Slurp Up Ton Ton’s Special Oxtail Ramen
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For locals, ramen is one of the ultimate comfort foods. The warm broth, the tasty meat and vegetables, and the satisfying sluuuuuurrrp of soft, wiggly noodles is a familiar experience for many who have grown up in Hawaii.
At Ton Ton Ramen, owner Ken Cho has taken the lovable ramen and paired it with another island favorite, oxtail soup. After letting customers taste-test his new recipe over the past month, Cho decided it was time to put Oxtail Ramen ($10.95) on the regular menu.
“We let the customers try it first because we wanted to improve it. We listened to the customers, what they wanted and needed, and this final Oxtail Ramen is maybe the third (variation) we’ve made,” says Cho.
“Everyone knows about oxtail soup, but they’ve never had anything like this. We’ve changed it up.”
The secret to the Oxtail Ramen lies in the soup base. Cho says he concocted the broth from a special mix of chicken, pork and beef bone, along with five other secret ingredients he cannot divulge.
“No other restaurant has done this before,” he says. (BTW: None of those secret ingredients is MSG. In fact, all items at Ton Ton Ramen are MSG-free!)
After the broth has developed, Cho makes sure to measure out exactly one pound of raw oxtail for each dish. The meat is then slow-cooked for one-and-a-half hours in the broth, with green onion and Chinese parsley added right before the plate makes its way out of the kitchen.
“Some restaurants, they cook the oxtail too long and it is too soft but you cannot taste the oxtail,” Cho says. “The way we do it, you can really taste the oxtail. The customers try it and they say they’ve never had that kind of taste before.”
Customers can choose either white rice or ramen noodles with the meal, but Cho suggests going with the slurp-factor and ordering the noodles.
“We use a special noodle. It’s a little bit thick, so it doesn’t get overcooked,” he says.
Another specialty only available at Ton Ton Ramen is the Black Sesame Tan Tan Ramen ($8.50). The traditional Japanese dish consists of char sui belly, green onion, fresh choy sum, noodles and is topped with a half-cooked egg. But Cho takes things up a notch by adding black sesame seeds.
“There’s a very big difference between the white sesame and the black sesame. For one, there is less oil in the black sesame than in the white sesame,” says Cho.
Black sesame seeds also are a good source of copper, magnesium and calcium, which each provide numerous health benefits. For example, copper relieves rheumatoid arthritis, while magnesium supports vascular and respiratory health.
Some people even believe that long-term consumption of the seeds helps keep hair shiny and beautifies the skin.
“It’s good for the hair, good for the skin, people believe it makes the whole body healthier,” Cho says.
As an added treat, customers receive a free three-piece Gyoza with any regular order made between 2 and 6 p.m. any day of the week.
On the Side
To say there are a ton of ramen choices at Ton Ton Ramen is an understatement. There’s Chicken Katsu Ramen ($7.75), Soft Rib Ramen ($8), Curry Ramen ($7.50), Ippin Ramen ($8), Gyoza Ramen ($7.50), Kim Chee Ramen ($7.50), Vegetable Ramen ($6.95) and, yes, there is even a dish named Ton Ton Ramen ($8.95).
That’s just a few popular picks found on the first page of the menu. Keep looking and there are four more pages packed with ramen, curry, fried rice, seafood dishes, combo plates and sides like handmade Gyoza ($2.95 for four pieces, $3.75 six pieces) and Mochiko Chicken ($3.95 for eight pieces).
Every item offered at the restaurant is made from an original recipe created by owner Ken Cho, who honed his skill for Japanese-style cuisine over many years of trial and error.
“Nobody will give you an original recipe, so you have to try on your own, one time, two times, three times. You fail many, many times before you get it right,” says Cho, who opened Ton Ton Ramen in Waipahu Town Center in 2004. “I’ve failed many, many times. But now, I know what is good and what is no good.”
Cho also relies on his two uncles, who are both chefs, and wife Yuki for their honest opinions.
“She gives me a lot of opinions about my food,” Cho says with a laugh. “She is Japanese, so she can help me with this.”
Customers usually can expect to find some sort of new special in the works at Ton Ton Ramen, as Cho believes it is important to keep changing with the times.
“In Japan, there are so many ramen restaurants, and if your restaurant is not popular, you cannot survive. They have to keep updating their menu to what is popular now,” he explains. “That makes me want to do that too.”
Ton Ton Ramen
- 94-050 Farrington Highway
- Waipahu, HI 96797
- (808) 677-5388
- 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Sunday – Thursday
- 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Fridays and Saturdays
- Ample free parking available.