• Ryo's Noodles serves a traditional salt-based tonkotsu as well as a vegan version (right). (Ryo Horii)Source: Ryo Horii
Chef Ryo Horii was indifferent to cooking as a child, but when he arrived in Australia he missed ramen so much that he began to make his own.
By
Pilar Mitchell

15 Apr 2021 - 12:58 PM  UPDATED 4 May 2021 - 2:17 PM

When Ryosuke Horii was a child, he had no interest in food past eating it.

"My family was pretty boring. I was just a normal student, doing baseball and playing with my friends," he tells SBS Food. "Back then I wasn't interested in food."

But even though he and his two younger sisters didn't spend time with their mum in the kitchen beyond asking to taste what was cooking on the stove, these memories still made their way into his subconscious.

"You know the sound when you're using a knife and cutting some veggies? We used to hear the 'tong-tong-tong' of the knife, the pssssh of stir-fried noodles in the pan. And the smell was all over the house. Because Japanese houses are small and the exhaust is not big enough, so when my mum started cooking, it smells everywhere."

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In spite of his disinterest, after high school he was at a loss for what to do, so Horii-san went to cooking school.

"One of my friends went to hairdressing school and all the friends separated. My dad said, 'What are you going to do?' I didn't like studying anymore, I didn't want to go to uni. I didn't think too much about it and said, 'Maybe cooking'."

His education began with traditional Japanese cuisine, but it was the period during which he cooked Italian food and fused it with Japanese that sparked a passion for cooking that he'd later bring to Australia.

"I opened a modern Japanese restaurant in Kings Cross in 1996. There wasn't much Japanese food in Sydney, mostly old-fashioned style. I started doing fish carpaccio with Japanese dressing, Japanese fried chicken with soy, ginger and garlic and a little bit of sundried tomatoes. I didn't have a lot of confidence, my English was bad, but I was just missing Japanese food."

Horii-san's hometown of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu is the birthplace of hearty tonkotsu ramen, and in 2003 the chef decided to return to his roots and open ramen restaurant Ryo's Noodles in Sydney's Crows nest.

"Ramen is my soul food. It's cheap and you can eat it every day."

Ryo Horii's whole family is involved in the business.

People in Japan don't make ramen at home. "Tonkotsu cost is cheap, but it's very hard to make," he explains.

"You have to cook it until marrow comes out of the bones and melts in the soup. It's just water and bone, that's it, nothing secret, you just have to boil it for 15 hours."

Horii-san uses two 170-litre pots to keep up with the demand from his patrons. It's not the kind of thing that can be left its own devices; someone is always watching to make sure the marrow doesn't stick to the bottom.

"During the restaurant opening time, people are working and watching the soup, watching the soup. After opening hours are finished, we stop the fire, change all the bones. We have two pots, one is the main pot, the other is boiling bones. If the main soup is going down, we add more from the other pot."

"Ramen is my soul food. It's cheap and you can eat it every day."

In contrast, Tokyo-style chicken soy ramen is a much more approachable recipe for the home cook, requiring only four hours of boiling.

To eat tonkotsu, Horii-san recommends going to Crows Nest. While in the early days it was a hard sell, Ryo's Noodles has eventually become so popular that queues have snaked out the door for the better part of two decades.

"The first two years were hard. People say pork soup is too smelly, it's terrible. But I still believe this is great food, so I kept it going. It's been 18 years now."

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @cultofclothesPhotographs by Ryosuke Horii.


Tokyo-style chicken soy ramen

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 5 L water
  • 2 whole onions
  • 1 leek
  • 1 ginger piece
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 sheet kombu
  • 5 chicken wings
  • 1 kg chicken bones
  • Storebought ramen noodles 

Sauce

  • 100 g soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fish stock powder

Optional toppings

  • Roast pork slices
  • Boiled egg
  • Seaweed
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Sliced shallots

1. Cover all ingredients, except the ramen noodles, with 5 litres of water and simmer for 4 hours.
2. Skim the foam from the top of the soup periodically.
3. Mix 375 ml of soup with 30 g of sauce in a bowl. Add 150 g boiled ramen noodles and add toppings of your choice.

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