Warwick’s ramen quest is heating up

Warwick Foy loves ramen. A lot. So much so that he’s using his noodle to get a ramen shop in New Plymouth. Taranaki Community News sat down with him to hear how he’s slurping, stirring and sampling his way through his ramen quest.

Hi Warwick! You’ve started a quest to get a ramen shop in New Plymouth. Why do you love ramen so much?
I love it because there is nothing else really like it.

Most Asian countries have their noodle soups – pho in Vietnam, tom yum in Thailand, laksa in Malaysia, but ramen is more than just a noodle soup, it’s a sub-culture all of its own. Add to that the regional variations and the modern twists and it’s become a global sensation, but not here – yet!

We do have some great restaurants that sell ramen, but a dedicated ramen shop with multiple ramen styles is what we need. The ramen shop layout where people sit at a bar around the kitchen is also a cool experience. Ramen Daikoku near Britomart in Auckland is a great example of this. 

The quest is also a meme of course – New Plymouth we need more ramen in our lives!

Warwick and one of the many bowls of ramen he has enjoyed

What’s happened since you started this quest?
Most people love it. Some are bemused, some, including most of my family shake their heads. Some folks have learnt about ramen for the first time. I think most people get that it’s a “thing.”

I’ve had one friend who unliked the Facebook group, which was shocking because most of the posts go viral – one or two likes every time! A girl I teach gave me a ramen birthday card!

Best birthday card ever!

People often ask me if pot noodles are an acceptable substitute. The answer is no, but that is not to say that they are bad. While they are bad for you, they have their place – there’s a reason they are so popular. They are tasty, quick, cheap and convenient. You can also use them as base to make some quite decent creations.

Sushi Ninja ran a campaign through May where they offered eight ramens and ramenists were invited to vote on the top four. These will become part of the menu. I don’t know if Sushi Ninja was inspired by my quest or not, but of course I am claiming that they were.

Sushi Ninja is also running a Ramen Festival on June 10, so I am delighted about that because it could give the quest a real boost.

Sushi Ninja may not be a dedicated ramen restaurant, but it’s holding a ramen festival

It fascinates me that sushi and curry have boomed but New Plymouth folk have not yet caught on to ramen. When I moved here in 1996, there was not a single curry house in town. Flame (then called Agra) was the first and now curry is everywhere. The same thing happened with sushi – and now it’s ramen’s turn.

What’s the best ramen you’ve ever had?
My brother lives in Japan so I have ramened there a number of times. However, the best ramen I’ve ever had was in Auckland in November 2018. This was miso butter corn ramen at the outstanding Genzui Ramen Bar near the Skytower. This is the ramen that inspired the ramen quest for New Plymouth. The presentation was a visual sensation and the flavour was complex, rich and satisfying.

Can you remember when you first discovered ramen?
I was in Mishima, Japan as the New Plymouth District Council Sister City exchange teacher for 2009. My family took me to a ramen shop and frankly I didn’t like it.

Learning to slurp is an important part of the ramen life

The bar was coupon machine style (common in Japan) so I didn’t really know what I was doing from the start. I put my coins in, pressed the button next to the picture of what everyone else seemed to be eating and took my seat.

Our bowls came out quickly and the family ploughed in. The food seemed fatty and salty and the slurping was a bit of a turn-off.  I now realise that I had not obviously acquired the taste and I was a bit green on the slurping thing.

Subsequent trips to Thailand, Vietnam, China and Cambodia have given me a great appreciation for the vital place of the noodle in Asian cuisine. I loved having breakfast in Shanghai where the chef pulled the noodles by hand before firing them into the soupy breakfast broth. Most of the westerners were hoeing into the bacon and eggs but noodle soup makes a great breakfast in Asia.

The cultural aspects of ramen are also cool. Eating with friends, discovering new haunts and flavours is a lot of fun. And of course, Japanese culture is deep and fascinating.

Happiness is a bowl of ramen

What’s the key to a good ramen? 
I’m not a chef but in my view there are three factors. The noodles are first. They must be ramen noodles which are cooked in alkaline water, which moderates the acidity in the dough and gives the noodles their characteristic “bite.” Pasta, spaghetti and rice noodles should never be used in ramen.

The next factor is the soup. This should contain authentic tare – concentrated seasoning liquid. The soup should be complex, flavoursome, hearty and I like umami – this is the unique brothy savoury flavour that is the fifth flavour alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

There are four main families of ramen – salt, shoyu (soy sauce), miso and curry. Because ramen is relatively new, chefs can play endlessly with these as they are not bound by the traditional rules of Japanese cuisine.

The final factor is presentation. Ramen should be visually compelling and an art form in itself.

Look at that deliciousness

What do you do when you’re not hunting for the best ramen?
I am a teacher at Sacred Heart Girls’ College and involved in many education to employment initiatives around the country. I enjoy the gym, travel and my family. I am a trustee and volunteer at The Most FM and it’s a delight to provide ramen reports on our new show – Taranaki Foodies, Saturdays at 4pm with Olena Williams. We have a thriving hospitality scene here and it’s a thrill to be a small part of it.

You’re also the president of SOBA, the Society of Beer Advocates. What are some of the best beers to pair with a good ramen?
Ramen tastes best at brunch or lunch and I don’t usually have a beer then. If I was going to drink, it would be a Japanese lager or a New Zealand Pilsner. You want something that is light and bright and is going to cut through the rich flavours of ramen.

Are there any similarities between a good beer and a good ramen? 
Definitely. They are both examples of a combination of art and science. The best ramen chefs and brewers have the combo just right so that they make creations that are thrilling and lip smacking.

They also require care and precise handling. A bad brewer or chef will not take the care required to produce a quality product.

You can support Warwick’s quest by joining the Facebook group

While we’re here, what’s Taranaki beer/brewery scene like at the moment?
It’s all happening. See my article in the next Pursuit of Hoppiness magazine (free at any outlet where good beer is sold) where I talk to hospitality folk about the New Plymouth market.

I started out with a “saturation point” angle, but I learned that the leading venues in town see that the market has matured and this is great for all good vendors and drinkers. People are demanding quality selections now and it’s great to see some of our excellent local bars and restaurants providing this.

If people want to know more about your ramen quest, where can they go to find out? 
Check out We need a Ramen Shop in NP on Facebook, visit some of the great ramen shops in Auckland and Wellington and then support restaurants that are offering ramen here.