Can you Feel The Heat?
If there’s one type of food that is a cure-all for everything from vog symptoms to those coughs and colds going around, it’s soothing, simmering soup. And as chilly evenings continue to settle in this time of year, we all could probably benefit from wrapping our hands around a hot bowl, being sure to slurp up every last sip of broth as the steam rises.
It goes without saying that Hawaii’s reigning bowl of choice is some good old-fashioned oxtail soup, so Ono, You Know just had to find the next truly epic version of this classic for you to try — and it may be more familiar than you’d expect.
Always a fan of mixing the old with the new, I also couldn’t help but indulge in the hottest type of soup on the dining scene, no pun intended, with some richly delicious ramen. From Lucky Belly’s modern ramen experience in Chinatown to traditional hole-in-the-wall shops like Nakamura’s in Waikiki, there are so many types to try, and I’ll help you narrow it down.
So if you can’t feel the heat yet, rest assured you’re about to.
OLD FAVE MAKES A COMEBACK
Local-style oxtail soup, with its Chinese-rooted flavors, has a full-flavored history here in the Islands, and there always has been quite the debate over which restaurant cooks up the best one. That conversation also stirs up some nostalgia for many patrons, as a lot of the iconic diners and eateries that were well known for their oxtail soups have closed down over the years, including Columbia Inn and Flamingo Restaurant, just to name a few.
The oxtail soup from Kapiolani Coffee Shop within the former Kamehameha Bowling Alley used to be on that list of long-gone classics, but old-timers will be happy to hear that they can now enjoy that legendary oxtail soup once again at Kam Bowl Restaurant, which opened in Kamehameha Shopping Center a year ago.
As floor manager Naomi Crouch explains, a common scenario at Kam Bowl goes something like this: “A lot of people come in and ask, ‘Is this the same soup that used to be at the bowling alley?'” she says. “And I tell them, ‘Why, yes it is!'”
After customers sip on “Famous” Oxtail Soup ($12.95 small, $14.95 regular), prepared with the quintessential goodness of peanuts, Chinese parsley and green onion to enhance the oxtail, Crouch then follows up, asking patrons, “Is it as good as you remember?” And they swiftly reply, “Why, yes it is!”
For maximum enjoyment of this long-standing staple, Crouch suggests mixing some ginger on the side with shoyu or chili water — as regulars do — to dip your oxtail into as you savor the soup.
Ultimately, there’s something so comforting about the tried-and-true nature of this recipe. “Local people love familiarity,” concurs Crouch.
She adds that “Famous” Oxtail Soup comes with two scoops of rice, but diners may upgrade to fried rice ($2.50) or kimchee or lap cheong fried rice ($3). In addition to the soup, Kam Bowl has quickly become popular for its loco moco with homemade patty, stir fries, fresh fish and Japanese breakfast sets.
Kam Bowl Restaurant Kamehameha Shopping Center
1620 N. School St., Kalihi
REACHING RAMEN NIRVANA
With so many ramen shops popping up around town, it can be difficult to know which ones are worth trying. I’m all about contemporary, fusion-style recipes, but when diving into the diverse world of ramen, I like to start with a traditional approach.
In search of that authenticity, I happily stumbled upon Junpuu last year and have been returning ever since. The key to the legitimacy of this soup is in the tonkotsu broth, which chef and owner Eiji Kato, who is originally from Japan, cooks up just like they do back home.
When asked to describe what he loves most about ramen, the Tokyo native, who has lived in Hawaii for more than 15 years, responds, “I like when it has a clean taste.”
Ramen aficionados may have a sense of what that means, but for first-timers, Kato goes on to explain that “it’s the balance of the soup and ingredients. We take great care with getting the soup right.”
At Junpuu, “cleanness” comes in the form of cooking the tonkotsu, or pork-based, broth on high heat for 16 hours. The bones are cleaned and precooked beforehand to remove any gaminess, which in turn contributes to the overall smoothness of both the texture and taste.
You’ll enjoy this broth in Tantan Men ($10.50), ornamented with spinach, spicy ground pork and bamboo shoots. For an additional $1.50, you can add a soft-boiled ajitama (egg), and for $2, char siu is all yours. Or go for a little bit of everything with Tantan Men Special ($13.50), which includes both char siu and ajitama. The egg, in particular, is a must because it is marinated for extra flavor and cooked to the perfect degree of smooth, golden-yolk magic.
For vegetarian diners, Junpuu offers a vegetarian-based tantan broth, as well as tantan tomato ramen. There are also a host of yummy sides to accompany one’s meal, such as gyoza and handmade potato chips.
1010 S. King St., Honolulu