So now you've figured out that, when we're thinking about making ramen, we're dealing with pretty large quantities of animal products that are not typically used in American kitchens. Most people aren't too familiar with going out and buying chicken feet or pork femurs. You might not have a good idea about where to go to get these things. It turns out that Chinese and Asian groceries are key, because these ingredients are Asian cuisine staples, especially in soups.
When we did our first ramen experiment, I went by myself to Oakland Chinatown, where I picked a random market and waded in. Heading straight to the butcher counter, I was confronted with a scene quite divorced from that of the meat aisle at Safeway! Pigs on hooks, whole chickens in bags, and a large self-service box of chicken feet. I'm pretty sure I heard the sounds of livestock coming from the back of the store (could have been a “moo,” more likely an “oink”). But because the employee I tried to hale didn’t speak English, another customer had to translate for me (and inform me that they don't actually provide service at the butcher counter). I ended up helping myself to a chicken in a bag after hand-filling a bag of chicken feet. To Hiroko’s great dismay, that bagged chicken came fully equipped with its head still in place. It fell to me to see it off before the experiment could begin.
The next time out, we headed somewhere more mainstream, 99 Ranch. Here we were able to get pork femurs and back fat right at the butcher counter. 99 Ranch is an interesting experience, by the way. Feels like a big chain supermarket in most respects, but you get periodic reminders--such as the packaged off-the-rack pork uterus (etc.) in the meat section--that you are, in fact, not in the neighborhood Safeway. I like going there. Good prices on ITO EN green tea and dungeness crab, etc. etc.
For the past six months, we’ve done most of our meat shopping either at 99 Ranch or at Berkeley Bowl, which is a good example of a non-Asian grocery that is helpful. You just need to find a place with a good butcher counter and ask what they have. Sometimes you can’t get pork femur, for example, but you can substitute backbone or neck bone. Fortunately, all these seemingly unusual cuts of meat are readily available from standard meat suppliers, so when you open a restaurant, it’s a lot easier to get what you need on a regular basis than it may be doing ad hoc retail shopping for your own kitchen.
Next up, meatless soups. . . . But first, here's a photo of our Halloween weekend ramen experiment. Would be more effective with a cauldron, but still seasonally appropriate in a Calphalon stockpot: