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Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Goma Tei

Restaurant Insider

January 10, 2021

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Goma Tei Restaurants operations manager Jenny Lu shares with Anne Lee some of Goma Tei’s breakfast offerings, which are only available at its Kahala location for now.

Goma Tei Restaurants operations manager Jenny Lu shares with Anne Lee some of Goma Tei’s breakfast offerings, which are only available at its Kahala location for now.

ANNE LEE speaks with Goma Tei Restaurants operations manager JENNY LU

“Goma” means sesame and “tei” means a place for gathering. Hence, the name Goma Tei makes sense as it’s known for award-winning tan tan ramen, a spicy sesame-seasoned ramen.

Contrary to what people think, this restaurant is not Japanese owned. It was created by two local brothers Ken and Jerry Siu, who grew up in Kalihi.

They opened their first restaurant at Ward Centre in January 2006. These brothers, both engineers, tried and perfected each recipe, tasted each dish before it was served to customers, and created a high level of standard that customers have grown to love.

Spicy Kakuni Bao ($13.95)

Spicy Kakuni Bao ($13.95)

Now, with five restaurants, they’re making their own noodles and creating new delicious one-of-a-kind dishes and enhancing their ever-popular noodle and main dish menu.

I sat down with Jenny Lu, their operations manager, to taste these wonderful dishes — even a truffle ramen.

And, right now, breakfast is only served at the Kahala Mall location (7-10:30 a.m. Wednesdays-Sundays), but will be available at other locations later this year — stay tuned!

AL: Goma Tei is known for delicious ramen. How did you decide to start breakfast?

JL:Our owner Ken went to Japan to learn how to make noodles. He was able to bring back a customized machine specifically made for us, as well as the authentic Japanese noodle flour and ingredients. Because we had the Japanese noodle flour, we thought Japanese cake flour would be a good addition.

Popcorn Chicken Waffle ($14.50)

Popcorn Chicken Waffle ($14.50)

We started with a waffle first, then perfected our soufflé pancakes and then the soufflé cheese eggs, as well as many other items, which eventually led to our full breakfast menu.

AL: What do you think makes Goma Tei unique to the restaurant scene here in Hawaii?

JL: We are a locally owned restaurant that is more than just ramen. We make everything in-house, even our sauces. We use the finest high-quality ingredients, such as truffles and Madagascar vanilla beans. Our owners have engineering backgrounds; they analyze each item and test it. For example, when we started the milk teas, Ken tested each tea leaf to see what combination would be the best and how to serve it. When we come out with a new item, it takes us at least six months to a year to test it before putting it on the menu.

That’s why the consistency in each dish no matter which Goma Tei location that you go to. We cook our broth for 24 hours. It’s naturally rich in flavor and has no MSG.

AL: What is so unique about your rice and sauces?

JL: We order Hokkaido rice. They keep the husk on until we order it, which keeps the moisture in. Most high-end sushi places use this rice. We do not prepare it like sushi rice, but it’s the highest quality and very moist.

It’s more of a farm-to-table, more expensive rice, and we want to serve that to our customers.

Shu Mai ($7.45, four pieces)

Shu Mai ($7.45, four pieces)

We prepare everything in-house, so we can control the quality. We do a lot more work on the back end.

AL: What customer favorites did you prepare for us today?

JL: We have created our version of the popular chicken and waffles: The Popcorn Chicken Waffle ($14.50). The Japanese-style waffle is light and crispy, not dense. We use the special Japanese flour and special cooking technique to achieve this airy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. This is not your average popcorn chicken. It’s marinated in-house, and we use a special starch instead of flour before deep-frying it, which makes it more crispy and juicy. It’s served with fresh fruit, housemade whipped cream and 100 percent maple syrup.

We also have the Lilikoi Soufflé Pancake ($12.95). This is a soft, cotton candy-like pancake made with imported Japanese flour and Madagascar vanilla bean paste. It’s served with a delicious homemade lilikoi sauce — we source the lilikoi puree from a local farm on Maui — and our housemade whipped cream and fresh fruit.

There is a lot of love and labor that goes into making our milk teas. Our Coffee Milk Tea ($3.99) is a special blend of seven different tea leaves and combined with evaporated milk and Kona coffee.

Our house special is our Spicy Kakuni Bao ($13.95) — three generous pieces of braised pork belly with housemade special fruit-based spicy sauce on a steamed bao, served with cucumber, roasted peanuts, housemade whipped cream and fresh fruit.

One of our newer items is our Japanese-style Shu Mai ($7.45, four pieces). It’s a mix of shiitake mushrooms, Maui onion and ground pork. Traditional shu mai is more dense, where ours is more softer and lighter.

For our Truffle Ramen ($19.95), we use truffle powder and truffle oil imported from Italy into our housemade noodle. This is served with shimeji mushroom, sliced chicken breast, a soft poached egg, and garnished with vegetables and a hint of truffle oil.

AL: How did the pandemic impact your restaurant?

JL: We had to temporarily close our Waikiki location due to the lack of visitors. We kept our other locations open for takeout to serve the community and really relied on our local customers that supported us and are very appreciative and grateful to them. Many of them were looking for comfort food. The key to good food is how you feel after; that’s what comfort food is.

AL: Anything else you’d like to share?

JL: We have a spicy sauce we introduced early last year. This is a seafood-based sauce — dried scallop with cured ham, shrimp and shrimp roe. We steam it first, then grind it. You can buy it by the bottle for $16. It goes really well with meat. And for all the vegetarians, we have vegetarian options available.

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