What’s hot on the ramen scene
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In the past few years, it seems that ramen has become to foodies what model-of-the-moment Hansel was to fashion mogul Mugatu in the movie Zoolander — “So hot right now.”
Not only does the Japanese noodle soup literally warm things up with a steaming broth filled with comforting noodles, meats and vegetables, but it also is “hot” in the trend-setting sense, just as Mugatu used the term.
Right here in Honolulu’s burgeoning world of ramen shops, there’s a new restaurant that’s quickly gaining an excellent reputation for this noodle-filled fave. Since opening in May, Sanji Ramen has excited a growing number of soup seekers who are eager to try its spicy specialty, a Yokohama-style dish called Jigoku Ramen. Like all of Sanji’s ramen selections, Jigoku features the eatery’s signature pork bone-based tonkotsu broth, yet it is taken to a new level of heat with a bold house-made spicy miso paste.
In addition to this bestseller, a host of unbeatable bites are proving to the restaurant’s growing base of regulars that while Sanji is the latest hot spot for ramen, its menu is much more than a passing fad.
Patrons quickly turn into goners after a taste of Jigoku Dip Noodle ($9.50), a variation of the house specialty. The dish presents a slightly thicker, and even richer, version of the Jigoku broth, along with a bowl of noodles, nori, green onion and pork on the side, which diners may dip into the spicy broth.
“Dip noodle is popular in Japan. Usually dip noodle is (served) with regular shoyu soup base or some other base, but we use this jigoku soup because it is our specialty,” says manager Mizuki Lesbirel, adding that standard soup broth or water is available upon request to add to the dipping sauce.
Miso Ramen ($9) has proven to be another classic.
Savory flavors ooze from the tonkotsu soup base — which takes more than eight hours to prepare daily — while a mildly sweet aftertaste soothes taste buds. Meanwhile, miso adds a distinct layer of richness to the broth. To complete the dish, a piece of pork satisfies, along with nori and green onion garnishes.
In addition to simmering bowls of ramen, Sanji offers other traditional Japanese dishes such as Abura Soba ($8.25). Not to be confused with soba buckwheat noodles, abura soba refers to a popular type of thick ramen noodle served without an accompanying soup. In Sanji’s rendition, the noodles themselves house loads of flavor, as they are marinated in a slightly sweet shoyu-based sauce, allowing them to plump up and absorb every last drop of goodness. Then, chopped char siu, green onion and shredded nori round out the flavor profile.
“What we recommend is adding vinegar and then spicy oil (available at each table) in there and mixing it — it’s really good,” describes Lesbirel.
To supplement any meal, Sanji presents a variety of beer, wine and sake. For those in favor of some adventure served alongside their entrees, the eatery presents a Hellfire Ramen Challenge: If diners can eat an entire bowl of Hellfire Ramen — an ultra-spicy soup — in less than 10 minutes, they’ll receive the dish for free (regularly $12.50). Now, that’s hot!
835 Keeaumoku St.
Monday-Saturday, Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (2:30 p.m. last order), Dinner: from 5 p.m. (9 p.m. last order)