When I heard that ramen had become popular in my hometown a few years ago, I can't say I was surprised. We New Yorkers, after all, consider ourselves aficionados of down-home, stick-to-the-ribs cooking. Hot-dog carts, takeout Chinese joints, 24-hour delis and hole-in-the-wall falafel shops all help fuel our around-the-clock lifestyle.

Ramen fits right into this scene. Springy noodles nestled in a rich broth spiked with meat and vegetables ... How could we — or anyone — resist? In fact, ramen's popularity and versatility call to mind another New York specialty: pizza. Much as different types of crust, cheese and sauce create distinct flavor profiles in a pizza pie, bowls of ramen vary according to their broth, noodles and toppings.