For some, ramen is defined as the quintessential college meal, trademarked by its curly yellow noodles drowned in an artificially flavored broth that can be cooked in minutes. At Nomikui Ramen, though, ramen noodles are anything but instant — preparing the authentic-style broth can take up to 24 hours.
“Making our ramen is a labor of love,” said Andres Castellanos, co-owner of Nomikui Ramen and a Binghamton native. “Many people think ramen is quick and easy to make. When first starting off, we would sleep at the restaurant overnight to make sure the broth was the perfect consistency we wanted.”
Castellanos and Donabel Sayarot are the married couple behind Nomikui Ramen, a new Japanese-style restaurant that opened on Dec. 1 in Downtown Binghamton. The pair met while attending Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary institute that was located in San Francisco. While there, Castellanos encouraged Sayarot to pursue her dream of opening a Japanese restaurant and later settled down together in Binghamton to achieve that goal.
“Originally, we were planning on opening a food truck in Ithaca because Donabel is versed in Japanese cuisine and studied that in Los Angeles and the Philippines,” Castellanos said. “We had everything picked out and set for the food truck, but we last-minute saw this empty space and decided to call the owner of the place and ask if they were leasing. We signed our lease and three weeks later, we opened.”
With only a few weeks to prepare for the restaurant’s opening, Castellanos and Sayarot both worked long hours to ensure that Nomikui’s launch ran smoothly.
“The first week of opening was crazy because we’d get no sleep whatsoever,” Castellanos said. “We’d be at the restaurant all day, go home and take a shower, get an hour of sleep and then come back.”
Although the couple had experience in working in the food industry, with Sayarot previously working for “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio and Castellanos at an exclusive Los Angeles club, neither expected to own their own restaurant.
“We’ve worked in restaurants for years but owning one has been Donabel’s whole dream,” Castellanos said. “Opening Nomikui has been a huge eye-opener and we take pride in what we do.”
Obtaining ingredients for many of the dishes has been a literal journey for Sayarot and Castellanos. The duo acquire many of their supplies from New York City and New Jersey to ensure that they have all the necessary ingredients.
“All of our vegetables and meat are from here, but any Asian products we use are generally from the city,” Castellanos said. “We would drive down to New York City and New Jersey with no sleep just to try and find everything and then drive back up.”
Nomikui specializes in various types of ramen, though the restaurant also offers a variety of Asian fusion dishes including Japanese fried chicken, Chinese-style buns or baos and sushi.
One of the most popular types of ramen that they serve is their shoyu pork ramen — a pork-based broth featuring pork belly and topped with bamboo shoots, a soft-boiled egg marinated in sweet soy sauce, Japanese fish cake, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and seaweed.
Castellanos explained that cooking the broth for this ramen takes about 12 hours due to the labor of boiling pork bones, scrubbing them down, rinsing them out and then adding more ingredients to the pot.
“If there’s one thing I learned about Japanese cooking, it’s that there’s a lot of emphasis to detail,” Castellanos said. “You can’t just throw things in a pot and after it’s done cooking, the broth is ready. Every little step matters.”
The ramen I tried was the spicy miso ramen, which uses a soybean base, ground pork, sesame paste, bean sprouts and cilantro. If you have very low spice tolerance or dislike hot cuisine, this bowl of ramen probably isn’t the one for you. Regardless, the broth was extremely rich, tasty and not too salty for my taste buds. In addition, the bean sprouts and cilantro also helped to balance out the spice level.
Other dishes I tried were their Kara-age, or Japanese fried chicken, and the Chinese-style short rib baos. The chicken was fried to perfection in a crispy coating of dough. To my surprise and excitement, the first bite of chicken did not end up with a puddle of oil dripping onto my plate. The chicken was also juicy and flavorful with a slight kick of spice, but not enough to fill my mouth with flames. The Chinese bao was equally delicious, as the short rib was marinated nicely in barbecue sauce and nestled up in a soft, sweet bun.
Open for nearly two months, Nomikui Ramen has already been feeding the mouths of the Binghamton community, and they hope to fill the stomachs of many more.
“The biggest thing for us is that we like feeding people, and cooking is our passion,” Castellanos said. “Our Colombian and Filipino background is wrapped around food. We love cooking for people and sharing our food.”