Battle of the (Pork) Buns – Momofuku Ssam vs Ippudo
I have to confess that I am not a big ramen fan so I had never thought of stepping foot inside Ippudo until my niece raved about the pork buns. When a friend from Toronto dropped by for an impromptu visit last weekend, I decided to check it out with her. Coincidentally, my husband and I had just eaten at Momofuku Ssam the weekend before so both are pretty fresh in my mind. In this post, I’m stacking up their pork buns and other dishes side by side just for fun.
Is it my imagination or do I hear grumbling at the grassroots about Momofuku’s service? Complaints of arrogant wait staff seem to pop up more often now on various sites like menupages and zagat’s.
In the times I’ve been to Ssam, I’ve never encountered this “you’re lucky to be eating here” attitude at all. They may not greet “Irasshaimase” at your arrival or be extra-solicitous about your well-being, but it’s far from the fling-the-plate-at-your-table kind of service that you might get in Chinatown. Momofuku’s wait staff are casual and efficient, but Ippudo’s go the extra mile to make you smile. This round goes to Ippudo.
Second: Pork Buns.
Imagine this picture of Momofuku’s pork buns as a Rorschach test: I see a doughy Pillsbury Pacman devouring two thick slices of seared pork belly smeared with a little hoisin sauce. They’re really irresistible, especially with the sheen and glisten hinting at the glorious unctuousness to come.
By comparison, Ippudo’s perfectly tasty buns with slivers of Berkshire pork, lettuce and mayo seem anorexic by comparison. Momofuku wins this battle.
Third: Beef Tendon.
Momofuku’s Sichuan Beef Tendon features ribbons of ligaments topped with julienned green mango and peanuts. I’m put off by the cold clammy meat. Not fond of this one.
Ippudo’s Beef Tendon With Butter Sauce has chunks of grilled beef tendon on a bed of cabbage topped with thinly sliced japanese leeks. No flavor is wasted as the meat juices drip on and are absorbed by the sweet tender cabbage. This one takes the prize.
Fourth: Soup Noodles.
Ippudo’s Shiromaru Hakata Classic. Slices of berkshire pork float in a milky and murky broth with dense flavor and body. Frankly, I’m happy to just eat ramen and broth. All the other ingredients are extraneous for me.
Momofuku’s Braised Beef Brisket appears to be their interpretation of pho. The brisket is sufficiently tender and the broth has a nice tangy kick at the end of each spoonful.
Ramen and pho are apples & oranges. I like both but don’t love either. Draw.
Momofuku’s Thai Iced Tea Parfait is thai iced tea solidified into a rectangular flan. It comes with a scoop of lemon mascarpone and an almond tea crunch that reminds me a bit of Ovaltine flakes. It works for me as it’s not overly sweet.
As for Ippudo, one look at their dessert menu and we decided to order…