In Search of the Ultimate Noodle
There’s no more passionate debate about food in Honolulu than between the partisan supporters of each noodle shop.
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Near the end of the meal, the waitress pointed out a small pot amid the condiments. Take off the top and blam!—chopped garlic and red chilis. It improved the kotteri immensely, though it’s hard to imagine any broth that wouldn’t be made less boring by the addition of a similar mix.
McCully Shopping Center // 1960 Kapiolani Blvd // 946-2900 // Mon to Tue, Thurs to Sun Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 5-11 p.m., except Sunday until 9 p.m. Dinner. Closed Wednesday. // Free parking, major credit cards
The restaurant’s called Yotteko-Ya. However, the big sign over the door reads “Kyoto Ramen.” So my friend Ben the Weatherman called me from outside, asking just where we were supposed to meet.
Inside is less confusing. The bright red dining room looks like a restaurant, hanging paper lanterns, tables for four.
We settled in for a few beers and a leisurely dinner, not expecting health food.
You see the word “healthy” on many ramen menus. But Yotteko-ya is the only place that makes an explicit health claim for its soup. After noting that the restaurant’s broth simmered for more than 10 hours with “choicest pork” and “freshest chickens,” the menu asserts, “This meticulous process produces a uniquely thick collagen rich stock that will actually help prevent aging of the skin and joints. So, please enjoy our soup to the last drop and look younger!”
Even though there were only two of us, the promise of renewed youth made us want to order all three available broths.
The waitress refused. “Too much food,” she insisted.
We compromised. If we ordered two bowls of ramen and ate them, then, she grudgingly admitted, she would let us order a third.
The three broths were shoyu, paitan and (after we finished the first two) tonshio. Tonshio is the clearest of ramen broths, it’s usually referred to as “salt-based.” This one at least was powerfully salty. The paitan had the rich cloudy layer from tonkotsu bones.
The winner here was the simplest, the shoyu. “Ah, this tastes like soup that’s been simmered all night on a wood-burning stove,” Ben said.
The char siu was scant, but the toppings were interesting added texture—raw cabbage, sliced black fungus, bean sprouts, blanched broccoli, white sesame seeds.
We enjoyed dinner. Still, I am sad to say, neither of us looked a minute younger at the meal’s end.
255 Beach Walk // 926-0255 // 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily // No parking, major credit cards
Matsugen is different: It’s expensive, it’s in Waikiki, and it serves soba noodles. Soba noodles are nothing more than ramen noodles with the addition of about 30 percent buckwheat flour.
Much has been made of the fact that Matsugen has a station where a chef will occasionally hand-make soba noodles. However, when you calculate how many portions of soba are sold here, it’s quite unlikely they all get made on the premises.