Emeryville Public Market’s newest resident, Shiba Ramen, is bringing authentic, traditional Japanese ramen in a fast-casual setting to the Bay Area. The brainchild of two Harvard-trained Ph.D. chemists and husband and wife team, Jake Freed and Hiroko Nakamura, Shiba Ramen serves more than 250 bowls of scientifically flavorful ramen every day in its 400 square foot shop.
While Freed and Nakamura have always considered themselves “noodle enthusiasts,” neither had any prior experience in the food industry. But Freed believes that ramen and chemistry are not so different, “the recipes are empirical in nature, just like developing experiments in the laboratory, and our understanding of chemistry made us confident we could do a ramen restaurant, even though we aren’t chefs,” Freed says.
Seeing both a platform for their diverse interests and a business opportunity, the couple decided to take action. Nakamura enrolled in the prestigious Tokyo Ramen Academy of Japan to learn the art of ramen production. Nakamura grew up in Japan where there is a ramen shop on every corner. In greater Tokyo alone, there are over 21,000 noodle restaurants and the average ramen eater consumers roughly 42.8 servings of ramen a year, so the task was both intriguing and culturally significant.
The food at Shiba Ramen is modeled after Japanese ramen shops where patrons come to nourish their bellies with comfort food without putting a huge dent in their wallets. The menu covers all aspects of ramen and is approachable for both the ramen novice and the ramen connoisseur alike, with a price to match (most dishes fall between $9.50 and $12). The most simple (yet satisfying) is the Clear with light, clear broth with bean sprouts, soft-boiled egg, pork chashu, bamboo shoots, green onions, and microgreens. For plant-based eaters the broth is substituted with soy milk with bean sprouts, soft-boiled egg, grilled kabocha squash, bamboo shoots, corn, and green onions. Each ramen is a traditional recipe made with scientific precision. The couple toured ramen shops in Japan with a salt-concentration meter to get a detailed understanding of the traditional product for purposes of their stateside product development.
The White Bird (toripaitan) is made with creamy chicken broth with bean sprouts, soft-boiled egg, pork or chicken chashu, bamboo shoots, green onions, and shredded togarashi peppers. Found on many Japanese ramen menus, but rarely seen in American ramen shops is a dry ramen (aburasoba), a brothless pork-flavored ramen with bean sprouts, soft-boiled egg, pork chashu, bamboo shoots, green onions, and nori paper, ideal for take away diners. Every day features a rotation of four to five ramens, served along with sides like Shiba Wings, Nagoya-style fried sesame pepper chicken wings and Spicy Cucumber, Japanese cucumbers marinated in sesame oil, and shichimi pepper. Shiba Ramen’s drink selection offers an exclusive Japanese and Bay Area curated selection such as a Tokyo Black porter, Sapporo Draft on tap, and Hakutsuru Draft sake.
Every element, from the food to the façade was meticulously planned and executed by Freed and Nakamura as if they were working on a chemistry experiment. Even the traditional Japanese tile design on the front of the shop was hand laid by the couple. Like any good scientist, Freed documented his ramen journey from start to finish on his blog, Ramen Chemistry, which he plans to turn into a book.