WBUR

Porter Square Ramen Shop Wants To Make Your Dreams Come True

Yume Wo Katare owner and ramen master Tsuyoshi Nishioka welcomes customers by yelling “Irashaimase!” from behind the long counter that separates his open kitchen and the shop's 18-seat dining room. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Yume Wo Katare owner and ramen master Tsuyoshi Nishioka welcomes customers by yelling “Irashaimase!” from behind the long counter that separates his open kitchen and the shop’s 18-seat dining room. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup that’s meant to be slurped, has surpassed the point of being trendy in cities around the U.S. Shops continue to pop up, and you can easily find ramen renditions on the menus of top restaurants and gastropubs.

But there’s a truly funky noodle spot in Cambridge that serves more than just ramen.

‘Talk About Your Dreams’

There aren’t many restaurants where you get praised by everyone around you for clearing your plate — or bowl — but that’s exactly what happens at Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square.

“Everyone, he did a good job!”

You’ll hear that again and again over the course of a meal in the cozy but loud space.

Owner and ramen master Tsuyoshi Nishioka welcomes customers by yelling “Irashaimase!” from behind the long counter that separates his open kitchen and the shop’s 18-seat dining room. Sometimes people wait more than an hour, outside on the sidewalk in all temperatures, to participate in this novel but highly regimented ramen experience.

Every step in the ramen experience chef Nishioka devised is purposeful — including waiting in line, because it builds anticipation like at an amusement park. “No line, no amazing,” he says.

Every step in the ramen experience chef Nishioka devised is purposeful — including waiting in line, because it builds anticipation like at an amusement park. “No line, no amazing,” he says. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Here’s the protocol: First you order. There are only two choices — ramen that’s swimming in broth topped with pork ($12), or ramen topped with more pork ($14). Extra garlic and emulsified fat can be added too.

Then diners are shown the self-service chopstick and water station before being told which seat to take along the three rows of tables that face the kitchen. The space feels a little like a classroom, with brightly painted walls covered in cartoons illustrating the appropriate way to consume your bowl of noodles once it arrives. On a wall flanking the baseball cap-wearing ramen chef, someone composed a potent question: “What’s your purpose in life?”

Once settled into your spot, server Makoto Yamamoto explains the ramen shop’s driving philosophy.

“Thank you for coming to Yume Wo Katare,” he begins, then translates, “which means ‘talk about your dreams’ in Japanese.

“You know, whatever dreams you may have,”  Yamamoto adds, “and how we can help you with that is the ramen he’s preparing right now. So if you can finish this high bowl of ramen, you can do anything in life. That’s the concept. OK, good luck with your ramen and thank you very much!”

A small illustration on a wall inside Yume Wo Katare -- which means "talk about your dreams" in Japanese. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

A small illustration on a wall inside Yume Wo Katare — which means “talk about your dreams” in Japanese. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

So eating ramen here is seen as a path to personal fulfillment. Some customers write their dreams down and hang them on the restaurant’s walls. One reads, “skydiving.” Another, “one month without sugar.” Most are written in Japanese.

A Ramen Guru

“Each person understands another meaning,” 34-year-old ramen chef Nishioka says. “So it’s good for our restaurant.”

Nishioka opened Yume Wo Katare in November 2012. Since then, he’s been encouraging people to reclaim abandoned dreams and nurture new ones.

Like a ramen guru, Nishioka believes dreams require fortitude and deep concentration — and so does eating a heaping pile of his homemade noodles.

“When ramen is coming, grab chopsticks and don’t stop until you finish eating the bowl,” he says.

Yume Wo Katare offers two choices — ramen that’s swimming in broth topped with pork, or topped with more pork. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Yume Wo Katare offers two choices — ramen that’s swimming in broth topped with pork, or topped with more pork. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

If you finish everything Nishioka loaded into your steaming bowl — which is no small task – the room erupts in cheers of “Everybody, we have a perfect!” along with claps and giggles. (I managed this feat on my third time eating at Yume Wo Katare, and I have doubts I’ll ever be able to do it again.)

