Meet E.A.K. Ramen, the Japanese Chain Trying to Make Waves in the U.S.
New York’s crowded ramen market will have a new player to try starting next week as E.A.K. Ramen — an American outpost of a prolific Japanese chain — makes its debut in the former Kin Shop space in Greenwich Village. It’s part of a larger plan to convince Americans that the restaurant’s style of ramen, called iekei, should be the next big ramen obsession.
The original Japanese name of the chain is Iekei Ramen, named after the style of broth that’s a blend of fatty pork-based tonkotsu and the chicken and soy-based shoyu ramen. But the restaurant at 469 Sixth Avenue, near West 11th Street, and the chain’s first U.S. location in Los Angeles are named E.A.K. Ramen in hopes of making it easier for Americans to pronounce, according to managing partner Jimmy Matsushima. (EAK is the phonetical pronunciation of iekei.) Their goal: 1,000 shops all across the U.S. in the next decade, with eyes on Denver, Nashville, and Detroit next.
Despite New York’s ramen fanaticism, iekei-style ramen is still fairly uncommon. It’s more well-known in Japan, where it was invented in the city Yokohama. The Iekei Ramen company has 40 shops throughout the country, as well as hundreds more shops that franchise their recipe, Matsushima says.
The lowdown on iekei, according to Matsushima and chef Keisuke Ando, is that it’s cleaner than a dense tonkotsu, but not quite as thin as a Tokyo-style shoyu broth. The noodles, here made by Sun Noodle using an in-house recipe, are straight, short, and “very thick,” Matsushima says. “It’s almost quadruple the size” of places like Ichiran,” he says. Thicker noodles are intended to carry the broth in every bite. It’s then topped with chashu, spinach, and nori.
Making the broth is an intensive process, Ando says. Both chicken bones and pork bones are cleaned and then boiled for about two hours. That broth is thrown out. The bones are then added back to the water and boiled again so it reduces. After the fat is removed, more water is added and it’s boiled for hours until it is ready to serve.
In New York, the broth is the base of four ramen listing. Two more ramen options use a vegetable-based broth. Costs range from $14 to $17 a bowl. An appetizer section unique to U.S. locations also offer dishes like buns, gyoza, rice bowls, and salads.
The LA outpost of E.A.K. opened late last year and it’s not yet clear if it’s taken off as the next big ramen craze on the West Coast. But Matsushima and Ando are hoping that eventually, iekei will be ubiquitous. “We want everybody to know iekei style is,” Matsushima says.
E.A.K. Ramen opens on Wednesday, May 31.