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Noodle burgers

"It's a food born in America that happens to combine two different cultures and makes them exist as one. The perfect symbol of America." Keizo Shimamoto

Keizo Shimamoto is the young American/Japanese man who invented the ramen burger, back in 2013. That's him in the photo. So as usual I am behind the eight-ball as they say, although I don't quite know what that means - something to do with golf?

Nevertheless I only noticed the phenomenon recently - maybe there was a recipe in a recent Woolworths or Coles Magazine - and indeed there is this Coles recipe on the Taste website, but I cannot find one from Woolworths. Aldi had a recipe too but if you feed in' ramen burgers Melbourne' you don't get much. Nevertheless I was intrigued enough to give it a go as it were.

Keizo Shimamoto's story is quite fascinating really and you can read all about him on the CNN website. A native of Los Angeles he graduated from the University of California and went to work in the mortgage industry of all things until the big crash. Ramen played a big role in his life and so he decided to make a career change, by starting a blog and visiting Japan to explore ramen. He was there for four years. There he found ramen burgers.

“In Tokyo, there are food stalls that sell ‘ramen burgers’. It was chashu pork (Japanese-style marinated pork belly) sandwiched between noodle buns,” Shimamoto recalls. “I remember trying it … and (the ramen burger) just kind of fell apart in my hand.” Keizo Shimamoto

So after working in many restaurants in Japan with ramen he went back to America, determined to refine the idea. First thing was to substitute American beef for the pork - well it's America - and the next was to work out how to stop the whole thing collapsing, as they had in Japan. He launched his product at the Smorgasbord market in Brooklyn and the rest is history. Well maybe it actually is, maybe it's still going. It was certainly copied by others, including fast food chains. And, as they say - went viral.

Word of mouth, plus Instagram, TikTok and the rest made it a phenomenon, and pretty soon all manner of weird and wonderful versions were popping up all over - CNN quoted just one example:

"You’ll find east-meets-west hybrids like the fuji pineapple burger, which combines grilled pineapples, shredded lettuce, and Kewpie mayonnaise." Andrea Lo/CNN

I guess you would have to say that it's a true fusion dish - something, that I found yesterday, when researching Madhur Jaffrey's butter chicken, that she disapproves of:

“I’m appalled by certain aspects of what is going on, ... I think people are learning too fast. They get a recipe from Thailand, from Laos, from Korea, and then they begin picking at it and taking bits and pieces of it and putting it together and creating new recipes which they think are very exciting. I disagree. They are emotionally incomplete. The influences are too … ” She hunts for the right word. “… undigested. It’s too fast. They are putting it all together in a way that doesn’t make any emotional sense to me.” Madhur Jaffrey

Which is sort of interesting, because for Keizo Shimamoto it is profoundly based in emotion - the emotion of his Japanese heritage and the food that his mother used to cook, and his true-blue American heritage - the hamburger as well. As he says "the perfect symbol of America". I wonder what she thinks of Ottolenghi et al. It's doubly interesting really considering that she has most of her life outside of India - a country whose food has hugely influenced British food.

But back to this ramen burgers - the ones with ramen 'buns' rather than with ramen inside a normal bun. It does indeed seem, from all the sites that I have now visited that the trickiest part is to stop the 'buns' collapsing.  

J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats gave it the food lab treatment:

"The only tricky part is getting that bun to stay in shape. With egg-based versions, you shape the bun in the bottom of a plastic container, with the egg giving it enough structure to maintain that shape as you fry it. With my egg-free version, we've got to use a different approach. Pressing the noodles into the bottom of a can opened up on both sides and frying it in oil until the noodles bind together works perfectly."

But in the end he wasn't that impressed:

"eating a ramen burger doesn't satisfy your craving for a burger or for ramen, leaving you doubly unsatisfied. It's a funny-looking, mildly interesting novelty at best. Let's leave it at that, shall we?" J. Kenji López-Alt/Serious Eats

And he wasn't alone with a blogger on a website called Food Recipes HQ saying:

"Would you ever replace soft bread loaf with this spaghetti-based bun? Are you ready to say bye to Bread?" Food Recipes HQ

Yes, of course, the Italian Americans had to get into the act as well - it's rather obvious isn't it? The flavourings would be different but the concept of the bun seems to be much the same, although there are variations. Use pot noodles, which you don't really have to cook, or cook ramen noodles from scratch, then add an egg or not to bind it together. They all seem to agree however, that before frying your 'bun' you compress it in the fridge for a few hours. I have to say I agree that it doesn't look that user friendly, although it has to be admitted that that statement comes from someone who can't even keep a standard hamburger together.

There was one tip about the noodle bun which made sense however - and would probably apply to a standard hamburger bun too:

"The layer of arugula stops the burger patty from soaking the bottom buns" Kelly Siew Cooks

But before I leave the Italian faction, look at this one. This looks to me to be the most unwieldy of the lot, although this time it is has nothing to do with the bun - more the filling. It comes from a website called Public Lives, Secret Recipes.

Also note the very different thicknesses of the 'buns'. I'm not at all sure what is best here.

I will end with some examples - two from fairly prestigious sources - Matt Preston and Michelle Southan and another from BBC Food, who add a Korean component to the whole thing with their Ramen burgers with gochujang sauce and kimchi slaw. And last and probably least -Spam Ramen burger from Spam. Of course.

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