A burning desire for spicy ramen

Columns What's Cooking?

October 26, 2014

Story By: Rachel Breit | Photos by: Rachel Breit

Mention the promise of free food and some people will do anything to get it, even if there is a catch. In the case of Sanji Ramen’s Hellfire Ramen Challenge, the catch is a very spicy one.

Where does Hellfire Ramen’s spice level fall on a scale of one to 10? “It’s a 20 or a 30,” says Sanji Ramen manager Mizuki Lesbirel. “Even if you don’t finish it, it’s still fun to try,” she says about the potentially sweat-inducing ramen.

To compete, sign a waiver that includes agreeing to stay in your seat and not add ice cubes or chili oil (although, why would you?) and away you go. Finish the whole bowl in 10 minutes -including all the chili-dusted broth, noodles, char siu and two whole chili peppers — and the $12.50 ramen is free.

Winners also earn themselves a photo on the wall to commemorate their victory. As of yet, 22 participants have conquered the challenge, and the 23rd will receive a free Sanji Ramen t-shirt.

Although hot, the piquant ramen isn’t short on flavor. The savory broth and secret mix of seasonings will keep you digging back into the bowl for more. Meanwhile the back-of-the-mouth smolder sneaks up on you.

To make the rich, creamy tonkatsu broth that forms the base of each ramen the restaurant serves, Sanji Ramen’s chef boils pork bones for eight hours daily to extract their fatty goodness. Locally made Sun Noodles, a hefty slice of char siu, and garnishes of green onion and sheets of nori find their home in the buttery broth.

The eatery offers a variety of ramen options. A mixture of red and white miso pastes blended with sesame seeds accentuates the tonkastu base and creates the earthy Miso Ramen ($9, $5.25 half), while extra slices of char siu, boiled in soup then placed in another broth to soak up additional flavor, and a dose of salty shoyu make up Char Siu Ramen ($10.50).

When it comes to eating any of the noodle-laden bowls, go ahead and slurp. “Making noise isn’t bad manners,” explains Lesbirel who grew up in Japan eating noodles this way. Also, don’t be afraid to get your face down close to the bowl. Your clean shirt will thank you.

For the complete package, pair any of the bowls of ramen with sides — gyoza, curry rice, spicy chicken wings, fried takoyaki and more — and a drink (all beers are $5 or less). A new pupu menu tailored for noshing on while enjoying cold beverages is also in the works.

Sanji Ramen

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) Closed Sunday

Honolulu, HI 96814

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