The President of Yamachan Ramen on the evolution of his company and the American palate for ramen
Being based in San Francisco has many essential perks for the ramen noodle lover. While ramen shops abound in the Bay Area, I wouldn’t have thought that there would be a major ramen noodle manufacturer just a Caltrain ride away!
Earlier this year I got the chance to visit Yamachan Ramen in San Jose (located about 50 miles south of San Francisco). Yamachan has been in business for about ten years and is the top supplier for fresh ramen noodles in Northern California. Its customers are can be found as far as Canada and South America. It’s a family-owned operation that boasts about a dozen different ramen noodle offerings ranging from whole wheat ramen noodles, soba noodles, to a new product mysteriously named “Ramen Z” - a zero calorie “noodle” made from konnyaku (or konjac in English) that can all be found on retail shelves. In addition, Yamachan also works with clients to produce custom noodles designed to specificity on attributes such as thickness, waviness, and flour blends. The company also provides consulting services regarding menu design, restaurant operations, and more. Recently, Yamachan launched a ramen school to train and certify ramen restaurateur hopefuls keen on entering the industry.
On my visit, I was treated to a tour of the facilities where I observed the production of ramen from mixing the dough, pressing it to form long, flat sheets rolled into large spools, cutting the sheets into noodles of varying thicknesses, and finally the packaging of each individual unit. At the end of my tour I met with the president of Yamachan, Mr. Hideyuki Yamashita, to get his thoughts on his business and what he envisions for the future of ramen in the United States.
JL: What is the history of Yamachan?
HY: Yamachan was founded in 1989 in San Jose. The original facility served as the central kitchen for Ringer Hut (a Nagasaki-based restaurant chain established in 1963 named after a British merchant). The facility was reincorporated as Nippon Trends Food Service, Inc. where Yamachan ramen noodle products continue to be manufactured today.
JL: What are you most proud of at Yamachan?
HY: Some of the things that we are proud of are: introducing Japanese ramen and food culture to America and being able to meet and cater to the unique needs of each customer through our artisan, high quality noodles.
JL: What do you see in Yamachan’s near future?
HY: We plan to start manufacturing "quick frozen noodles” in the forms of ramen, pasta, and udon. These noodles will be ready to eat in 20 seconds and will cater to those who want convenience and are limited on time. And for the first time this year, we are attending the Hyper Japan Festival in London this July to represent our company and expand awareness of our products.
JL: How have you seen ramen change in the U.S.?
HY: Ramen has changed dramatically over the years. No longer is ramen known as a packaged college food. It has now become part of the larger food culture here. It is almost a sought-after art among food lovers everywhere. We have entered a new era of ramen where chefs of all levels are adding to the dish with their own unique perspectives. It is widely accepted now yet constantly evolving at the same time.
JL: How do you think American ramen tastes will change as ramen becomes more common?
HY: Ramen tastes will get to a level where flavors and style will be adapted to become regional specialties. Another very popular ramen that we think will a part of the evolution here will be beef flavored ramen. Beef is very popular here in the United States so it would make sense as a key ingredient as ramen continues to adapt to local palates.
JL: What are your personal favorite styles of ramen?
HY: There are so many unique styles and tastes so it is hard to have a personal favorite. However, if I must choose, since I am from southern part of Japan, I will have to say tonkotsu ramen is my favorite. In part, there was only tonkotsu ramen available in my town!
JL: What was a memorable bowl of ramen that you can recall?
HY: Menya Itto in Tokyo is the best ramen in Japan I ever had. Rich chicken broth with asari clam dashi and thin, straight noodles, topped with slow-cooked pork and chicken chashu. The meat was tender and very juicy. There was also a red and white color combination. So good!