Last week I was finally able to try out Crown Heights’ newest kosher eatery, Phomen on Troy, which had its grand opening on Lag B’Omer of last year. I was pleasantly surprised by the interesting, some might say weird, cuisine I was met with.
Phomen on Troy describes itself as an Asian noodle restaurant, specializing in popular noodle dishes from various eastern cultures, most notably Ramen (Japan), Pho (Vietnam), and Pad Thai (Thailand). With such a line up, Phomen on Troy is the only kosher restaurant of its class in all of NYC, the country, and possibly even the world. Needless to say, I had to try it.
On my first excursion into the comfortable yet subtly exotic noodle house, I decided to try the Shitake Shio, described by my waiter as the most traditional bowl of ramen they serve. What was placed before me was certainly not the one dollar cup of noodles to be found in your local corner mart.
Upon taking a bite of noodle and a sip of broth, I realized that I had no idea what I was eating, but whatever it was I liked it. It was at this point a man approached me, most likely noticing the look of happy confusion on my face, and engaged me in conversation. This man introduced himself as Levi Jurkowicz, the owner of the restaurant and primary creator of the menu. With his permission, I will transcribe excerpts from our conversation below:
Me: I have to tell you, I have never had anything quite like this, what exactly is it?
Jurkowicz: This is Ramen, a noodle soup originating from Japan. The main flavors you should be tasting are smoke, salt, and fat. The broth is rich and complicated, while the noodle simple, made from flour and water. The bowl you are currently eating is a shio ramen, a more simple broth, flavored primarily with salt. The shio is probably the most common variation found around the world because of its simplicity. The base soup of a ramen is normally pork and fish based, and the toppings are generally some form of shredded vegetable, seaweed, sliced fatty meat called chashu, and maybe a soft boiled egg.
Me: Pork and fish based? That doesn’t sound very kosher to me.
J: Yes (he chuckles), that was one of the hardest parts opening my restaurant. Creating an authentic tasting ramen without using pork or fish paste in order to keep kosher was no small task. After much trial and error, to this day even we are still tweaking the recipe, I finally came up with something that I liked that is about as close to a non-kosher, authentic taste as you can get. I am very proud of the taste of my broth.
Me: And what is this thing sitting in my soup, is it an egg? Why does it look discolored and runny?
J: Ah that is one of the best parts! That egg was first boiled for precisely six minutes and 23 seconds, and when I say precisely I mean precisely. It yields the perfect soft boil, a solid, soft outside with the yolk still runny on the inside. Then, we pickled the egg overnight in a marinade that is mostly soy sauce and some other ingredients. Try it, it’s amazing.
Upon trying the egg I have to admit that I agreed with him.
Me: What made you choose such a unique dish to try to bring into the kosher world?
J: I liked the challenge of making this cuisine kosher. To make a long story short, I went on Shlichus to the east, while there I was intoxicated by the smell of the food. I had to try it. So, I set about trying to make it kosher. I researched recipes, I talked to chefs: it was quite the challenge. A few years later, as noodles became the latest trend in New York City, I thought I would take the chance and open up my own restaurant, giving the people of my community food they have never tried before.
Me: And tell me, many Jewish people would never come near this food because they don’t know what it is. What would you say to those people?
J: Just try it. We get people every day that have never tried food like this. The look on these peoples’ faces when a bowl of ramen is placed in front of them is always priceless, but they always leave full and happy. I know you don’t know what half of the words on the menu mean, but my servers do, and they will help you. Look, we as Jewish people can get very comfortable with the food we eat, many of us are skeptical of new foods. There is a whole world of food to be discovered that we will never experience because it isn’t served with fries. Back in the nineties, when sushi first made its way into the kosher market, many were skeptical. Now, there is a kosher sushi place on every block from Williamsburg to Borough Park. Give it a chance, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
PHOMEN on Troy
411 Troy ave. Brooklyn, NY.