The sun has set over Palermo Hollywood and a cold breeze begs me to pull my beanie on tighter. This time of the year is bittersweet. I loathe that chill in the air that hits the tailbone and travels all the way up the spine but welcome any excuse to eat soup, especially if we’re talking ramen. It’s a Friday night and Fukuro Noodle Bar is full. A small pack of American sorority girls on exchange walk in like deer in headlights, “Oh my god,” one proclaims in a loud vocal fry, “are those dumplings?! I am so excited.” Everyone here seems excited. There are dumplings. Pork buns and noodles, too.
Fukuro Noodle Bar could easily slip into the ramen craze that swept through New York City or San Francisco, but in Buenos Aires, even after a successful nearly three year run, it remains an pleasant incongruity in the local dining scene. Owners Vanessa and Matias Camozzi opened the restaurant in mid-2013 when the trend had long picked up steam around the world, but the idea of a restaurant whose main dish was a soup—a Japanese soup nonetheless — was a completely foreign concept.
The space itself is like stepping into another city. The walls are graffitied with stencils by local artist Caraibo, where the Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, the Japanese beckoning cat and the crew from the South Korean crime film Nameless Gangster all live colorfully next to one another. Dozens of toys by Kidrobot — Peter Griffin in a black bra and panties and a crying Kim Jong-un in a diaper and bonnet — are on display. Two bars wrap around the long and narrow room, where a mixed bag of locals, the aforementioned delta gammas and lone eaters, a rare sight around here, all enthusiastically slurp their noodles. When I studied abroad in Argentina some 10 years ago and sucked up the remains of a bowl of microwave ramen, my host sister told me I was an animal. Boy how the times have changed.
Fukuro came to fruition after one faithful trip to Japan. Avid travelers, the pair was filming material for a documentary in the small coastal town of Taiji, but it was the neighborhood ramen bars that kept their attention. “I fell in love with the careful attention to detail and tradition,” recalls Camozzi. Long time restaurant workers in Washington DC, they were ready to open up their own spot. But taking out a loan or partnering up didn’t bode well with their independent spirits, so they enlisted the help of Matias’ family to scope out potential restaurant spaces for a move to Buenos Aires. The months that preceded the move were spent mostly in the kitchen, with Vanessa enlisting the help of a Japanese friend to teach her how to make noodles.
Upon opening, they were a curiosity to locals—2013 was still at the front end of the culinary revolution Buenos Aires is currently experiencing. “I filled my suitcase with dozens of ramen spoons and chopsticks, the people at customs didn’t really know what to make of it,” Vanessa laughs. At the time, if you wanted Korean food you headed to Flores, if you wanted authentic Japanese you went to Congreso and crossed your fingers for no cream cheese, and if you were in the mood for good Chinese, well, you had to hope to land in a restaurant with a secret menu for Chinese clients.
Today, it’s a different story, with a general curiosity for Asian cuisines and a shortlist of great new restaurants, many of which have less than half a year under their belts — buns at BAO Kitchen, Pan Asian street foods at El Quinto, and nods to a childhood spent in Southeast Asia at Christina Sunae’s recently minted Sunae Asian Cantina. But the Camozzi’s — with Sunae being another — were amongst the pioneers. Shockingly, in a city where authentic ideas are copied to death (see: last year’s burger and craft beer craze, still going strong), Fukuro has, thankfully, been able to remain a special place in the local dining scene.
I quickly glance through the noodle options and ask the waitress to bring me the spiciest one. “The karai,” she says, pointing it out on the menu with a surprised look in her eyes. “But do really you like spicy food?” she teases. On the inside I roll my eyes — ‘Girl, please. You don’t know where I’m from?’ — on the outside I give an over enthusiastic nod and a big smile. Owner Vanessa Camozzi brings the karai ramen out herself with a bottle of their signature hot sauce. The stock is simmered for 20 hours before being layered with homemade noodles made fresh everyday, and toppings like poached eggs sourced from an organic farm in La Plata, sprouts, avocado and thinly sliced pork belly. Equally unmissable are the small selection of pork buns — the smoked kimchi and popcorn topped ‘K-pop’ are all you need to know.
I discreetly brush the sweat that collects along my brow while the waitress is distracted by more important things. The sorority girls are anxious now, so we loudly slurp up the last of our bowls and free up the space before heading back into the cold that waited for us back outside.
Fukuro Noodle Bar
Costa Rica 5514, Palermo Hollywood
Tuesday through Thursday 8 PM to midnight
Friday and Sat 8 PM to 1AM