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Here’s the Story Behind 2018 Hale ‘Aina Award-Winner Agu Ramen’s Hot Mess

How Parmesan and ramen got together.


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For ramen purists, the idea of pairing a pristine bowl of ramen with an ingredient like Parmesan cheese is downright scandalous. But when chef Hisashi “Teddy” Uehara added the Innovative Hot Mess ($17) to Agu Ramen Bistro’s menu, he started a new tradition without really trying.

 

The Japanese owner and head chef at Agu Ramen Bistro talks about cooking ramen with enthusiasm and love. But with the Hot Mess, he sounds a bit puzzled. “To be honest with you, I never meant to make this dish,” he says. The inspiration came from makanai ryori, a Japanese term for food made by kitchen workers for them to eat while they work, using ingredients that might otherwise go to waste. Uehara is a fan of Parmesan cheese, so he threw it in a bowl of extra-rich kotteri ramen and served it to his staff. He added rice, because why not? The result: his version of risotto.

 

“It tasted so good and I figured, you know what? Let’s add noodles,” says Uehara.

 

It’s been a hit with locals, whose palates are more accustomed to mixing and matching, he says, although Japanese natives initially turn up their noses. “But in the end, once they try it, they’re in love,” says Uehara. Many customers order a bowl of rice and extra Parmesan cheese after they’re done with the Hot Mess. They add it and create their own custom risotto-esque dish. And so, a new tradition is born.

 

Agu Ramen

Photo: Steve Czerniak


Garlic broth

That alarmingly deep black garlic oil takes up to 48 hours to make. The garlic is slow cooked in lard to achieve that dark color. If it’s cooked too hot, it’ll burn. Next, more sliced garlic, ginger and green onion are added to the mix. Once the liquid cooks down, the whole thing settles for one day. The next day, chefs throw it into the blender until it forms a fine thin oil, which is then squeezed through cheesecloth.

 

Char siu

Slow-cooked pork belly, with a sauce made of sake, mirin and soy sauce. It takes more than two hours, and meat and sauce are cooled in the refrigerator for another 36 to 48 hours.

 

Aji tamago

Ramen needs a soft-boiled egg. In order to get that slurpable yolk, Uehara boils the egg for between 6 minutes and 15 seconds to 7 minutes. The timing depends on the freshness and size of the egg.

 

Broth basics

While some ramen shops add vegetables or chicken to their kotteri broth, Uehara sticks to the porky basics of pig head, femur and foot bones—and that’s it. The bones go into the pot with water boiled stovetop on high heat at more than 400 degrees. The boiling continues for up to 24 hours, resulting in a remarkably thick rich broth.

 

Carbs

The firm, chewy noodles are specially made by Sun Noodle, which follows a secret recipe provided by Uehara.

 

Frills

Bamboo shoots, local green onion, sesame seeds and fried garlic chips add textural variety.

 

The twist

Fresh Parmesan cheese is grated in a heap atop the ramen bowl. The cheese gently melts into the broth and between the noodles as you eat.

 

Agu Ramen Bistro, multiple locations, aguramen.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY MARIA KANAI

 

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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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