Ramen’s All the Rage

Columns Ono, You Know

December 1, 2013

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Leah Friel

Happy Sunday, Ono readers! It’s the first day of December and an exciting time of year, marked by holiday celebrations and a growing number of romantically rainy days and chilly nights. During such times, there’s no better way to cozy up to that blissful wintery feeling than sipping from a steaming hot bowl of ramen.

Housing an entire meal in one bowl, this Japanese gem of a noodle dish is often adorned with meat and vegetables that simmer away in a slew of savory broths, from miso and shoyu to shio and tan tan varieties.

Here at home, diners have long adored ramen, adopting it into our multi-cultural menu of local staples. In recent years, though, it seems the draw to ramen has increased tremendously with trendy noodle shops the likes of Momofuku in New York City and others across the country establishing this sizzling soup as the hottest meal in town.

I’m definitely one of those patrons who can’t get enough ramen, and many of my Saturday afternoons are spent scouring Honolulu with my brother and close friends for the best bowls around. Hands down, my favorite part of devouring ramen is slurping up the signature wheat noodles, complete with a rich golden hue and firm bite — think al dente meets Asian flair.

Some of my explorations have lead me to ramen renditions both unique and exuberant at the following Ono, You Know hot spots.

Big City Diner

One of the best times to enjoy ramen is after hours when you’re looking for a delectable late night snack — and a large one at that. Big City Diner is just the place to go, where you can dive into The BIG Ramen ($7.99).

Available on the restaurant’s lunch (weekdays) and “late nite” (Friday-Saturday) menus, this dish consists of spinach, snow peas, bean sprouts, Chinatown Char Siu and egg, all submerged in a flavorful yet light shoyu-dashi broth that warms you right up, but won’t leave you feeling overly stuffed.

A nice kick of kimchee heats up the soup as well. “The kimchee adds some spice to it. Some people like it on the side, but if you like that little zing and that flavor and you mix it all in, yummm,” exclaims president and owner Lane Muraoka when describing these irresistible flavor combinations.

Patrons also may order flame-broiled boneless kalbi on the side for an extra $5.99.

The Ward Centers eatery — one of five locations islandwide renowned for mastering diner fare catered to local palates — uses the same fresh noodles featured in The BIG Ramen to create Kimchee Fried Min Noodles ($9.99). Stir-fried with char siu, Portuguese sausage, cabbage and more, it speaks to the heart of ramen noodle cravings.

“A lot of people have fried min, but they don’t have kimchee fried min. That’s something that’s very signature to Big City Diner,” says Muraoka.

Big City Diner
Ward Centers
1060 Auahi St., Spc. 4
591-8891

Heijouen

One beauty of ramen is that it can be enjoyed in so many ways. Recently, I’ve been partial to ordering a bowl alongside my grilled meats and veggies at yakiniku dining establishments.

Since last December, Heijouen on Kapahulu has received quite a buzz for its blend of Japanese and Korean flavors as well as high-quality meat that’s ready to be fired up on tabletop grills. The perfect accompaniment to these dinners is Beef Rib Soup in Noodles ($8.80), or Yukkejan Ramen.

Heijouen's Yukkejan Ramen ($8.80), also known as Beef Rib Soup in Noodles, flanked by a la carte fine beef loin ($8.80) and fine kalbi ($9.80) grilling meat.

Heijouen’s Yukkejan Ramen ($8.80), also known as Beef Rib Soup in Noodles, flanked by a la carte fine beef loin ($8.80) and fine kalbi ($9.80) grilling meat.

Now, this menu item is one that spicy-food lovers can truly appreciate, as it’s made with Korean chili peppers and is a deep red color, which clearly indicates a high heat factor.

“This one is the spiciest one we have,” says manager Hiroshi Shimada. “We can make it a little less spicy, but even then, it’s still pretty hot.”

In addition to house-made chili paste, Yukkejan presents Shiitake mushrooms, shredded beef, daikon and carrots. Soybean namuru and zenmai (mountain root) seasoned with sesame oil and salt add even more layers of flavor to the dish.

As Shimada explains, it’s traditional in Japan to enjoy a rice or noodle dish toward the end of your meal, so Yukkejan is a perfect fit. You can order it at any point in the evening, and it’s great to gobble up by yourself or to share among others.

Heijouen
949 Kapahulu Ave.
737-5015

Asahi Grill

There’s one more wonderfully unique ramen dish I had to get my chopsticks on, and it comes together where local comfort food is at its prime: Asahi Grill.

Enter Oxtail Ramen ($9.95), a resonating mix of flavors inspired by the restaurant’s famous Oxtail Soup. According to manager Victoria Sayno, listening to requests from loyal customers prompted the creation of this dish.

“When customers ordered the regular (oxtail) soup, instead of rice, they put the noodles, so that’s why we decided to make an Oxtail Ramen,” says Sayno.

Asahi Grill's beloved Oxtail Ramen ($9.95) Rachel Breit file photo

Asahi Grill’s beloved Oxtail Ramen ($9.95) Rachel Breit file photo

Crafted with the same broth as the classic soup, Oxtail Ramen gets its richness from the fresh liquid base, which boils away for hours to soak up all the nuances of the meat. A mix of oxtail pieces, parsley, green onion and fish cake also light up the broth, while ginger is served on the side as a marvelous dipping agent.

The noodles are an amazing addition to the tried-and-true favorite, as their starchiness lends a new bite of richness to an already flavorful soup.

And Sayno says that this is the perfect time of year to come in for a hot bowl because as the weather continues to get colder, Oxtail Ramen becomes more and more popular among patrons.

So if you’re in need of some good ol’ warmth and comfort, there’s no doubt that ramen is the right thing to do.

Asahi Grill
515 Ward Ave.
593-2801