by Sol Vanzi
The most popular Japanese food in the world is neither sushi nor sashimi, but ramen noodles, which are the embodiment of Japan’s rich culture and history. Ramen’s origins, embellished with legends and folklore, span Japan’s centuries of isolationism and expansion, war devastation, recovery and reconstruction, and world economic domination.
Today the simple dish of noodle, broth, meat, and vegetables is finally getting the recognition it deserves: It is the subject of books, documentaries, scholarly dissertations, TV shows, and exhibits. In Japan, there are even museums dedicated to everything ramen, which are always filled to capacity.
At any given moment, millions of bowls of ramen are being consumed around the world; soyed or curried, in broth or sauce, with spices or without.
THE GREAT EQUALIZER — Ramen transcends race and class. It is eaten in refugee centers, posh homes, five-star hotels, luxury liners, train stations, and now in artisanal noodle bistros trending among gadget-lugging Millennials and food bloggers in world capitals: New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Manila.
Yes, high-end ramen is sweeping our shores, showing up at malls and hotel lobbies everywhere. We recently checked out one ramen specialty restaurant and understood why ramen, the ultimate comfort food, is here to stay.
HISTORICAL RAMEN FAMILY — We chose a restaurant that’s steeped in ramenlore. Originating in Fukuoka, Japan, Uma Uma Ramen has more than 60 years of ramen-making experience.
Uma Uma Ramen’s name stems from “Wu Maru,” a ramen shop established in 1953 by the father of Uma Uma Ramen’s current president Masahiko Teshima. Upon taking over the business in 1994, “Wu Maru” was renamed “Uma Uma Ramen,” a play on the original name of the restaurant as well as a pun on the Japanese word for “tasty.”
Needless to say, its diverse ramen menu features MSG-free dishes built around an age-old family recipe, in addition to traditional ones found in most izakayas of Japan.
PINOY TWIST — We visited the chain’s second branch at Uptown Parade, Bonifacio Global City for the introduction of its localized ramen—aligue (crab) dry ramen, which is redolent of the sweet and fresh taste of the sea. Instead of floating in Tonkotsu broth, the firm noodles are bathed with a thick creamy sauce richly flavored with generous amounts of yellow fat from hundreds of small female crabs called talangka.
It was very satisfying to think of the hundreds of housewives in Bulacan and Pampanga processing millions of small crabs during the rainy season to produce this uniquely Filipino ingredient, which is now exported worldwide.
The aligue blended well with the restaurant’s broth, as the chef had planned.
“It was in our plans to release a ramen inspired by local flavors. Aligue was one of the ingredients that caught our chef’s (Satoshi Nakamura) attention. He first did a ramen broth flavored with aligue, which was pretty good but still did not convince him as a chef. He then experimented making it as a dry Ramen, which turned out to be one of the best experiments that has come out of Uma Uma PH’s kitchen,” explains Russell Yu, director of Iki Concepts Singapore, operator of Uma Uma.
MORE TO COME — Over lunch, people behind the restaurant could not hide their excitement over other ramen possibilities, such as opening early enough to offer ramen breakfast to call center workers whose shifts begin or end at 6 a.m.
What I am looking forward to is another Pinoy tweak. Perhaps ramen using salted duck eggs?
Uma Uma Ramen at Uptown Parade is open from 11a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays to Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays