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Cheap Eats 2013: It’s not All About the Pig

Porky soups are common in ramen shops—but these veggie broths lighten things up deliciously,

Brussels sprouts, carrots, bean sprouts, and shiitakes go into the excellent vegan ramen at Daikaya. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

We tend to think of ramen as a swine lover’s treat, with pork and noodles set in rich broth. A surprising—and welcome—new trend: vegetarian versions that pack just as much flavor.

The trick is brewing a soup that mimics traditional styles enriched with meat or seafood. We love perching on a stool at Daikaya (705 Sixth St., NW; 202-589-1600), where delicate vegetable stock is swirled in a hot wok for added smokiness, resulting in a soulful bowl heaped with seared Brussels and bean sprouts and soy-simmered shiitakes.

At Adams Morgan’s Sakuramen (2441 18th St., NW; 202-656-5285), mushrooms flavor the kombu broth, a seaweed elixir that arrives crowned with thick-sliced portobellos cooked in a sweet, bulgogi-style sauce. The nearby ramen joint Taan (1817 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-450-2416) goes even heartier, creating an almost chowder-like dish with chili-spiked soy milk and toasted garlic.

Even Toki Underground (1234 H St., NE; 202-388-3086), which draws hours-long waits for its tonkatsu (translation: very porky) ramen, has won converts to its vegan version. Charred vegetables, lemongrass, and dried mushrooms stew overnight for a deeply flavored soup packed with shiitakes, daikon, and seasonal farmers-market produce.

Not a strict vegan? Opt for add-ons such as nitamago, a soft-boiled egg—and of course, there’s always roast pork.

This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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