Original Ramen Burger makes Hawaii debut
BY JOLEEN OSHIRO / firstname.lastname@example.org
Some folks crave a quiet existence, one of stability and routine. Get a 9-to-5, build a career, maybe find someone to share a life with, and settle in.
But whether or not this ever was a goal, chef Keizo Shimamoto’s life is anything but quiet. Much of the reason stems from the chef creating one of the biggest U.S. food crazes in 2013: The Ramen Burger.
Shimamoto’s dish, a hamburger sandwiched between two ramen “buns,” has taken the country by storm, in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Jose. It also caused a stir in Brazil. But despite all the to-do, at its core the burger is a thoughtful reflection of Shimamoto’s Japanese-American identity.
“I put my feelings into this. I love ramen and I love burgers,” he said. “I didn’t want to make something that would just be popular. I wanted to make something thoughtful and meaningful to me.”
Shimamoto was in town this week to bring his original OG Ramen Burger to Hawaii for the first time. He opened up shop at Kakaako culinary incubator TASTE Table on Wednesday, Jan. 15 to sell more than 700 burgers to eager customers. More than 300 people turned up to stand in line for as long as five hours for a chance to try the dish, seasoned with a shoyu-based glaze, topped with green onion and arugula and made in Honolulu with local, grass-fed Kulana beef. They sold out in five hours.
First in line was Jean Sumait and her boyfriend, Allen Campbell, who arrived in Kakaako from their Windward Oahu home at 8 a.m. Right behind them was Jeanne Hill of Honolulu. The women said they saw the burger being prepared on a local morning news show on Tuesday, Jan. 14, and then dreamt about eating it.
“It looked so good on TV, I just had to come,” said Sumait as she took her first bite. “It’s very juicy and the ramen is like cake noodles. I love it. It was definitely worth $10 to try.”
Hill said she got out to TASTE early because she read that on the mainland, Shimamoto would prepare 150 burgers and 400 people would show up. She agreed with Sumait that the grilled ramen bun tasted like cake noodles, which she loves.
Another burger for purchase was Gooch’s Mashup, a ramen pork burger crafted by isle chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, co-owner at TASTE. The Mashup featured roast pork, gravy slaw and arugula.
California-born Shimamoto said he’s had a lifelong love of ramen — “When I was a kid, I was very picky but ramen was one of the foods I’d always eat” — and so, in 2009, five years into a career as a computer programmer, he quit the field to move to Japan and study the dish.
During his time in Japan, he ate a ramen burger filled with pork and thought, “this needs to have a burger in it.” The noodle bun, he recalled, also needed work because it fell apart. He returned to the U.S. in June 2013 to help open a ramen shop in New York, and when that was done he had to find something else to do. But he also couldn’t leave, because his then-fiance (now wife) was studying ballet at a New York school.
In August, he launched his ramen burger at Smorgasburg, a flea and food market in Brooklyn. The dish instantly took off.
What’s the appeal?
“Well, first of all, I think for people who don’t know ramen, who think it’s about instant (dried) ramen, the dish something new. For those who have tried real ramen noodles, there’s more respect,” said Shimamoto.
Shimamoto spends about six hours cooking the shoyu-based sauce that flavors the burger and equates the process to making broth for a bowl of ramen. The chef uses ramen produced by Sun Noodle, a company with origins in Hawaii, to make his ramen buns. He said he’s built a close friendship with the owners, who helped him during his early days in New York producing ramen for events.
Because of his relationship with Sun Noodle, as well as his own extended family, “Hawaii’s always on my radar,” according to Shimamoto. The chef’s grandfather was a Hawaii resident, as are various aunts, uncles and cousins. This visit to Hawaii was his first in 14 years.
“I grew up coming here. We visited often when I was a kid and my grandpa was alive,” he said. “I’ve been able to see relatives I haven’t seen in more than a decade.
“I love it here because at McDonald’s in Hawaii, you can order saimin! I love Spam musubi, and I love Zippy’s chili. I haven’t eaten that since I was a kid.”