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Top of the Town – Ramen in Hong Kong

Top of the Town – Ramen in Hong Kong

If the rainy May days have you California dreaming of a vacation and looking at holiday booking websites, you are not alone. I have been craving Kyoto-style abura soba ramen and wish I could just hop on a flight, pronto. Japanese ramen is such a personal thing, and there are different influences and varieties from different regions of Japan; you have salty miso ramen from Sapporo; you have Tokyo style with thinner noodles in dark colored soy-chicken broth; and what about Hakata ramen, which is rich and creamy broth that comes with thin and al-dente noodles? Whatever your preferences, we can all agree that a perfect ramen consists of three elements: a perfectly made and cohesive broth, a soft and silky Japanese boiled egg, and some crunchy and fresh toppings to add layers and texture of flavors. While there are lots of places where you can slurp and burp, I am going to share with you the top of my list for your next craving fix:

Shugetsu

If you have been to Noho, you will know there are quite a few quiet streets which are perfect for an afternoon stroll (or tap-dancing in the rain) and Shugetsu is located on one of them, Gough Street. Just looking at the woody exterior I was reminded of a rustic, traditional ramen house. I walked in and was greeted by Suyi, marketing manager and their executive chef Takashima Yoshihiro, who shared some of their secrets of making the perfect bowl of Ehime style ramen.

What’s in it?
Chef prepared their signature Shugetsu ramen with pork belly, spring onion and Japanese soft boiled egg, as well as their signature unique tsukemen.

Tender pork at ShugetsuTender pork at Shugetsu

What’s the highlight?
Whenever you have ramen, the best way to appreciate the depth of flavor is always taste each ingredient separately, before mixing them all together for a gastronomic explosion. I went ahead and scooped a spoonful of their homemade chicken broth. The flavors were rich, but light at the same time, with layers of intriguing flavor. There was a hint of seafood and the whole broth has a creamy finish. The broth itself is sweet and has a lingering hint of soy sauce and umami. There is a perfect reason to the slight bitterness and you have to wait until you try everything with the broth together. It is a rollercoaster of sapor in your mouth! The ramen itself is freshly made, the pork belly is tender and sweet and augments, rather than dominates, the dish. The ramen noodles are all handmade every day and aged for 24 hours using Kagama flour imported from Japan for the perfect density. The noodles have a satisfying slight chewy and crunchy texture.

You will also find a dish which are common in Japan but rare in Hong Kong: Tsukemen. Tsukemen is a Japanese dipping noodle. The noodles are served either cold or hot, depending on your preference, along with a separate bowl of sauce. The art of eating these noodles is no joke. There are instruction cards in the restaurants which teach you how to appreciate it the way they do in Japan. So next time when you order tsukemen, be sure to first taste the noodles on their own, before dipping them into the sauce. I prefer the noodles cold as the cold temperature highlights the textures and truly brings out the flavor of the flour they use. Then you can go ahead and dip the noodles in the aromatic vinaigrette. When you are done with the noodles, their attentive staff will come to you with their homemade chicken broth and pour into the sauce and, voila! The sauce is now turned into a bowl of hearty soup which you can enjoy as the finale. The tsukemen is like a Kinder egg to a ramen fanatic like myself, 3 surprises all in 1!

Bouncy cold noodlesTsuketsu, enjoy the bouncy cold noodles with the hot broth

What’s the secret?
Chef Takashima went on to explain that their shugetsu broth is made in-house with chicken bones and is slow cooked for 6 hours daily. Then he adds soy sauce and fish powder to deepen the flavors of the broth. The cooking process continues by adding scallop powder and scallop oil for another 40 minutes. The scallop oils and powder merges everything cohesively to create this soulful broth.

Ramen at TsuketsuSilky smooth yolk inside their Japanese soft boiled egg

What sets them apart?
Dedication to the art of ramen and quality control from the master chef Takashima san. Every day he makes around 200 litres of soup to serve his hungry customers. Seeing his undying passion for ramen, you will be surprised that he was not always a ramen chef. At the age of 20, he decided to start his own business which would lead him closer to his origin and culture. He quit his day job, went to work for a sake company in Japan, so just he could be closer to home and was offered an opportunity to be in the ramen business. He fell in love with ramen and spent the next few years learning and perfecting ramen making. Thankfully this led him to Hong Kong to open a Shugetsu franchise.

