If there’s one food that stands out from my oh-so-’90s childhood, it’s Maruchan Ramen. Plastic packages of chicken- and beef-flavored noodles lined my family’s pantry. My brother was so obsessed with the salty snack that we made him a ramen birthday cake one year. Looking back, that had to have been my parent’s attempt to wean him off what had become his main food group. Then, in a total “hold my beer” move, Justin Timberlake unapologetically rocked the ramen noodle hairstyle.
Ramen has come a long way since then—recently reemerging in southwest Missouri restaurants and grocery stores. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in 417-land that has as much respect for it as Young Jun, the restaurateur responsible for Haruno, Kai and Koriya.
In February 2018, Jun expanded her impressive portfolio of restaurants to include Karai Ramen + Handroll, located on West Republic Road in Springfield. A rookie to *real* ramen, I knew I had to stop by the soft opening after hearing Jun talk about the restaurant's Tonkotsu broth that’s cooked for 24 to 48 hours daily.
“It’s a lot of work,” Jun says. "I’ve been planning this place for a few years and practicing and learning. Temperature is really important. It's really time and labor consuming food."
Located next to VCA Parkcrest Animal Hospital and Pet Lodge, the new restaurant is unassuming on the outside but impressively updated on the inside. An industrial look includes exposed pipes, neutral tones, wood floors and super sturdy furniture. Live moss hanging on the walls adds color and freshness to the space. A massive stone-top bar with kegged wines and freezing cold beer lines the west side of the space, and high-top tables and booths fill the rest of the room.
It was a cold day, so my boyfriend, Brett Edwards, decided to kick off our lunch excursion with a pot of green tea. Unlike your average green tea, this one had an unexpected hint of seaweed that I surprisingly enjoyed.