki food and sauces: Otafuku Foods
Mutual Trading Co.
Mutual Trading Co. is another Japanese food distributor that brought some interesting versions of traditional ramen—Vegeterian Miso, Vegan Shoyu, and Curry Ramen. I tried their Curry Ramen, as I had not seen this style of ramen before.
As soon as I took the first bite, it was as if someone had dipped my ramen in Japanese curry or maybe someone dipped my Japanese curry in ramen, haha. Either way, this curry/ramen mashup really worked. The broth itself was a little bit thicker than traditional ramen, and the noodles were also slightly heavier—most likely to catch all of those curry flavors. I have to say that I am a fan of this ramen.
If you want to try some of their Japanese curry ramen, then checkout their products here: Mutual Trading
We next tried Ajinomoto’s Pork Gyoza, Green Edamame Vegtebale Gyoza, and Shrimp Shumai. The pork gyoza was a traditional style gyoza, and had a very familiar/standard taste. The Green Edamame Gyoza was the more striking gyoza, as the green color really caught my eye. The taste of this edamame gyoza was more complex, as the vegetables within it really push past the hints of edamame when you bite into it. Good choice for those looking to give their family a vegetarian option.
As for the shrimp shumai, I was not a fan of this one. The shrimp shumai was a bit colder than I expected. And the smoothness of the shrimp, combined with the stickiness of the outer shell, just left a strange feeling in my mouth that didn’t sit well.
Ajinomoto’s products can be found here: Ajinomoto
ITO EN is generally known for making many popular Japanese tea drinks, but this time they brought some of their Aloha Maid drink lineup. This was a smart move from ITO EN, as it showcased the variation in their products. Also, most Americans really like sweet-tasting drinks, as opposed to bitter teas.
I tried the Guava-flavored drink, and it was awesome. It almost tasted as if I was drinking the juice of a sweet grapefruit, but it was not tart at all. I snagged a can of the Guava-flavored drink, which was a great “palette cleanser” before I went for another round of food.
Find out more about ITO EN’s Aloha Maid products here: http://itoen-usa.com/aloha-maid-natural/
Yamasa Corp. USA
Yamasa is a soy sauce manufacturer, and they brought a different take on ramen with them….ramen salad! But this isn’t the kind of salad you find at Whole Foods. Ramen salad is basically a small plate of ramen noodles without the broth, some toppings, and a side of lettuce. Of course, the noodles are covered in Yamasa’s soy sauce, which is where their product comes in.
I’m so accustomed to eat a hot bowl of ramen and slurping the broth, that I wasn’t sure how to react to this minimalist-style of ramen. In the end, I give them credit for trying something different, but would recommend that they use warm noodles in the dish.
If you want to learn more about their soy sauce, then take a look here: Yamasa Corp. USA
Fukushima Katsuo Co. Ltd.
Fukushima Katsuo brought several different versions of their dried fish shavings—similar to bonito, but better. We were sad that they didn’t have any samples for us to eat, but they more than made up for that by providing visitors with free sample packs to take home. We are excited to try them soon.
In the meantime, you can try some of their products here: Fukushima Katsuo
Sapporo Premium Beer
Sapporo Premium Beer was on hand to provide samples of their various beers. We don’t drink beer, so we can’t tell you which of the beers was best. However, several people arriving at their booth commented that they enjoyed the free beer, and found the cold beer to be very satisfying.
If you are a beer-drinker, then go here: Sapporo Beer
Nisshin Seifun brought along some of their colorful bags of flour, which is an essential ingredient to making ramen noodles. We are glad Nisshin didn’t try and give out samples of their flour, as I’m pretty sure that would have simply resulted in a lot of dry mouths and confused faces. Still, I always like taking pictures of their cool bag designs.
Learn more about Nisshin Seifun’s products here: Nisshin Seifun
Ramen Expo USA 2018 Final Thoughts
This was Ramen Expo USA’s second year, and you can tell that the Ramen Expo team learned a lot from last year’s event.
To begin, the location they chose this time was in Dallas, Texas, and it was actually closer to the downtown-area—something we suggested in our review last year. I felt that this made the crowd a lot bigger, and there was a wider cross-section of people from all parts of the city. Also, the venue itself—Dallas Market Hall—was larger, which meant that the booths had plenty of space between them, making it so much easier to walk around the event floor.
I’m also happy that they maintained several “eating areas”, which allowed the crowd to stop and eat the various ramen samples throughout the day. They also did a smart thing by placing eating areas at several booths, which created a “buzz” that drew more people in. Just ask Sun Noodle, their booth had a party atmosphere most of the day, as people were laughing, chatting, and eating ramen there.
This year also attracted more, and varied, vendors. I saw many first-time Ramen Expo attendees, and was able to try several new foods. This is what will keep making Ramen Expo feel new and exciting.
We can definitely see the growth potential that exists in Ramen Expo, and we know they will keep making it bigger and better each year. We are more than excited about attending each year, and we are already getting our chopsticks ready for the next one.
See you soon everyone!