If you eat your noodles but can’t drink every drop of the rich broth you earn a different cheer — “Everyone, he did a good job!”

Those with smaller appetites when they visit are met with an “almost” or “next time.” Still encouraging, right?

The goal, chef Nishioka says, is to push people beyond what they think they’re capable of.

An Interactive Experience

Makoto Yamamoto started working at Yume Wo Katare last month and says the shop reminds him of home. He came here from Osaka to go to school at Tufts University.

“Of course it’s run by a Japanese guy,” Yamamoto says of the shop, “but being in the U.S. it’s fun to find a place that’s like Japan. Also the atmosphere this restaurant creates for employees and also customers is really unique — where we can dissolve the wall between employer and employees and customers.”

Makoto Yamamoto, a server at Yume Wo Katare who moved from Japan to study at Tufts, says the shop reminds him of home. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Makoto Yamamoto, a server at Yume Wo Katare who moved from Japan to study at Tufts, says the shop reminds him of home. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

“It’s an interactive kind of experience, even when you’re going alone,” explains customer Chris Shipley. “So yeah, I’ve waited in lines over an hour.”

Shipley has eaten here once a month since moving to the area in September. The ramen is different and delicious, he says, adding that he doesn’t shoot for a “perfect” anymore.

“I’ve decided to get down to a ‘good job’ because sometimes ‘perfect’ is a little too much. It’s really greasy,” he says. “That broth has a lot of fat in it.”

The fatty broth and chewy noodles come with thick, tender slices of rolled pork belly that lay on a bed of bean sprouts, bok choy and minced garlic.

This style is called jiro ramen and it’s rare in the U.S. Nishioka learned to make it at a famous Japanese restaurant chain called Ramen Jiro. He opened five of his own shops — in Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka — then sold them to his managers before searching for a space in the U.S.

“In New York it didn’t stand up, my hair,” the chef recalls. “And in Hawaii it didn’t stand up, my hair. So just here, my hair stand up.”

That’s how Nishioka ended up opening Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge, he says, because he always listens to his heart.

Like An Amusement Park

Every step in the ramen experience Nishioka devised is purposeful — including waiting in line, because it builds anticipation like at an amusement park.

“No line, no amazing,” he says.

Seung Gon Park, from South Korea, says Yume Wo Katare is popular with the tight-knit Asian community in the area. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Seung Gon Park, from South Korea, says Yume Wo Katare is popular with the tight-knit Asian community in the area. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Outside, regular Seung Gon Park agrees that waiting is important to the overall process.

“When I come to my turn in the line it feels great,” he says with a laugh.

Park is from South Korea and has been studying economics at UMass Boston for the past four months. Yume Wo Katare is popular with the tight-knit Asian community in the area, and this 25-year-old admitted he too has a goal.

With a shy laugh he says, “My dream is actually to become the manager.”

Not at Yume Wo Katare, but at a big company. And Park believes the ramen is helping.

Over the past few months owner Nishioka and his friend Ryo Takahashi have started hosting workshops at the restaurant on Monday night to help their peers develop strategies.

“There’s a lot of Japanese population here — especially students who haven’t really figured out their life yet,” Takahashi explains. “So we’re trying to help to talk about what’s your plan, and you know what’s your dream, and what do you want to do in the future?”

Twenty-year-old Satomi Yoshida tries to attend every Monday. She’s a student at Bunker Hill Community College and says she first came to Yume to talk about her dreams. The ramen came second, but she added, “Eating ramen here, always I feel some positive power.”

And she compares finishing a bowl of ramen to running a marathon.

“It’s just me and the ramen,” Yoshida says with a smile.

Like a ramen guru, chef Nishioka believes dreams require fortitude and deep concentration – and so does eating a heaping pile of his homemade noodles. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Like a ramen guru, chef Nishioka believes dreams require fortitude and deep concentration – and so does eating a heaping pile of his homemade noodles. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Ramen chef Tsuyoshi Nishioka hopes more people will drop by the weekly Monday night meetings. The restaurant is closed that night, but business is brisk most others. It’s so good that Nishioka can shut down the shop every few months to go back to Japan.

