Slurp It Up
Despite our warm climate, we have a strong culture of soup here in the Islands. And with an abundance of cultures that make up our local community, we sure do love our saimin, ramen, pho, miso soup, tripe stew — and don’t even get me started on oxtail soup!
There’s comfort in the cultural familiarity of soup, for sure, but there’s also warmth in the nourishment of a simmering broth and the satiation of a heap of noodles. I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of foodie who ends up going out for some kind of hot soup — depending on the craving — at least once or twice a week, so I’m always faced with that oh-so-difficult question we all must ask ourselves: Do I turn to my old-favorite right around the corner, or do I try something new from my “to-eat” list?
This week, I decided to do a little bit of both, starting with a trip to a new ramen shop. It can be hard to pull away from our go-to ramen houses, but with so many exciting new spots heating up the local dining scene, it’s worth it to venture out to slurp up what’s new out there.
GET EXCITED FOR THIS SIP
It was my first time eating at Junpuu in the Medical Arts Building across from Blaisdell Concert Hall, but I can assure you it won’t be my last.
Though petite in size, the new restaurant serves up nothing but big flavor when it comes to its array of sizzling ramen broths, most of which are tonkotsu-based — although there are vegetarian soup bases, too.
The foundational tonkotsu broth is made from scratch by cooking pork bone for 16 hours on high heat. “It’s rich in taste, but we take an extra step to clean the bone before we cook it,” says owner Eiji Kato, who used to sell ramen out of the former Shirokiya food court before branching out with his own shop earlier this year. “We precook the bone to take out the gaminess. Then we wash it really well and cook it, which gives the broth a smoother taste.”
Personally, I’m a big fan of miso broths, so I had to try Spicy Miso Ramen ($10.50), which, coincidentally — but not surprisingly — is a best-seller. This tonkotsu-based soup is striking for its bright red color, hinting at the Japanese and Korean chili peppers used during the cooking process. Kato, who is originally from Tokyo but has resided in Hawaii for 16 years, mixes the chilies together and cooks them with hot oil before the broth is added, in order to bring out their red hue and bold flavors.
Nestled inside the bowl are long strands of Sun Noodle ramen, pork-belly char siu, bamboo shoots and a blend of red and green onions. Diners also may choose their spice level; up to five is free (and not too spicy), but the spice levels increase all the way to 100, which Kato claims might just be the spiciest ramen on the island.
With so many ramen spots to choose from, something that makes Junpuu stand out is its ajitama ($1.50 extra), a marinated soft-boiled egg that Kato takes very seriously. “It has to be just right,” he says. To go with his ramen, Kato also offers tasty pupus, Japanese curry and some creative selections such as Char Siu Quesadillas.
Medical Arts Building
1010 S. King St., Ste. 108, Honolulu
You can satisfy just about any craving at Fairwood Drive Inn & Pho 27 Cafe, Kaimuki’s unique dining venue that’s one-part takeout spot and one-part sit-down cafe.
You’ll find Chinese and Vietnamese flavors on the menu, as well as owner Tiffany Ko’s local-style favorites and fusion dishes.
As for soup, this is one of my beloved retreats for pho. Ko’s house-made broths are so flavorful, yet light and clean so you won’t feel weighed down after chowing down.
There’s a wide array of pho to choose from, and Ko recently added some more creative versions of the Vietnamese classic to her offerings. One of them is Oxtail Pho ($14.50), which is slow-cooked to perfection with a very “slurp-able” oxtail broth. The dish is prepared with some flavors that remind us of classic oxtail soup — ginger, green onion, peanuts — and others that are Ko’s unique additions, like black mushroom and onion.
In addition to hearty chunks of oxtail, this soup satisfies with ever-so-sleek bahn pho noodles. On the side, house soy sauce with ginger is yours for the dipping.
Another new pho option centers around pig feet, and Ko says both selections have been well received thus far. She also reminds customers that Jai is available at the eatery, unlike most restaurants that only offer the vegetarian specialty during Chinese New Year. Fairwood Drive Inn and Pho 27 Cafe’s Jai is prepared with all the classic veggies, from snow peas to black mushroom, as well as homemade bean curd, long rice and more.
Fairwood Drive Inn & Pho 27 Cafe
Kaimuki Shopping Center
3221 Waialae Ave., Ste. 21, Kaimuki
739-6688 (Fairwood Drive Inn) and 738-0027 (Pho 27 Cafe)