In 1992, a new style of restaurant inspired by the centuries-old ramen stalls of Japan opened in London. Quick and affordable but with a holistic approach emphasizing fresh ingredients, Wagamama quickly won over health-minded dining enthusiasts feeling the pinch of the recession. Since then, Wagamama has mushroomed into a global brand with franchises across the UK and in Tokyo, New York and Boston.
The company owes its success to a Japanese business philosophy known as “kaizen,” the idea that small, positive, daily changes lead to continuous improvement.
“Wagamama: Feed Your Soul” — the latest of several cookbooks produced by the restaurant chain —illustrates how this philosophy can be adapted to the kitchen.
In a brief foreword, Steven Mangleshot, Wagamama’s “global executive chef,” describes how slurping ramen outside a famous Tokyo fish market led to a lifetime love of Asian food. That’s where the first-person ends.
The rest of the text belongs to the dozens of chefs from diverse backgrounds whose work reflects the principles of balance, freshness, mindfulness and sustainability that define the Wagamama brand. Recipes typically feature noodles or rice, an array of colorful vegetables, a basic protein, good broth and a flavor-packed sauce.
Most are designed for two servings and can be made in less than an hour. For the more ambitious, there’s a small section in the back with instructions — some illustrated — for making basic ramen noodles, gyoza skins, stocks and pickles.
I followed the shortcuts to prepare Kimchee Shrimp Ramen. I marinated the raw shrimp from my freezer in a four-ingredient Chili Katsu Sauce, gave them a quick stir-fry, then arranged the seafood in bowls with a fish sauce-spiked vegetable broth, soba noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions, spoonfuls of prepared kimchee and lime wedges for garnish.
I pulled out the soup spoons and never-used chopsticks hiding in the back of the silverware drawer, then tucked into these invigorating bowls of goodness that looked and tasted exactly as the recipe promised. I also took note of how I felt afterward: neither exhausted nor sluggish, but energized.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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