When asked about his own future, Nishioka muses that maybe, just maybe, he won’t even serve ramen — as long as he can keep encouraging people to dream on.

A Japanese musician was inspired enough by Nishioka’s ramen that he wrote this song for Yume Wo Katare:

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  • cynthiawallen

    as Thelma
    explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
    on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • Lawrence

    Nice cover story. Just wonder how much money they had to “contribute” to get this front page advertising?

    • David F

      You’ve obviously never been there. They don’t need any advertising. The line to get in forms 20-30 minutes before they open every day rain or shine.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      None? It’s WBUR, a local news outlet that covers local culture as does every other local news outlet…

  • Nurse Bevy

    Gluttony with meat. …and people ask me why I’m vegetarian…

    • Ka Ning

      The point of this article isn’t even about the meat. (By the way, they offer a meatless version, and the restaurant has even attempted noodles with vegetable broth. Most meat-eaters respect vegetarians regardless of their reasoning, and I think you should do the same. Oh, and read the full article in its entirety before you make your negative comments too.

      • Keiko K.

        I think you must be confused. Yume Wo Katare has no meatless version and no vegetarian broth. One of their employees is doing a pop up called Pop Ramen that serves vegetarian ramen but that’s only happens on occasional Sundays when Yume Wo Katare is closed. Maybe that’s what you’re thinking of?

        I have seen them serve nothing but noodles to a Muslim guy and a vegetarian woman but of course that’s not nearly as tasty. :)

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      I try to respect vegetarians, but then one always has to make a smug holier-than-thou comment like this.

  • gigi4747

    I lived in Japan and would like to go here, but probably won’t because of the wait…oh, well, that will make the line go faster for others, I guess…shou ga nai ne. :)

  • paul333

    I couldn’t care less about the games, silly culture, or other nonsense. I just like good soup. It can’t be that hard to make, this little interview you’ve done has probably spurned a dozen competitors now shopping for locations. I will go to the place with good soup and no line or people asking about dreams while I try to eat lunch.

    • Aardvarkk

      Oh Eeyore, you never want to have fun.

    • Lardon Hardon

      That “good soup” is exceptionally difficult to make and is steeped in the traditions of that culture you’re denigrating as silly. So how about some respect, man?

      • paul333

        “Steeped in the traditions of that culture…” I assure you, we can go to Tokyo together and within 10 minutes I can take you to ten ramen joints without a line, without dreams and assorted metaphyisical themes – simply, people enjoying good food. And often in a hurry. People who just need lunch. You’ve made the classic Poli Corr error… You attempt to smear my rejection of this one guy’s model as disrespect for an entire culture. Wake up. Efficiency and respect of people’s busy workday schedules is very much apart of Japanese culture as well. I shouldnt have to line for good soup as this case for both ramen joints in Porter sq. and eventually, an entrepreneur will agree….

        • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

          You did say “silly culture” in a way that made it seem like you were making fun of Japanese culture. Also, how is an entrepreneur supposed to eliminate lines? By making his place LESS popular? If your place is popular, its popular, there’s not much to do about that and it would be pretty foolish to try to change it.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Depending on the soup, it can be very hard to make. It might not be hard to heat up some Campbells from the can, but the soups served at restaurants like this and other places are hard, as they require dozens of ingredients, many of which must be cooked and seasoned separately. Also, some soups can take a full day to cook and can be ruined by the slightest mistake. Also you might want to think twice about calling other peoples’ cultures “silly”.

  • Craven Morehead

    Ramen is gross. Wake up.

  • Guest

    The comments here are embarrassing to say the least.

  • Yoh Gah

    Where administration is assigned to “experts”, it will be naturally believed that any means necessary are legitimate in the majority’s name.

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