By Emma Kobolakis
There is a clipboard hanging from the door, and a very short menu. A screen pointing at the street loops an exuberant short film, accompanied by bright, hand-drawn illustrations. “Do you mind extra noodles?” the hostess asked.
“Oh! Oh, no, of course not.” I pull my attention away from shots of steaming bowls and smiling faces.
We were at Ramen Lab, a ramen incubator that plays host to ramen makers all over the world. On this Tuesday evening, my companion and I were guests at Yume Wo Katare, a Boston-based ramen shop that is one of the few stateside serving Jiro-style ramen, characterized by its thicker, chewier, wheat-based noodles, super-fatty pork broth, and garnish of sliced pork and bean sprouts.
Upon entering the steamed-up shop, we were greeted with the traditional Japanese “Irasshaimase!” from chef Tomo Shinoda and manager Dan Hiratsuka: ““Welcome!” I ushered myself to the very back of the shop, bellying up to the standing-only counter. “Garlic?” I nodded, taking in the impossibly large portion of noodles cresting out of fragrant broth.
As we ate, the air was punctured with shouts of “Perfect!” or “Good Job!”—enthusiastic congratulations given to diners after finishing a bowl. Hiratsuka would then urge patrons to share their dreams. They were collecting, he later told me, up to 35 dreams a night. “Yume Wo Katare” translates to “tell me your dream.” Founder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a comedian turned chef, was fed up with witnessing the silent deaths of his friends’ creative ambitions. If it were a more welcome topic of discussion, he reasoned, they would not be so easily swept under the rug. Yume Wo Katare was born to make discussing your dreams as simple and satisfying as polishing off a bowl of ramen.
It really is something to be applauded for finishing your dinner. It's a compounded hit of good feelings; not only are you full, but you feel validated for being so. This buoyancy of good will is what draws people to Yume Wo Katare; chef Shinoda was scouted after finishing his noodles followed by his sister’s serving on a visit to Yume Wo Katare’s Boston location during a break from college. He finished school in September, and has been with the company ever since. Tomo’s dream? To convert a school bus into a mobile ramen shop.
The merit of a dream lies not in its size, but in the experience of sharing it. Part of the idea at Yume Wo Katare is that when you speak your wishes out loud, others around you listen, and can help. It’s an effective way to create a web of support that starts with you, alone, hunkered down in front of a portion of ramen that requires just as much determination to finish as does tackling your ambitions.
“Almost!” Dan happily shouted, much to my chagrin. I had left more than a handful of noodles and a slice of pork in my bowl. But, fighting garlic burps, I shared my dream proudly. It was short, and it was simple. I wanted to tell stories, I said, and to find my voice in food. What better place to start?