Why we love it?
Unlike most ramen restaurants in Hong Kong which offer pork bone broth, Shugetsu’s broth is made entirely with chicken bones and is a refreshing take on ramen broth. I would be happily just have the broth on its own! Chef emphasized that he wants to bring new tastes and flavors to the market. He wants to present something traditional in Japan, but unique for his Hong Kong customers.
Address: 5 Gough Street Central.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/shugetsu

Butao

Next I am going to take you up to Wellington Street of Central, and I am sure most of you have seen the queue outside this cozy joint. Butao is famous for their intense, aromatic broths and their interpretations of Hakata ramen. Hataka ramen comes from Kyushu and famed for the rich broth. I dodged the rain and sat by their bar side, enjoyed a lovely chat with their talented ramen specialist Ka Wai and marketing manager Franky.

What’s in it?
Ka Wai prepared their on-demand Black King ramen with minced pork, sliced pork, spring onion, black fungi mushrooms and a Japanese boiled egg.

Minced pork with black garlic oilMinced pork with black garlic oil in the middle of Black King.

What’s the highlight?
Their Black King is not for the faint of heart. It’s rich, intense and the depth of flavors was electrifying! I have been eating at Butao since they opened on Wo On Lane, and have always stuck with their original, signature pork broth ramen. But the Black King is a vampire-proof twist to ramen broth, since it has added black squid ink and their secret black garlic oil. As soon as I tasted the soup, my face lit up and I couldn’t praise highly enough how powerful the flavors were. While the Black King keeps the flavors of their original pork broth, there is a wave from the sea from the squid ink. Ka Wai shared that while their pork broth is fresh made every day and requires a 12-hour cooking process. I kept digging into soup, spoonful after spoonful. Then I reminded myself I should be moving on to the ramen. Their ramen was thin and it was cooked perfectly. It was not doughy like some, and absorbed the soup nicely without becoming soggy. The minced pork on top might be salty to some, but if you stir it In, you will find the balance. Their pork was tender and not dry at all. What makes theirs different is that they sous-vide their char shu, at a low temperature, to maintain the flavors and tenderness. The highlight came in when Ka Wai cut the soft boiled egg open for me. I was surprised it came as a whole instead of 2 half already split. He asked if I was ready, then he cut through the egg, releasing the soft vibrant yolk! The egg itself was sweet, tender and scarcely marinated so it blended with the other ingredients as a whole dish. Ka Wai told me that some people even visit the noodle shop just for the egg.

What’s the secret?
Why is the broth black you asked? It’s because of the black squid ink Butao adds in the broth along with their secret in house black garlic oil. This Black King has an intensive garlic flavor which does not overwhelm the whole dish. The crispy fried garlic bits on top added a crunchy texture to the dish. Their eggs are perfectly runny. All the eggs are cooked for 5 minutes and then immediately put into an ice bucket to cool down and maintained at 4 degrees Celsius to create the custardy texture of the yolk.

Butao' Black KingCustardy yolk running through as chef cuts the egg

What sets them apart?
Since their first shop opened in 2010, Butao has been beloved by Hong Kong ramen fanatics and has become a ramen restaurant to be reckoned with amongst food lovers. There is a reason behind this: the continual love of ramen their owner and staff have. Their in-house Japanese executive chef Hoshi san, oversees quality daily to make sure everything that goes out the pass meets their standards. While chatting with Ka Wai, the ramen specialist, I can sense his dedication to Japanese culture and its food. The spark of flame came when realized how much he loves ramen and wanted to learn from the best. So he flew to Tokyo and landed a job at a famous ramen pioneer, where he started at the bottom and learnt everything from scratch. After mastering the ramen making skills and techniques, he came back to Hong Kong and became the soul of Butao’s kitchen.

Butao To GoBtuButao To Go for your midnight snack- pork is included!

Why we love it?
The team at Butao definitely knows how to look after their customers: Butao to go. If you don’t want to wait in line, queue up, and want to slurp as your heart desires, you can do so by getting their Butao to eat in the comfort of your home. The box comes with the packaged broth, ramen and ingredients and all you have to do is heat it up. In less than a minute, you will have a bowl of their original butao ramen, ideal for when your stomach calls for a ramen fix at 3am in the morning.
Address: 69 Wellington Street, Central.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/butaoramenhk

Nagahama No.1

Last but not least, I headed to Kau Yu Fong, one of my ramen temples over the past two years, to enjoy Nagahama No.1. Whenever I visit Nagahama, I always see chef and co-owner Yamazaki Tsutomu behind the kitchen cooking. So today I was joined by Chef and his partner in cuisine and in life, Leslie. They were excited to share their restaurateur story.

