Saturday, April 16, 2011
Ramen Dreams are Made of These...
Ramen is not extraordinary in the local foodscape. In fact, you can go to any supermarket or convenience store and grab yourself a pack of instant noodles. This has become such a staple in the average Filipino's diet, that we do not think much of it- nothing more than a hangover helper at the wake of a long night or a quick snack during a break at the office.
However, I join the long line of Manila's food bloggers who can't help but sing this bowl of soup praises. Ramen in Japan is nothing short of an art form- centuries old recipes passed on from generation to generation, each bowl distinct in flavor and characteristics. In the movie "Ramen Girl" starring the late Brittany Murphy, it illustrates how mastering the preparation of ramen not only takes samurai-level cooking skills, but engaging that ability to harness your deepest and most authentic emotions in order to make the perfect bowl of soup. Intense, I know, but when it comes to the Japanese and their food, they do not kid around.
In Makati, we are lucky enough to get piping- hot, authentic ramen from Ukkokei Ramen Ron. Not having been to Japan (except for those three-hour stopovers at Narita where I get to stuff my face with tempura udon and sushi), I judge the ramen's authenticity based on the fan base (hard-core food lovers and Japanese expats) and the serious-looking Japanese ramen master behind the see-through kitchen.
The menu is deliberately limited, serving a selection of ramen and a few short order dishes. For the ramen, you can have either of three soup bases- shio (salt-seasoned), shoyu (with soy sauce), or miso (thickened with miso paste). Toppings are mostly pork, seafood and vegetables, not much else.
On my first try, I opted for a shoyu ramen, wanting to try something basic. That already was quite exceptional, with the aromatic and flavorful broth and firm noodles.
However, what got me hooked is the same ramen that has Manila's foodies going gaga- the Tantanmen. This particular ramen's distinct taste is inspired by a noodle dish from the the Szechuan province of China called dandanmien. Apparently, Tantanmen also uses some Chinese ingredients which truly sets it apart from the usual ramen.
Ukkokei's Tantanmen is the first I have ever tried, and like many others, I was immediately smitten. I was captivated by the lingering aroma of sesame upon first whiff. Having a sip of the creamy broth, the miso paste adds a substantial richness to the soup, the flavors of which are a complex mixture of spicy, tangy and garlicky. The little bits of ground pork make this dish even more hearty, as you slurp long strands of perfectly-cooked noodles from the ladle. This dish is heart-stopping, wet dream-inducing delicious. And I do not exaggerate, judging from the number of people I know who try to arrive at exactly 6pm in order to partake of one of the ten bowls of Tantanmen a day that Ukkokei serves.
Taking my cue from other Ukkokei fans, I top my Tantanmen with aji tamago- or soy-seasoned soft boiled eggs. As if the ramen dish is not rich enough, the addition of the aji tamago takes your dining experience from sublime to decadent.
If you are looking for a light, refreshing meal, Tantanmen is not the ramen for you. The thick, rich broth with it's complex flavors and spices is not for the faint of heart. But, i suggest that you do give it a shot. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. Honestly, I almost wish that you wouldn't. That just means more Tantanmen for me.
Ukkokei Ramen Ron
G/F Tesoro Bldg.
Pasay Road, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 856 4588