I just had my first bowl of professionally made ramen since the start of this pandemic and, thanks to Mochiko, life is beautiful again. Mochiko offers weekly pre-order ramen kit pick-ups and free local delivery of their Asian-inspired pastries. The duo behind Mochiko — Elaine Townsend and Erik Bentz — have been working hard to adapt to the new food industry landscape that's emerged in recent months.
They currently sell their goods two days a week. Customers can pre-order ramen kits through the Mochiko online shop on Tuesdays for curbside pickup on Thursdays. You can also pre-order pastries through their shop on Friday for pick-up or delivery on Sunday.
“With the pastries, we usually have 10 to 12 items to select from and we try to introduce something new every week. With the ramen kits, we typically offer two styles of ramen to choose from, as well as a vegetarian-friendly option," Townsend says. “The pre-orders are great because the couple of days in between ordering and pick-up allows us some time to prepare exactly the amount of food we need, which helps us reduce food waste."
Pick-up is available at Newport's Incubator Kitchen Collective (517 W. Seventh St.).
Each ramen kit makes one generous serving and contains fresh, unboiled noodles; soup; a salty sauce used to season the soup called tare; and toppings. For the recently featured chuka soba ramen, the toppings included a marinated boiled egg (ajitama), savory slices of slow roasted pork (chashu), pickled bamboo shoots (menma), sliced scallions and dried seaweed (nori). To prepare the ramen, you simply heat up the soup, boil the noodles and arrange your toppings. Check Mochiko's Instagram if you'd like a great demonstration on how to properly assemble your next bowl.
"There is a significant amount of planning that goes into the ramen kits," Bentz says. "We want to make them as simple as possible, but also have them taste very closely to what you would get at one of our pop-ups. There are quite a few complicated components that go into creating layers of flavor in a ramen bowl, so we combine as many as possible for the customer without flattening out the taste.”
Bentz explains that ramen kits have been around in Japan for a very long time, known as "Omiyage" (souvenir kits).
“Famous shops would outsource to large companies in order to mass produce something similar to what you would get in their shop. They weren’t very good,” Bentz says. “Now, during the pandemic, nearly every well-known shop in Japan is making their own ramen kits, and taking a much more hands-on approach. These kits taste very similar to what you would receive at the shop, but still lack the charm of sitting in a real noodle shop."
Mochiko's been working for years to open up their own restaurant but, just like so many entrepreneurs these days, they had to restructure their business plan to adapt with the new dining scene.
"We’ve had to convert our whole operation to pastry delivery and DIY ramen kits. Luckily, our customers have been very supportive. We are still able to devote ourselves to Mochiko full time, and keep improving the Mochiko product," Bentz says. "COVID has definitely delayed the opening of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but we are still actively pursuing a location. One of the biggest struggles right now is working with lenders. Restaurant loans are considered very high risk for banks, and during COVID times they are considered extremely risky."
What's not risky, however, is buying a delicious bowl of ramen accompanied by Townsend's oolong chiffon cake or pain au chocolat. As autumn approaches, she'll have a whole new variety of seasonal ingredients to choose from.
"I'm excited to work with warmer ingredients again — dates, ginger, things that just spell 'comfort' in cold weather," Townsend says. "One thing that I always associate with autumn is mooncakes. Although it's not Japanese, mooncakes are a classic treat eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and every year I make tons of them, whether they are for sale or just for myself to eat at home. It's one of those things that can be very challenging to make properly, but is so incredibly worth the effort. I typically stick to making the classic mooncake with lotus seed filling — it is a very traditional food that I don't mess around with."
While Townsend isn’t messing with the classic components of mooncakes, Mochiko practices a Japanese culinary style known as Yōshoku, which incorporates Western recipes with Eastern ingredients and sensibilities. Bentz super-localized this practice by creating an incredibly successful Cincinnati-chili style ramen. Bentz says his Cincinnati-style ramen would be a great example of Yōshoku, but it usually goes the other way around — taking something Western and adapting it to the Japanese palate.
“I usually stay away from 'novelty' foods, but the flavor combos made sense in my head,” Bentz says. “It was basically a Tantanmen that we removed the sesame, cut back on the chili, and infused it with allspice, cinnamon, clove, and cumin. Then, of course, we had to add thinly grated mild cheddar, but you will see quite a few ramen in Japan that have parmesan cheese. The most important part was that it was just a bowl of Cincinnati chili with ramen noodles in it, while still keeping the feel of a bowl of ramen. It could definitely become a regular thing if people continue to ask for it; I actually liked it a lot myself. "
People, ask for it. It’s amazing.