What’s in it?
Chef Yamazaki prepared their Tamago Ramen in tonkotsu broth with Japanese soft boiled egg, and their Spicy Miso Ramen with roasted pork, spring onion and seaweed.

Tamago RamenSpicy Miso Ramen with roasted pork, spring onion and seaweed

What’s the highlight?
Let’s start with the tamago ramen. Like the previous two restaurants, their broth is fresh made every day. Their tonkotsu broth is rich, creamy with the natural sweetness from the pork bones. The spring onion adds freshness and vibrancy to the bowl. The bitterness of the ramen flour matches with the velvety broth and the ingredients beautifully. The pork belly was not fatty, and is soft enough to disintegrate in your mouth. The soft boiled eggs are made in house daily. The seaweed is placed on the side so it won’t become soggy the minute the ramen arrives your table. The whole dish managed to transport me to a bamboo grove; the drone of the city became a mockingbird humming gently in the rain of spring; the dish was beautiful, gradual, and soothing. The spicy miso ramen is also a new option for me. I am usually wary of spice which might detract from the flavor of a ramen, so this was the first time I tried their spicy miso. However, the spiciness was both warming and complimentary to the creaminess of the dish. It won’t burn and numb your tongue like a Vindaloo, but it definitely satisfying your longing for a chili or two.

classic Spicy Miso RamenElegant and classic Spicy Miso Ramen at Nagahama No.1

What’s the secret?
The broth is made with pure pork bones and cooked for 10 hours to build the flavors each day. Chef has a high standard when it comes to the ramen as he wants to keep the authenticity of ramen. After he travelled around Japan and tasted over 100 ramens, he waddled back and created his very own. The wife and business manager, Leslie says, despite the size of their kitchen, they make sure that they cook enough broth to serve their returning customers. They also have passed on their cooking secrets to one of the trusted chefs so in case Yamazaki san is away for business, someone will have all the knowledge to take over and ensure the quality is maintained.

Tamago RamenDon’t forget to ask for the pork belly that melts in your mouth

What sets them apart?
Sticking to tradition for its authenticity is what set Nagahama No.1 apart. Despite being a franchise, the quality control is spot on. I feel at ease and know that there is a Japanese chef behind the kitchen handling my noodles, I know that I am getting myself some authentic, nostalgic noodling time.

Why we love it?
This is a small restaurant filled with heart work. Run by the power couple, the restaurant is cozy and on a busy day, you might have to wait to get a seat. But their food is worth the wait. They emphasize and celebrate only a few items on the menu but they do everything right. Nagahama No.1 promises the delivery of quality and purity of its food.
Address: G/F, 14, Kau Yu Fong, Central.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nagahama.no1.ramen.hk

Follow this link to find more Ramen options from your neighbourhood restaurants.

Additional recommendations:

Yachiyo Ramen
3/F, Soho Square, 21 Lyndhurst Tce, Central, 2815 5766; facebook.com/yachiyoramen

Ramen Jo
3 Caroline Hill Rd, Causeway Bay, 2885 0638; ramen-jo.com.

Hakodate Japanese Restaurant
Shop B, 11 Hoi Kwung St, Quarry Bay, 2562 8706; facebook.com/ramen.hakodate

Kamitora Ramen
23 Amoy St, Wan Chai, 2808 0635;facebook.com/kamitora.ramen.at.wanchai

Ichiran
Lockhart House Block B, 440-446 Jaffe Rd. Causeway Bay

Ramen Iroha
G/Floor, 7 Haven Street, Causeway Bay 

azurelorraine
Azure Lorraine |
Contributing Editor

Azure Lorraine is an adventurous food and life lover from sunny Cali. She enjoys writing about anything from food, lifestyle to mindfulness. Follow her scrumptious and vibrant journey around the world on Instagram @azuyuzu852.

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Article Written By Team foodpanda

5 Comments

  1. Fred

    Good article, but missing a KEY point.

    Do any of these ramen achieve their flavour without the use of MSG? Many people are MSG intolerant, plus, a good MSG-free broth is far harder to achieve and demonstrates the skill of the chef.

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