The ramen joint is becoming a ubiquitous sight all over Metro Manila. Although it hasn’t reached Milk Tea proportions yet, we can surmise it’s getting close to Mongolian Barbecue and Comfort Food levels.
When Ramen Yushoken first unveiled its sign back in December 2012, many people, myself included, wrote it off. It was next to a long-time favorite Japanese restaurant chain (southerners will know that it was the singular establishment that kept the now-demolished Casa Susanna relevant). And it was devoted to ramen, a dish so deceptively simple that many local establishments just get it so wrong. Personally, I believe the reason I was never a ramen enthusiast was because I was served so many bad bowls in the past.
Visit this ramen place in Molito along Madrigal Avenue, Alabang
My indifference disappeared when I heard Elbert Cuenca was one of the people behind the Yushoken. Word on the street was that he and his partners even got a master ramen maker from Japan running the kitchen.
When I finally got to try Yushoken, I had to wait for about 20 minutes to get in. It was prime lunch hour and despite the summer heat, hungry patrons packed the 52-seater restaurant for a steaming bowl of noodles and broth.
The ramen shop is a no-fuss affair, starting with the assertive greetings from the staff (no sing-song ma’am-sirs here) and the restrained interiors: ocean-blue walls with lots of natural wood and creamy white accents. The paper placemat that they give you also serves as the menu, and contains straightforward descriptions and instructions on what to expect about the food and how to eat it. They even squeezed in a background on ramen and establish Yushoken’s ties with one of the best ramen masters in Japan: Kazuo Yamagishi. In case you’re interested on how he looks like, he’s the blue Buddha-like figure next to Astroboy on the shop’s shelves. According to the placemat text, Mr. Yamagishi’s protégé Koji Tashiro himself trained Yushoken’s entire staff to reach the high standards of Japanese ramen shops. Currently, the shop is under the responsibility of another noted ramen-maker Hideo Aoyama, who reputedly has a “golden tongue”. I must have spent a few minutes perusing the menu itself. When I was done, I felt pretty confident about my order and how exactly the shop expected me to eat and enjoy it.
Ramen Yushoken 101
While the restaurant frowns on sharing bowls of noodles, you could just taste each of the flavors when dining with others. If you are a first-timer, I would recommend that you go with a bunch of friends and order the different kinds to really appreciate the quality of the ramen. Shio (P320) is salt-based taré (base sauce), while Shoyu (P350) has soy sauce; Tantanmen (P380) is a spicy sesame-paste concoction, and lastly Miso (P380) is the popular soybean-paste sauce. Each bowl is topped with tender slices of pork, green onions, nori, and bamboo shoots. All of the ingredients add a layer of delightful flavor, including the very pungent bamboo. All the broths are very rich, intensely flavored, and have a creaminess that can be attributed to the 12-hour boiled pork-bone sauce present in all of the different ramen flavors.
For refined carb-lovers, Yushoken features freshly made noodles and Gyoza wrappers. The noodle-making area is given its own space where passers-by can glimpse the process. As per the informative placemat, the noodles and wrappers are made from flour and kansui or alkaline water sourced from Japan. The resulting noodles are thicker and chewier than in most other local ramen places. You can really appreciate them when you order the Tsukemen ramens: the pork-bone Tonkotsu (P390) and seafood Gyokai (P390). Note that the aforementioned Mr. Yamagishi invented Tsukumen ramen, so ordering this style of ramen in Yushoken is a must. Tsukumen ramen separates the noodles from the thickened broth, and you eat it by dipping the noodles and coating them with the sauce. This keeps the noodles al dente throughout your meal!
Side dishes that are also worth a try are the juicy Karaage (P210) or fried boneless chicken, and the aforementioned Gyoza (P150).
Most local restaurants are not really designed for solo diners, but Ramen Yushoken was modeled after typical ramen shops in Japan that are frequented by busy office-workers and students with an aversion to inefficiency. The bar area is a great place to sit as you can focus on slurping your ramen and downing shots of sake. Each chair has its own set of condiments, water jug, and box of chopsticks (Yushoken doesn’t provide any other utensil. Learn or leave hungry). While waiting for your order, you have a view of the open kitchen, which is kept very clean by a very well trained staff.
Is Ramen Yushoken the best ramen place in the metro? Opinions will definitely vary. Whether it’s a few blocks or the entire length of EDSA, many people seem to deem it worth the drive!