Cooking Class Review

Amazing ramen in a mere 15 minutes? Umami Food Studio will teach you how

Sanet Oberholzer attends an engaging cooking class in Joburg and discovers that making authentic Asian food at home isn't as daunting — or as time consuming — as you'd think

18 July 2019 - 09:02 By Sanet Oberholzer
Cold Japanese udon noodles served in a broth and topped with spring onion, nori, bamboo shoots and sesame seeds.
Cold Japanese udon noodles served in a broth and topped with spring onion, nori, bamboo shoots and sesame seeds.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

My father used to say I must have been Italian in my previous life because of my love of pasta. Recently, I find myself wondering more and more if I didn’t spend a few of my formative years in this previous life living in Asia.

I have always loved Thai cuisine. I grew up eating curries and found myself in a permanent state of euphoria during the week I spent in Malaysia (due in large part to their food, of course). But recently I have been drawn to the variety of flavours and dishes that the Asian continent offers — vast as it is.

Given my love for cooking and sampling things I’ve never tasted — not to mention the aforementioned interest in all things Asian cooking — I was more than a little excited to be invited to attend a Ramen in 15 Minutes cooking class at Umami Food Studio in Midrand.

Rany Jo, owner of Umami Food Studio, in action during a cooking class at her Joburg home.
Rany Jo, owner of Umami Food Studio, in action during a cooking class at her Joburg home.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

Rany Jo has been running Umami Food Studio for a year-and-a-half now. A South Korean who moved to Joburg in 2013 after a three-year long distance relationship with her now South African husband, she hosts weekly cooking classes in her home in an attempt to make Asian cuisine more accessible to South Africans in a way that acknowledges the time constraints of modern life.

On Rany’s recommendation, I opted for the Ramen class, her third-best-selling class after Dumplings 101 and Vietnamese Street Food.

The classes are jam-packed: in a course of three hours we were shown how to make five different Ramen dishes using pre-packed noodles from Korea. Rany likes to create a hands-on experience; we had a noodle fairy and an egg master and in-between all 12 of us helped in some way, whether it be chopping toppings or assembling our noodle bowls of instant love.

Dish number one, a cold Japanese udon, was a foreign concept to most of us but it was an instant hit and a firm favourite in the group. The delicious, thick noodles were cooked to perfection and served in a broth made from Asian radish and konbu swimming in melting ice blocks.

Perfectly boiled eggs — the crown of the ramen — were marinated in a saucy mix of soy sauce and mirin. Spoonfuls of freshly prepared shallot oil, spring onion, pickled shitake mushrooms, julienned cucumber and bamboo shoots accompanied a range of oriental pickles, most notably the famous kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine.

Choosing a favourite ramen dish was tough. The hot udon served with fish cakes, soft and chewy seaweed and fun, crunchy toppings from the noodle package won by a slim margin, putting the slightly spicy Korean ramen, again served cold, with crunchy Asian vegetables, a sweet and spicy sauce and crab sticks in a close second.

Korean ramen served cold, with crunchy Asian vegetables, tofu, a sweet and spicy sauce and crab sticks.
Korean ramen served cold, with crunchy Asian vegetables, tofu, a sweet and spicy sauce and crab sticks.
Image: Dietmar Gerber

It’s not hard to understand why many of the people in attendance were there for their second or third time: after one class, you will want to return. A perfect combination of information, demonstration and hands-on fun pairs wonderfully with mouthfuls of deliciousness enjoyed at Rany’s 12-seater table, with a side of her clear love for cooking.

I spend all my free time researching quicker and simpler ways of cooking without compromising the flavours, on my weekend and while I am travelling to other countries
Rany Jo, founder of Umami Food Studio

Having learned to cook at a hotel school in Switzerland and 5 star hotels around the world, Rany picked up local recipes in the 10 different countries in which she’s worked but she says she’s still learning to cook. “I spend all my free time researching quicker and simpler ways of cooking without compromising the flavours, on the weekends and while I am travelling to other countries,” she says.

Next, I think I’ll try Dumplings 101. Or the Udon from scratch workshop. Or did I decide on dim sum? The choices are tough but, if you’re a fellow foodie in love with Asian cuisine, the average price of R680 per class, complete with lots to eat and take-home recipes will have you rounding up friends and family on whom to experiment.

Be sure to grab a bottle or two of Rany’s pickles and cordials and dive right in — it’s not as scary to cook authentic Asian food at home as you might think.

Tip: Rany’s classes fill up quickly so it is worth booking in advance. Because the classes are quite big, grab a few friends and make a fun outing out of it — you are bound to enjoy this more than attending by yourself.

The author was a guest of Umami Food Studio.

• You can reach Rany on 064-527-3067 , or visit Umami Food Studio's Facebook page for more information or to book a cooking class.