Food La La: Santouka Ramen arrives in Hawaii
BY LINDSEY MURAOKA / Special to the Star-Advertiser
A normal person eats the five basic food groups, but I think I have an extra one — a special and honorary category just for ramen.
Whenever I visit Japan I eat ramen almost every day to overload on the taste so I won’t crave it too much until I can return again. Thankfully, I don’t have to go so overboard now that there is a bigger selection of authentic Japanese-style ramen in Hawaii, like Takahashiya on Kapahulu Ave. and the constant rotation of Japan-based ramen shops at Shirokiya’s Ala Moana Center food court.
Added to this mix is a new ramen shop in town, Hokkaido Santouka Ramen, which opened last week outside Don Quijote Kaheka.
Santouka is a popular Japanese ramen chain that originally started in Asahikawa, Hokkaido as a tiny, nine-seat shop serving only one type of ramen (shio flavor). The company now has more than 40 locations throughout Japan and around the world. I went for dinner on Monday, Sept. 30, around 7:30 p.m. and the place was packed. My friend and I put our name down on their waitlist and went shopping at Don Quijote for about half an hour before returning and getting seated.
(Half an hour goes by fairly quickly when you spend your time debating what type of Japanese Kit Kats you should buy, green tea or dark chocolate — both of them are on sale right now!)
Santouka specializes in four types of ramen: shio (salt), shoyu, miso, and karai (spicy) miso. Their broth is made by simmering pork bones for more than 20 hours before adding in other ingredients, such as vegetables and kelp. The ramen comes in three different sizes: small, medium, or large ($9.99 for medium; $1 more for large and $1 less for small). I ordered the Karai miso ramen with a side order of aji tamago (shoyu flavored soft boiled egg, $1.50), which went perfectly with the ramen.
The karai miso broth has a deep flavor and is not too spicy, with just a bit of heat to make it interesting. The noodles (imported from Hokkaido) are yellow in color and slightly chewy and springy. The two pieces of pork were tender and meaty.
What I like about this place is like many places in Japan, you can customize your ramen to suit your taste. You can ask for less salt in your broth or harder noodles. A lot of places tend to make their noodles softer to suit local tastes, so I always ask for it to be harder.
My friend also ordered the karai miso ramen, but got it with Santouka’s signature simmered pork meat, toroniku, and a side order of aji tamago. The toroniku is extremely tender and fatty, more than the regular pork, and just melts in your mouth like delicious pork butter. The toroniku is served separately from the soup to prevent it from overcooking in the broth. I highly recommend trying it.
The next day I went back for lunch like I was on vacation in Japan. The wait was again about 20-30 minutes long, so either go at an off hour (they’re open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily) or do some shopping while you wait.
This time I wanted to try their most popular flavor, the shio ramen. I ordered a size small ($8.50) and a side order of aji tamago again. Usually I like to order only spicy broths, so I was surprised at how much I liked this one. The flavor is light, but the broth has an addicting creaminess that made me want to keep eating. Since the shio is their signature ramen, it is the only one that comes with ume (pickled plum).
I tried some of the shoyu ramen ($8.50) that my friend ordered. It has a light flavor, kind of like the shio, but starts to build up if you keep eating it. However, it was my least favorite out of the three flavors I tried.
My friends Jacie Katsuda and Aya Nishihara.
Since they just opened a lot of items are not available yet like their gyoza or chicken karaage but they do offer a small selection of side dishes. My friends and I shared the ikura and salmon gohan ($5.80) as well as the chashu loco moco ($4.50). The ikura and salmon gohan was okay; nothing special about it. The amount of seafood was small compared to the amount of rice.
I really liked the loco moco, however, with juicy pieces of pork covered in thick rich gravy and mixed together with rice and a delicious onsen tamago (soft poached egg). This could be a small meal on its own.
Yes, I will definitely be coming back here often. Just not for a while — I’m all ramen-ed out for the week!
Lindsey Muraoka blogs about food and drink for the Pulse. Contact her on Twitter or via email at email@example.com.