Steam billows upward from a large black bowl and trails behind our waiter. Thinly julienned carrots and sautéed nappa cabbage swim underneath a light brown broth that is dotted with rings of fat that float on the surface. It starts with a hit of earthy sesame and peanuts and the slight acidity of freshly chopped green onion. A nutty flavor slowly grows across the tongue and is only interrupted by the richness of shredded pork. Noodles are slightly dense, the dough is made fresh everyday before being split into long strings of ramen, bunched into balls and tossed into a roiling stock.
“The ramen isn’t authentically Japanese. We get a lot of Japanese customers that will tell me that,” starts Martin Jiang, the owner of Microcentro’s 430 Ramen and Drinks, “I’m Chinese and was born and raised in Buenos Aires. I will never be able to make an authentic ramen. I make food that takes from what I know.”
The noodle recipe is a mixture of Japanese ramen and Chinese hand pulled noodles. The drips of sesame oil that are a central figure of the broth pays homage to his love for Korean food. In the kitchen, I also spot a large tub of gochujang, the infallible Korean deep red chile paste. There are also tributes to Vietnamese dishes and his bao is interpreted through the lens of a North American pulled pork sandwich. Throughout our interview, he keeps pulling out his phone to show me dishes that pop in and out of his head, “In Xiamen there is this bread that is kind of like a Chinese arepa that they stuff with pork belly and a chile sauce that has bits of fried chicken in it. Imagine that but on a taco.”
430 Ramen and Drinks opened just a year ago right off a bustling corner of Av. Corrientes in downtown. The long and cavernous space echoes the industrial feel outside where construction feels near permanent. Distressed walls are multicolored streams of plaster and cement mixed with sleek wood bars and metal framed stools. The basement bar is bathed in neon blue light and an impressive stock of booze where Jiang organizes parties with DJ friends from time to time, “We close down the kitchen late and let downstairs turn into a dance party.”
Before opening the restaurant, Jiang worked in imports. “I got bored,” he explains simply. He grew up in a restaurant. His Shanghai born parents ran a place in Palermo for years. Their menu extended past the fried noodle options that drown out the city’s Chinese restaurants in favor of dishes meant for the local Chinese community.
“I thought about opening a Chinese restaurant and am trying to figure out a way to do good dim sum here. The problem is ingredients. They are either way too expensive or don’t exist at all.” Jiang says, “No one is going to pay what it would cost to make real Chinese food, and it was important to me that as many people could come eat here as possible.”
The challenge gave him the freedom to develop a menu that mixes flavors and cooking styles from around East Asia, often in the same dish. The dough used to wrap gyoza is inspired by Chinese pot stickers. They are deep fried until they take on a crispy shell with a pleasantly dense chew. Inside are juicy balls of ground pork spiced with green onion. Hong Kong style fish balls are quickly fried before being tossed into a rich sauce. Done poorly and fish balls come out pungent and chewy. Here, they are juicy and intensely flavored with a curry based sauce that sneaks up on the back of the tongue. All orders come with a complimentary glass of iced jasmine tea. Craft beer from bossanfolk is on tap as well.
The aforementioned ramen can be piled high with shredded pork, beef or chicken. A veggie broth loaded with greens is available for the herbivores. The bao resembles a hamburger-pulled pork hybrid. Ghost white buns stand tall and are packed heavily with shredded meat, pickles, sweet caramelized onion and creamy garlic mayo. A moat of sauce drips down and forms around the perimeter of the dish; it should be used to soak up the steamed bread. I preferred the banh mi, which is generously layered with shredded pork or beef, pickled carrot and daikon, pickles, mayo and sriracha sauce on a baguette that has a nice exterior crunch but a soft core. The vegetarian version comes with thin slices of tofu that is fried to give it a light flakey char. Rather than the milky soft tofu commonly found, 430’s had a rough texture more similar to a slow roasted sliced beef.
As I mop up the crumbs with the stump of my index finger, Jiang continues explaining the right way to make soup dumplings and pulls up photos of different foods he’d like to introduce, giving me reason a million reasons to keep coming right back.
San Martín 430, Microcentro
Monday through Saturday, 12:00pm to midnight