Hokkaido is one place where I tasted the best of many kinds of food. The seafood was the freshest I’ve seen. The shabu-shabu was the tastiest --- from the raw ingredients up to the soup that remained in the end, that even if we were already full, we poured in some rice then ate off the very big bowl down to the very last drop! And then of course there’s the ramen, the black ramen was the most unique one to date; I haven’t really had the chance to find one since then. So when I was told that there is a ramen place opening in the metro with origins from Hokkaido, I had to check it out.
We came in early, but already Hokkaido Ramen Santouka in Glorietta 4 was filled with activity. We were led to the VIP room where it was quite serene, especially with the sight of an orchid bouquet on a vase. Noise only comes in every time the door opens, which also signals that food is on its way to our long table. While waiting for the freshly cooked dishes to be served, Emily Uy tells us that the love for the brand stemmed from their frequenting the restaurant during their Vancouver days. They want Filipinos to have the same wonderful experience of eating ramen, and so they worked hard to bring it in to the Philippines.
Inside the VIP room
I am very choosy about my ramen because I prefer rice to noodles. However, as soon as the five bowls of different kinds of ramen were laid out before me, I got very excited. The soups all looked very creamy but not oily; they all scream flavor but not too much of it. The aroma was also very inviting that soon after I was digging through each bowl, wanting to know which one I will like best or if I will like all of it.
Chef Koji Kanoi and Emily Uy
To start with, the noodles are all perfectly cooked. Koji Kanoi, Vice President and Chef, shared with us that it is best to consume noodles as soon as they are served. This is the reason why take-out (food to-go) are still not allowed, until they are sure they can come up with an effective system. I added that maybe it is also why the Japanese finish their bowls in a flash. Kanoi chuckled with us, but confirmed the importance of freshly cooked noodles when he requested for a new batch to taste after only less than half an hour of taking photographs of the first batch.
The Shio Ramen (P320, Medium) or the salt flavored soup, is creamy and light but without sacrificing its full bodied flavor. Pickled plum with its sour taste and light crunchy texture is the best possible choice as signature topping for this ramen.
Miso Ramen (P320, Medium) is actually made from a mixture of pork broth and a rich and hearty miso soup. What is most notable is that this one is far, far better than the usual miso soup served in other Japanese restaurants. You know how you get miso soup that comes in a bento box and it’s pretty good when you eat it with all the rest of the other items? Well, the soup of this ramen is a viand in itself and hence can be enjoyed on its own.
For those who like some spice, then it’s a bowl of Kara-miso Ramen (P320, Medium) to the rescue. The spicy flavor is mild to start with, but if you want to up the ante, then just reach out for the condiments and pour out some chili.
Set meal: mixed soup ramen with rice
Finally there’s the newest special Awase-Aji Ramen (P350, set meal), which is a combination of Shio, Shoyu and Miso soup bases. I like the classic line-up already so this one is really for those who want to try something new. There is actually no flavor that stands out of all three. The feeling I get is that in your mind you want your favorite soup base to be the taste of the soup, so why not just order your usual? Unless you really like the entire set, as the set meal comes together nicely.
I personally am definitely coming back for the Shoyu Ramen (P320, Medium). I think fans of adobo will like this soup made from a mixture of pork broth and soy sauce. The char-shu is also simmered in soy sauce, adding another layer of flavor on top of the dried seaweed that is exclusively mixed in with this ramen to create a one-of-a-kind Shoyu soup.
Tokusen Toroniku Ramen
They also serve the rare Tokusen Toroniku Ramen (P430, Medium). Each order is basically a ramen and toppings set. The toppings include Toroniku Cha-shu, which is pork cheek (jowl) meat. We were told that pork cheek meat is very rare since only 200 to 300 grams can be taken from each pig. I don’t eat sisig so finishing a bite was a bit of a challenge for me. But after my first slice, I actually wanted more.
Sake Ikura Gohan
Don’t let the name of the place fool you into thinking that ramen is all they serve. They also have rice bowls, of which the Sake Ikura Gohan (P170) or Grilled Salmon & Salmon Roe Rice Bowl is my top pick. They have many combo sets that are very filling and quite affordable. One of them includes Tori Karaage (P200, solo order).
If a quick snack is all that you came for, then a Char-siu Pao (P100) with a cup of tea that is already included in your order should be able to satisfy you. If you want something heavier, then gobble up a plate of Pork Gyoza (P200). And for that good old Japanese dessert, try some of the Mochi Cream (P75 to 100).
Green tea Japanese Mochi Cream
Mango Japanese Mochi Cream
They told us that one other important thing to remember about good ramen is that you can eat it everyday. Most of those in line outside this newly opened restaurant in Glorietta 4 are Japanese repeat customers, so you know it has to be good. Try it yourself, and perhaps you will end your meal like I did, agreeing that Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is indeed legendary as they claim to be.
Photos by Hermin Belo, additional images courtesy of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.