Ramen is so much more than the 25-cent package of curly noodles and powdered broth it’s often thought to be in the United States. In Japan, it’s a revered dish, often made with the highest-quality ingredients by world-class chefs despite technically being considered fast food. To properly enjoy it, you shouldn’t be afraid to slurp, which helps the noodles act as a means of carrying all the flavors in the broth into your mouth. You should also probably embrace the tradition of adding an egg to it, called “ajitama.”
A restaurant located quite far from Japan, in Lisbon, Portugal, honors these traditions in a very unusual way: through symbolic architecture. The Ajitama Ramen Bistro by JCFS Architects contains a gorgeous wooden trellis installation featuring a repeated motif of egg shapes. Located in a newly refurbished building on a block that dates back to the early 20th century, the bistro occupies a prominent position on a street corner, and the illuminated installation can be glimpsed from the doorway not long after dark.
The trellises are meant to recall the kind of complex wooden construction that’s often seen throughout Asia, commonly hand-crafted with an emphasis on the craftsmanship of the joinery. The architects explain that to them, the trellises symbolize the determination, rigor, and precision of the Japanese people. The egg shape, on the other hand, is pure comfort.
JCFS hoped to represent a duality between Eastern traditions and their Western interpretations, elegance and informality, softness and structure. The wooden framework is geometric but sculpted into ovoid shapes, sometimes stretching down vertical surfaces for a sense of continuity and envelopment. The design of the space would be serviceable enough without it, but the installation truly transforms the interiors.
The design team explains: “The Ajitama Ramen Bistro is a restaurant fruit of the dream and ambition of two friends in love with this traditional Japanese dish. After their visit to Japan, their long friendship was reinforced by this passion, the search for the most authentic ramen of Lisbon. Unlike many countries in Europe, the Ramen in Portugal was until a few years ago an unknown concept. The two friends, not being satisfied with the existing offerings, decided to venture into their own project together.”
“When JCFS was challenged to develop the [concept] for the restaurant, the egg – ‘the Ajitama,’ is present in everything that is the most beautiful, tasty, and memorable, and that we keep in memory when eating the ramen of these friends, [making it] the generator of all the construction of the idea for this place.”
“The repetition and interpretation of the egg gesture is projected in these facilities, [the] counter, [the] bathrooms … the result is a mixture of sensations in which the neons of the facade transport us to the crazy streets of Tokyo. The suspended wood, sculpted in the form of an egg, confers a lightness to the space, leaving us the sensation of having no end and in which the sky has no limit. The counter makes us remember the Japanese meal in its natural habitat, in which we visualize the chef to cook the beautiful delicacy.”
Is anyone else suddenly craving a hot bowl of fresh ramen?