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Master of miso

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Surja Tjahaja shares love of ramen in cooking class

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Surja Tjahaja, right, walks Mieke Wiegman and Mike Cooper through the process of making miso ramen during his cooking class Nov. 6. Surja Tjahaja’s first taste of ramen noodles came when he was nine years old and living in Japan.

He would eat ramen on the train that took him home from school, and it left a lasting mark as Tjahaja later became an expert chef.

“(It was) so heartwarming, comforting, a delicious dish I liked to go to,” Tjahaja said. “I enjoyed it as often as I could.”

Tjahaja lived in Japan for a total of four years, but he and his parents — his parents now live in Indonesia — consider the country to be their second home. He still loves visiting Japan, particularly because it gives him a chance to pick up new recipes or methods for cooking ramen.

Now as a West Linn resident, Tjahaja is sharing his many years of experience with a series of ramen cooking classes at the West Linn Adult Community Center. The most recent class, held Nov. 6, focused specifically on Japanese miso ramen.

“I have been cooking (ramen) by myself for going on about 15 or 20 years now,” Tjahaja said. “But this is the first time I have shared with others, because I sensed people were interested.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Tjahaja taught students how to delicately chop the vegetables as part of the preparation process.

Though ramen is a new venture in his teaching career, Tjahaja has taught other cooking classes as well as meditation since he moved to the area eight years ago. He also started his own restaurant 35 years ago after starting his culinary career as a dishwasher.

“As soon as I arrived in Oregon, I retired from business and this is the one thing I would love to do for the rest of my life,” Tjahaja said. “I realized food brings people together, it brings excitement to families. ... I found that to be a very good door to develop relationships and community in general.”

Tjahaja is a natural cook, and he attributes his success to an abnormally sensitive set of taste buds. He relies on intuition and was never formally trained as a chef.

“I can deconstruct food when I go to restaurants — I can come home and replicate it,” Tjahaja said. “That has been with me for some time. And meditation practices enhance that sensitivity.”

Tjahaja’s classes at the WLACC continue to grow in popularity, and it’s easy to see why. He takes palpable joy in teaching his craft, laughing and smiling and bouncing around the kitchen to make sure everyone is following along through what turns out to be an intricate preparation process.

Instant ramen, this is not.

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - The end product featured ramen noodles over a miso broth, topped with an assortment of vegetables, nitamage-style eggs and chasu - a braised pork.

“The cooking class is designed to let people use their senses — seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting,” Tjahaja said. “(They are) getting to know all of the ingredients and therefore when they learn it, it is totally using all of their senses.”

Tjahaja sends recipes along to participants after the class ends, but the hope is that they won’t need them.

“The recipe is just a reminder,” he said. “When they leave the room, my goal is for them to feel confident to make it themselves without even looking at the recipe — embody the recipe within you.

“And you can modify it to your personal interests, so you’ll be the one who makes the best ramen.”

Mieke Wiegman and her husband, Mike Cooper, were no strangers to Tjahaja when they arrived at the Nov. 6 class.

“I’ve taken many of Surja’s classes before, and they are so much fun,” Wiegman said. “But this particular one (I took) because I like miso soup, and it’s healthy! It’s really healthy.”

Indeed, as Tjahaja mentioned during the class, miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that contains ten times the amount of antioxidants found in red wine.

After more than two hours of preparation, the final product included fresh ramen noodles over two different types of miso broth, as well as an assortment of vegetables, “nitamage”-style eggs and “chasu” — a braised pork.

Tjahaja’s next class is scheduled for Dec. 4 and will focus on a different “Tonkotsu” style of ramen.

Classes are $35 for West Linn residents and $40 for those who live outside the city. A $10 materials fee is also required.

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Classmates took turns tasting different flavorings during the preparation process.

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Tjahaja has another class set for Dec. 4

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..