A yen for Japanese

Sitting right in the heart of Jay, Vermont is one of a handful of ramen shops in the state: Miso Hungry Authentic Japanese Ramen.

Miso Hungry is owned and operated by Jordan Antonucci and Momoko “Momo” Munenaka. The couple converted a simple cargo trailer into a unique slice of Japanese culture. Each recipe is one of their own, and the $12 bowls of ramen really give you a taste of Japan.

The shop offers a traditional Miso Ramen, which consists of broth, braised pork belly, veggies, and a marinated soft boiled egg.

Another offering, Spicy Miso, consists of Munenaka’s spicy broth, braised pork belly, veggies, and marinated soft boiled egg.

The Roasted Sesame Soy Bowl uses authentic shoyu broth, veggies, braised pork belly, and marinated soft boiled egg.

Lastly, for all the vegetarians out there, the shop offers their Veggie Miso, consisting of no meat, 100 percent local veggies, and an egg.

You will find yourself savoring each and every warm slurp from any of the offered bowls of ramen. The softness of the pork and egg causes them melt to when they hit your mouth. Your mouth will soon face the counterpoint of the crunchy veggies. Lastly, the stringy noodles and warm broth further distance these authentic ramen bowls from the typical American idea of cheap, packaged Maruchan ramen noodles.

Munenaka is from Chida, Japan, and Antonucci from upstate New York. Antonucci was teaching English in Vietnam when he had a sudden urge to leave and go skiing, and the closest place with good skiing was Japan.

Antonucci and Munenaka met in Japan during the warmer months as white water rafting guides. Antonucci noted that prior to working for the same company, he had been around Munenaka for months without even knowing it.

The couple traveled for a while and ended up in Japan a lot, where they had access to recipes. Antonucci and Munenaka decided that they were ready to come to the United States and create their food truck. “A lot of our lives revolve around being able to ski, so we decided that it was going to be at a ski mountain,” says Antonucci.

After witnessing how successful ramen shops were for skiers in Japan, the couple narrowed down their possible U.S. locations to Crested Butte in Colorado for the west coast, and either Jay Peak or Sugarloaf for the east coast. Deciding that they wanted to be closer to Antonucci’s family, they both agreed that Jay Peak made the most sense. “Jay was the only place where we really thought that we could make the ramen shop happen in the United States,” says Antonucci.

The building process for the shop started seven weeks before opening day at Jay Peak in 2014. Antonucci and Munenaka ended up doing everything for the trailer, except the plumbing.

Munenaka says that since she has been in Vermont, she has loved it. “I never had any space in the city where I am from,” says Munenaka. “Everybody here is really kind and it just seems much easier going.”

Since the shop’s initial opening, Antonucci says that it’s been great being here, and that sales are up from last year despite this season’s low snowfall rate. “Usually as soon as people have a reason to come to Jay Peak, our business will pick up. It’s a direct correlation,” says Antonucci. “We mainly survived this past December because a lot of the locals that we care about care about us, and they would come here to eat.”

According to Munenaka, she has witnessed a lot of younger customers visit the shop. “Some of the older individuals that we do get say that they have never heard of ramen before, but end up saying they like it,” says Munenaka.

One of the main challenges that they have faced while operating Miso Hungry is the weather. Being in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom during the winter can be unpredictable. “Some mornings, we can’t even get into the trailer to start working because everything is frozen solid,” says Antonucci. “Often times some of our ingredients and pipes will freeze as well.”

During the summer months, Antonucci and Munenaka look to book their entire calendar. “Last summer it was mainly farmers’ markets, and we ended up having four days off. It was just nuts,” says Antonucci. “This year we are leaning away from farmers’ markets. We are trying to put everything together ahead of time, but it’s tough because we are starting to have people tell us that they want to book us. There are other events that we did last year and we don’t know if they are going to invite us back.”

Munenaka noted that the constant traveling in the summer can be a bit of a pain. “Having to deal with all the cleaning up and packing each day isn’t always fun,” she says. “During the winter, it is nice because we can just leave the trailer in the town of Jay for the majority of the season.”

As far as advertising goes for Miso Hungry, Antonucci noted that they have spent little to nothing on marketing, and says that Facebook and other online resources work really well. “Generally people have reached out to us, along with giving others a heads up,” says Antonucci. “Mainly word of mouth is our publicity, along with festivals where we can be somewhere for four days and be surrounded by nearly 5,000 people.”

For the near future, the couple wants to get permission to have their shop slope-side at Jay Peak. “We want people to know we want to be on the mountain, so they can get ramen with their skis on,” says Antonucci.

Munenaka says that in Japan they would often go skiing for the day, and go to ramen shops afterward. Then they would go into the onsens, which are basically natural back-country hot tubs. Trying to bring that part of Japan’s skiing culture to Jay is partially what Miso Hungry is all about.

For more information on Miso Hungry, you can visit their Facebook page or their website at misohungryramen.com. Munenaka says that visiting their shop is one of the cheapest and quickest trips to Japan that anyone can experience.