Continuing from part I of my recent Japanese eats round-up, I hope you all are ready for more mouth-watering dishes!
One of the most recent trends to hit Metro Manila lately is the ramen craze. Ramen places have been popping up like daisies, and yet there is always a loooong line of people waiting to get their chance at a piping hot bowl of ramen. That was the case in the two restaurants we tried anyway.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is always packed seemingly whatever hour of the day. There are always people standing outside whenever I pass by, and I must admire the persistence of some people when it comes to food.
When we wanted to eat here the first time, the line was ridiculously long. It was already later than our usual dinnertime so a decision was made to come back another time. Our second attempt was a bit more successful though we still had to wait about 30 minutes to get seated. Luckily we arrived early so we were right on time for dinner when the accommodating wait staffer finally took our orders.
The interior of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka in Glorietta 4, Makati is very sleek with shiny black tiles. It gave off a very modern metropolitan vibe while still keeping some traditional Japanese elements, like bamboo panels and bonsai.
For a foodie, I am often clueless about the history behind the food I put in my mouth. The menu has a little introduction to the cooking process of the ramen broths, about it being simmered from pork bones before other ingredients are added. For Hokkaido ramen, typically miso is added to the broth to give it a brownish hue. The soup is never allowed to boil, but is kept at the optimal temperature that will allow its flavours to really come out. It’s a very delicate sort of cooking- almost an art- like the proper way of brewing tea or coffee. If you are as clueless about ramen as I am, then you’re in luck since the menu has pictures of each ramen dish, as well as those of the restaurant’s other dishes.
I already had my order in mind from this article I saw online. For every order, you have a choice between small, regular, and large servings. The small bowl is good for dieters and children, but the regular bowl I felt was just the right size. The large bowl of course is for the people with big appetites. Our orders took a while to arrive, especially when the waiting time before being seated is taken into consideration. We were all pretty hungry by the time they brought our food out.
We had our gyoza first. The bottoms of some of them are a bit too charred (not enough water when steam-fried maybe?), but they tasted okay.
And then we saved this additional order of Tokusen Toroniku (Pork Cheek) to eat with our ramen. This was actually very well-cooked with a balance of sweet, salty, and juicy. The meat was tender and perfect to the bite. The sesame seeds added an additional burst of flavour.
Finally, our ramen arrived and we were more than eager to dig in. My brother really loved his Char Shiu Shio Ramen. He raved about how deliciously milky it was, its flavours melting together to tickle the tastebuds. He kept saying he would come back just for this.
My baby brother ordered the Chashu Ramen, which had generous slices of char shiu (pork belly) in regular salty broth. The base is called shio, if I’m not mistaken.
My order was the Kara Miso Ramen, made with a spicy broth that I really enjoyed. I do love me some spicy soup, but I hate it when the flavour is foregone in favour of the heat. What I liked about this is that the flavour of the ramen broth base still peeks out from the spicy soup. It’s not so spicy that you would need to gulp water after every bite. I most definitely will order this again when I come back!
The noodles they used looked like the yellow noodles in instant noodle packages, though apparently the noodles are imported from Japan. Since I thought it complemented my soup really well, I don’t have much complaints. I slurped my way to the bottom of my bowl. Yes, I did.
I’m still trying to decide whether lining up for such a long time is worth the ramen here, but every time I get a glimpse of the Kara-Miso photo, I feel inclined to say yes. My brothers and I would definitely come back here again soon, though we would pick a time when there’s less people. If that period of time even exists.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
Ayala Center, Makati
A week after our first ramen escapade, we found ourselves in another well-talked-about ramen place called Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen, in EDSA Shangri-La Mall. The line here was significantly longer though the size of the restaurant is almost the same as that of Hokkaido Santouka’s (which is not that big).
However, the two could not be any more different with their interior designs. Ikkoryu is very eye-catching even from the outside. Inside is an inviting and cozy yellow, with slats of bamboo used as dividing walls. It incorporated more traditional elements, even having calligraphic Japanese characters written on the wooden panelling. It has a high ramen counter facing part of the kitchen reminiscent of the typical ramen stalls in Japan. This is a good area for solo diners or couples to eat and go without having to wait a long time for tables.
We were seated inside the area of the room where the wood panel wraps around like an accordion. I was surprised to find it more spacious than what I perceived it to be from the outside. It was very lively inside, with the staffers greeting every entering and exiting guest in Japanese. It’s definitely not a place for meetings, but very much a place to enjoy good food, as evidenced by the happily-eating people all around.
The staff was quick on its feet and handed us menus the moment we were seated. I loved the leather binding of the menu. The dishes on the menu are also pictured, by the way.
At this point I got curious about the difference between Hokkaido and Fukuoka ramens. Upon research, I found out that Fukuoka ramen or Hakata ramen uses tonkotsu or pork bone to flavour its broth, thus the broth base is a milky white. The broth is cooked in the same way as Hokkaido ramen; not allowed to boil lest it lose its flavour. Now one of the traditions attached to Fukuoka-style ramen is being asked how done you want your noodles. You can have it soft, medium, or hard. We all went for the hard noodles (the equivalent of al dente) because really, the best way to enjoy noodles is when it’s firm to the bite!
But first, gyoza! It’s really one of my favourite dumplings, and I must say, I really liked the gyoza here. It’s nice and toasty and just rightly cooked. The filling is hot and juicy too!
Now, I have to confess, even though the dish I ordered is one of the bestsellers here, I didn’t totally get it. The Black Garlic Ramen was good with nice garlicky after-notes, but I guess my tastebuds were looking for something else that day. The noodles used here are white and I really enjoyed the consistency of it, so that’s still a plus.
My baby brother ordered Chashu Ramen yet again. He really likes his char shiu.
My Mother and other brother (yes, I have three!) ordered this house specialty, the Ajitama Ramen, which was a great wave of flavour.
My Mother and brother both really enjoyed this dish though I found the flavours to be a bit too loud for my taste. What got my mouth watering was really the soft-boiled eggs. Look at those yummies. I used to eat soft-boiled eggs all the time, loving how the yolk was runny and everything. Here, the yolks are slightly cooked by the hot broth, but they are still so soft. I couldn’t resist asking for a bite!
My dad and brother ordered the Ikorryu Original Ramen, which smelled absolutely heavenly. It allows you to fully appreciate the Hakata-style broth, and I liked just how rightly flavoured it was. Not too salty, but with a burst of umami or as Filipinos call it, may linamnam. Among the ramen I tasted, this was what I liked the best.
If you would ask me to pick a favourite between Hokkaido Ramen and Ikkoryu Fukuoka, I really can’t. There is something to like in both restaurants. My brothers thoroughly enjoyed their Hokkaido experience, while my Mother liked eating in Ikkoryu better. As for me, I can’t get that Kara-Miso Ramen out of my head though I have not tried Ikkoryu’s version of the spicy ramen so we’ll still see about that. I do want to come back here and order an Ikkoryu Original, or one of those salad-like noodle dishes the patrons on the table beside us were eating!
At the end of the day, the first thing you have to bring with you whether you visit Hokkaido Santouka or Ikkoryu Fukuoka is patience; because you will most definitely be standing in line just to be able to eat in either or both of them. Clearly, these ramen places are doing something right.
What other ramen restaurants shall come my way, I wonder?
Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen
F: 11:00AM – 10:00PM
Sa: 10:00AM – 10:00PM