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,

By: Anna Spiegel

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.