Hokkaido Ramen Festival Is Bringing 18 Ramen Shops to Waikīkī
Every two weeks, a new trio of shops will sell their ramen. Up now: Sanomaru, Tokin and Yukiguni Story.
Direct flights to Hokkaido have yet to resume, but while we patiently wait, a marketing firm called One Cruise Inc. is bringing the famed ramen of Japan’s northern island to fans on O‘ahu. The Hokkaido Ramen Festival is popping up at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Waikīkī with a rotating series of 18 ramen shops. Every two weeks until July 30, three shops will sell their signature bowls in the market’s food court.
The first trio of restaurants that debuted last Friday and are serving up until mid-May are Sapporo Ramen Sanomaru, Niseko Ramen Tokin and Yukiguni Story. Among the many menu items, the headliners are Sapporo’s famous butter corn miso ramen, pork mazemen and Hokkaido scallop yakisoba.
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Frolic contributor and Hokkaido ramen lover Gregg Hoshida joined me on the first day last Friday to conquer a few items we had been lusting over on Instagram. You order at the counter by the window and then exchange your receipts at the corresponding shops.
Fresh off the heat of the teppan grill, Yukiguni Story’s scallop yakisoba ($10) is an immediate winner. Whole scallops burst with buttery meatiness over thick wheat noodles fried with sliced potatoes, corn, wood ear mushrooms, garlic and loads of black pepper with a hint of shoyu. The freshness of the thin veggies and tender, juicy scallops make it a must. This is Yukiguni’s only offering, and you can add more scallops ($4.85) and noodles ($2) to amp it up.
Niseko Ramen Tokin
Niseko Ramen Tokin has three sesame miso ramen options and the Niseko mazemen ($10), a brothless noodle you mix with the sauce that’s at the bottom of the bowl. They also have fried chicken wings ($6.50), chicken karaage ($6.50) and chashu onigiri ($3.85) on the side. The mazemen is generous in size and flavor. A hint of heat creeps up after a few bites, but the oiliness eventually coats your palate. Ground pork, diced raw onions, chives, scallions and crispy garlic fan out around a golden egg yolk over a thick mess of noodles. You mix everything together before tucking in.
Although it’s big and fluffy, skip the chashu onigiri. The rice, a nanatsuboshi from Hokkaido, is delicious and seasoned, but the chashu filling is flavorless and lacking. We used the rice to mop up the leftover sauce and meat in the mazemen.
Sapporo Ramen Sanomaru
Sanomaru’s miso butter corn ramen ($14), our final bowl, takes approximately 30 minutes longer to prepare. According to posts by the festival, Sanomaru permanently closed after 13 years in business, and this is the first time its ramen is available again. The soup, a combination of rich chicken and tonkotsu broths with miso, is topped with fresh corn, bamboo shoots, chashu pork and a knob of butter. It’s an iconic bowl from Sapporo and one of the best out there. The flavors of pork bone and miso are delicately pronounced and enriched with creamy butter.
Compared to local ramen shops, the prices are very reasonable, with most bowls hovering around $10. The catch: Food is served in takeout containers rather than heat-retaining ceramic bowls. If you eat fast, it’s not an issue. Parking is validated for an hour at International Market Place; just ask for a sticker after paying.
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Keep an eye on the festival’s website and Instagram page for the next group of restaurants. After the full tour in Hawai‘i wraps up, the festival will head to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Los Angeles for a second run.
Daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., 2330 Kalākaua Ave., Level 2, hokkaido-ramen-festival.com, @hokkaidoramenfest2023