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I'm nervous to write about ramen, but we need to start the conversation because you can slurp bowls here in Howard County.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that has had a long-standing spot with chefs and food writers who champion favorite places and talk up both tradition and innovation.  Chicken or pork broth.  Vegetarian versions.  Add-in ingredients like pork belly or poached eggs or . . . intestine.  Ramen is something more than a meal and less than a craze.

The New York Times 
wrote about ramen.  Artifact Coffee in Baltimore did a six-day special celebration.  David Chang talked it up on his PBS series Mind of a Chef and even offers his recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. 

Now, you can get in on the movement closer to home.

We've eaten ramen at two local restaurants -- Ichiban Cafe in Columbia and Manna in Ellicott City.  Again, I'm scared to write too much because I can't claim much knowledge.  On the one hand, it's a humble dish -- noodles, vegetables, maybe some meat or other special items, all in a warm broth.  On the other hand, people get crazy about ramen.

A few weeks ago, a friend met me for dinner in Manhattan, and we met at 5 pm.  She and her daughter were in line even earlier because Ippudo NY is so hot that it fills shortly after it opens and stays full all night.

I can't claim that our ramen matches one of the places that the New York Times calls one of the 10 best in the city.  Ippudo's broth was exquisite, and the fresh noodles were even better.  But I'll talk up both our local options -- and welcome other people to join in with observations.

Manna and Ichiban Cafe are both casual places -- one a Korean counter-service in the Lotte food court, the other a Japanese-Chinese place with a sushi menu near Target.  In both places, we ordered without expertise.  Manna has one broth and options for "add-ins" like dumplings.  Ichiban had two broths, and I somehow lost the notes that I typed as we ate.

In both places, you get a great dinner for $10-15.  Bowls of salty, spicy broth with warm noodles and toppings.  As I remember, Manna's looked like packaged ramen that I ate in college while Ichiban's seemed a bit more unusual.  But I enjoyed both -- especially I alternated between spoons of soup, slurps of noodles, and little treats like sliced pork or mushrooms -- without knowing how to judge them against anything else.

Give them a try in the next few months so you'll be ready when the specialists arrive.  Emily Kim emailed me last week to talk about her plans for a ramen-and-grilled-chicken restaurant that will replace the Jerry's Subs on Rte 40.  Emily is a University of Baltimore business student who is building a business from an obsession:

Back in 2009, I stumbled upon a Japanese ramen shop in New York during my spring break. From the first sip of Tonkotsu ramen broth and noodles, I found my new addiction.  I found myself getting Mega Bus ticket every week to get ramen.  So from beginning of 2013, I started a business plan to open a restaurant in Ellicott City.

That business will be Uma Uma -- a restaurant that Emily plans to open to serve both the noodle soup and the Japanese grilled chicken called yakatori.  The current plan is for construction to start June 1 and the restaurant to open in late summer.

So ramen has arrived in Howard County.  Newbies can have a great time just reading link after link about the dish's variations.  But some experienced folks could tell us what they think about these two local kitchens -- and anywhere else that I have missed so far.

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