Good Ramen Isn’t So Hard to FindAli Carte Columns
April 20, 2014
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
If you’re under the impression that you have to fly all the way to Japan to have an authentic taste of ramen, think again. Much more convenient in mileage, Keeaumoku Street is as far as you’ll have to go to get the real deal at Kiwami Ramen. It’s all in the details at this eatery — the kitchen features an infrared kushiyaki grill straight from Japan, while true Nihon-raised Kurobuta pork has a place on the menu — making it home to Japanese tourists and ex-pats alike, who know they’ve found the right spot for traditional comfort food.
Kiwami has been part of the Islands’ melting pot of cuisine for years now, as the cozy mom-and-pop shop first took Waikiki by storm a decade ago. Last October, the operation moved to its current locale, drawing in the same loyal base of patrons as well as new ramen enthusiasts.
While maintaining the beloved ramen recipe that Chef Sato, Kiwami’s original master of the kitchen, personally created, the brand new location also is expanding its menu thanks to executive chef Anthony Gonzales, who’s been with the eatery for nearly a month.
“Our roots are in real Japanese ramen,” says Gonzales, who hails from California and has worked in the industry for 16 years, including three months straight of training in Japan. “The new Kiwami, where we’re trying to really go, is keeping that core of what is traditional, real Japanese ramen, and taking it to the next level.”
So what is real ramen? According to Gonzales, it’s plain and simple: a killer broth and amazing noodles. Kiwami has both of these covered, starting with a stock recipe so precise that each ingredient is weighed to an exact amount before it is added to the pot. “The Japanese broth is so fine … it’s a science,” he describes. The broth also gets its rich flavor from a wide range of base ingredients, from cracked pork bone, anchovies and chicken to konbu kelp, mushrooms and even fruit.
As for the noodles, Kiwami’s secret weapon is its exclusive brand of noodles developed by Chef Sato, which is produced solely for the eatery by Sun Noodle Factory. They’re Tokyo-style noodles, meaning they’re thinner than your average ramen ribbons, but they maintain a strong, firm texture.
The restaurant also stays true to Japan’s penchant for fresh ingredients by using locally sourced products as much as possible. You can sample Kiwami’s edible treasures in dishes such as Shio Ramen ($10), made with mineral-rich Hawaiian salt. The broth and golden noodle strands are accented with char siu, green onions and the plumpest of bamboo shoots. Gonzales adds, “There are dried scallops, which are rehydrated so the water from the dried scallops is used to mix into the Hawaiian salt, and the Japanese salt together, so it’s real Shio (broth).”
Integral to Kiwami’s new identity are the grilled skewers of goodness known as kushiyaki that Gonzales introduced to the menu. They’re perfect accompaniments to any bowl of ramen, and they give diners another authentic taste of Japan. “When you go out to eat in Japan, it’s a festival,” explains Gonzales. “It’s an experience. Guys usually work 12 to 13 hours a day, so they go out and drink, and they eat, but it’s all this amazing food — small bites. It’s a party, every night.”
You can get the party started with Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly, the Monday Special. Gonzales cures, smokes, roasts, braises and slices the succulent Japanese meat before finishing it on a traditional kushiyaki grill, with glorious char marks and all. The tender pork belly is presented kushiyaki style ($6) on skewers, or as a small plate ($10) with kabeyaki sauce made entirely from scratch at the restaurant, as well as micro greens, house takuan pickles and ‘Nalo greens.
A light, vegetarian bite of Asparagus Kushiyaki ($5.50) also delights with a colorful rainbow of Waialua-grown asparagus. The chef’s house-made selection of Japanese-style pickles, including two types of cucumber, eggplant and takuan bring balance to any meal.
By combining traditional Japanese techniques with a fresh, local and innovative approach, Kiwami Ramen keeps it real — and simply delicious.
641 Keeaumoku St., #2
Lunch daily, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.