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Namu's Dennis Lee Dishes Out the Ramyun

Leave it to Namu chef Dennis Lee to take the SF ramen craze one step further. One step towards fried that is. His ramyun—a Korean version of ramen made with fried noodles (instead of ramen's fresh), plus pork belly, egg, and kimchi—is the new must-eat at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.  (Fifty bowls are made every week and they sell out fast, so get there early.) We spoke to Dennis about his new soup on a recent Saturday morning as he stirred stock and assembled bowls.

Why did you start making ramyun?
There’s so much ramen coming up right now, and I wanted to add to it instead of doing the same old thing. I grew up on Korean ramyun, and I thought it was an underrepresented flavor.

How do you make the noodles?
They’re fried. In Korea, they fry the noodles to preserve them. It adds a nice richness to the noodle. Ramen is one of those handcrafted items—if I’m going to labor over the stock, I might as well labor over the noodles.

What's in the stock?
There’s dried mackerel in it. There’s beef in it. Japanese ramen stock is pork based. There’s pork and chicken in ramyun, but it has a beefy flavor. There’s Korean pepper and black pepper too.

How long does it take to make?
Around three days for the stock. I make the noodles Friday before prep, then I work dinner service until late, then I come here early in the morning.

Will ramyun become a menu item at Namu?
I’m considering switching our ramen to Korean-style. Maybe in the next month. You can’t eat it all the time because it’s junk food. No one wants to say it, but it is. But it’s nice to recreate the flavor using organic pork and beef, free-range eggs, and caputo (“00”) flour.

 How long will you serve it at the Ferry Plaza?
Indefinitely.

 Are you surprised by raymun’s popularity?
No. But it’s interesting how strong the ramen following is in the city. There aren’t many places that make it like they do in Japan. Most people eating it haven’t had real ramen.

Will you be doing any seasonal twists?
The vegetables that go in the stock are seasonal. We’re using mizuna this week. Last week we used yu choy. Our approach is definitely seasonal.

Do you think you’ll start serving different kinds?
I haven’t decided. I’d love to open up a noodle shop, but I don’t want to discount (Namu’s) other food—that’s the reason we only serve six bowls at the restaurant.

How many bowls do you eat a week?
I try to eat just one.

When is raymun the best?
After a night of drinking—absolutely. But there’s never a bad time.