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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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That doesn’t mean they aren’t good noodles. Soba’s often served cold, on a bamboo tray. The noodles shouldn’t arrive dry, though Matsugen’s are wetter than I’d prefer, glistening with the cold water that arrests the cooking. Normally, you want just enough residual water to keep noodles from sticking together.

You wet down soba with tsuyu, a dipping sauce of dashi, mirin, sweetened shoyu. Good as the classic tsuyu is here, there’s also a sesame alternative (marked “goma” on the menu), reminiscent of tantan broth, which I enjoyed even more.

Matsugen also serves a hot soba, ramen style, in a thinner version of its dashi-based dipping sauce. Order the Kamonan, which comes topped with duck breast. This was perhaps the best bowl of noodles I have ever tasted, though I am sure I was swayed by the six perfect slices of duck. It was also, at $17.80, the most expensive, since a bowl of ramen in Honolulu typically costs about $8.


Taishoken
903 Keeaumoku St. Suite c101a // 955-8860 //  Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.  // Limited free parking behind restaurang, enter on Liona St. // Cash only

We’d been eating a lot of high-end ramen, so we found that the ramen in broth at Taishoken uninspiring. The shoyu was too light. The pirikata, the hot version, wasn’t at all like tantan. It didn’t warm you with sesame oil, it just shrieked at you with red pepper.

However, Taishoken specializes in tsukemen. Tsukemen is  ramen noodles served cold, with a bowl of hot soup on the side. The dipping broths are thicker than a ramen broth, a little more like a sauce than a soup. The local-style curry is particularly hearty, with chunks of beef, carrot and onion.

And the noodles—oh Lord, they were long, thick, al dente. That makes them an adventure to eat—lift with chopsticks, dip in soup, navigate to the mouth. But they were great noodles—chewy, yet yielding to the bite.

There’s a noodle making station in the restaurant—empty and clean. I’d apply a certain amount of skepticism to any claim that a ramenya in Honolulu makes its own noodles.

But, if I were you, I’d be far less skeptical about my claim that, served cold, these are some of the best ramen noodles I’ve ever tasted.

It took me a lot of noodling to get here.                    
 

John Heckathorn has been writing restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984. In 2007, he won a bronze medal from the City and Regional Magazine Association for his food writing.

 

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,July

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