When friends, chefs and business partners Jeff Chanchaleune and John Vu visited New York and tasted authentic Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes for the first time, they were hooked. More than that, they were inspired.
After years of working in restaurants in Chicago, Portland, Ore. and Oklahoma City, the pair have opened the Kaiteki Ramen food truck. And as the long lines have shown, Oklahoma was starving for ramen.
“It’s been going well. Better than we expected,” said Vu.
Even in the heat of the Oklahoma summer, the response is overwhelmingly positive, he said.
That might have something to do with their philosophy: make the dishes as authentic as possible and then take it someplace new.
“Just because we’re working on a truck, don’t think we’re taking shortcuts,” said Chanchaleune. “Our chicken is brined with spices for three hours. Our stocks are simmering for eight hours. We get fresh noodles, not flash-frozen or dried.”
In many ways, this truck is the culmination of years of work and planning. The end goal is to do something similar to another food truck success story: Waffle Champion.
“On the truck, we can do five or six items, max,” said Chanchaleune. “But we’re trying out new dishes, seasonal dishes, and when we get a storefront, we’ll have a larger menu.”
Not that anyone’s complaining about the current lineup, which includes both Kaiteki ramen (with fresh noodles, ginger ale-braised pork belly, marinated egg and vegetables in a shoyu-style broth) and a vegan ramen (with fresh noodles, tofu, grilled enoki, pickled cucumbers and more in a vegetable broth).
The Kaiteki blend is a unique invention — a combination of roasted pork bone broth with more traditional fish flake broth — but it brings a rich umami flavor (one of the five basic tastes in Japan) that Vu and Chanchaleune both love.
The vegan broth, full of slow-roasted vegetables, is seasoned with a soy and shoyu flavoring to make it stand out. While most Oklahomans are devoted carnivores, Vu and Chanchaleune said it’s important to them to offer something for everyone.
As the weather cools, look for new ramen dishes with a heartier tonkotsu-style broth, though only if they can nail the flavors, Chanchaleune said. They have pretty high standards for what is served, and if it’s not just what they want, it won’t make the menu.For those interested in more than soup, it serves a tender roast pork belly bao sandwich, wrapped in a fresh steamed bun. The spicy fried chicken wings are a twist on Buffalo wings, but with a crispy, almost puffy crust, but the real hit side item is the deep-fried Brussels sprouts.
Right now, the Kaiteki truck is out four or five times a week — with a mix of lunches and dinners — around the city. The best way to keep up with its schedule is, like most trucks, social media. Find Kaiteki on Twitter (@kaitekiramen), Facebook and Instagram.
Bringing real ramen to Oklahoma City has been a dream come true, said Vu, but it’s a dream that requires a lot more work. From testing out new menu items to convincing a few skeptics that a bowl of soup is worth $8, the pair of foodie entrepreneurs aren’t done.
It took three years to make Kaiteki a reality, and though the name translates from Japanese as “comfort,” it’s not planning to rest anytime soon.