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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ramen Virgin's Plunge

Technically, I can't really claim virginity as far as ramen is concerned. I have (vague) memories of having had this noodle dish (with no broth, though) as far back as my elementary school years. Besides, I wouldn't want to risk guffaws if I was to claim I was a virgin anything.

I am, however, a novice where the recent surge of ramen places all over Metro Manila is concerned. What confirmed my late arrival to the ramen party: I actually saw lists for 2013 declaring the Top 5 (even 10!) Ramen Places in Manila!

As they say, better ramen than never.

Having decided to meet at the East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza without a firm commitment as to where we were parking our taste buds, my friends Liza, Malyn and Winnie decided to let our feet and eyes make the decision.

Not wanting to go for something heavy like steak, we were on the lookout for lighter fare. Malyn then suggested we settle on Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen, as the place usually has a line outside (which was strangely absent that Thursday evening).

I excused myself to wash my hands and came back to find this served at our table.

Edamame, or before-they-harden, young soybeans, blanched or boiled then salted. Liza was the first to react: "That's what it is? I keep hearing about edamame this, edamame that, and it's all the rage in the States...and this is it?"

While we initially dismissed it (I thought of it as a less appealing version of peanuts), we ended up finishing the entire bowl. (Feel free to draw your own conclusions.)

I was thankful that the menu had descriptions of the various tonkotsu ramen, and I instantly gravitated towards one entry: Black Garlic Tonkotsu. (380 Pesos) I was curious because a black garlic usually means you burned it (though it was described as having black garlic oil, along with charsiu/pork, green onions, wood ear mushrooms, and bamboo shoots) so I went for it if only to see how this would be translated.

It turned out to be what Malyn and Liza ordered as well. Only Winnie ordered a different ramen, one that was featured in their "new" section, described as a spice experience.

Tonkotsu broth is liquid that is simmered from bones, bone marrow, fat, and other parts, a quick peek online reveals. Before we had time to discuss what that means, our orders arrived.

It looked exactly like the picture in the menu, but I was not prepared for what assaulted my taste buds a few seconds later.

It didn't look heavy but the liquid was creamy, and yet it wasn't cloying (nakakasuya) because it enticed you to take one more sip. And another. And another.

We were sure it wasn't because of milk, gata, or any other milk substitute, and we concluded (correctly) that this was the end product of dissolving all those delicious parts described in our online search earlier. (If you are vegan, you will probably recoil at the description. As a good friend said, more for us, then.)

I remember our server asking how we wanted our noodles. Winnie asked for her recommendation and she proposed "hard" so that the noodles would be al dente. It was the right texture to stand up to and carry the immense flavors swirling in our mouths that instant.

I'm not really a ramen connoisseur (again, think virgin, cough, cough) and I have to admit that the real reason it took me so long to take part of the ramen-mania was that other than sinigang, I was hard pressed to imagine any soup dish as the dish, often thinking of it as the foreplay to the entrée.

But this mélange of rich, hearty flavors certainly opened by eyes - and mouth - to the wonderful world that local foodies have been raving over for quite some time. Ikkoryu Fukuoka has set the bar - for me, since this is my first (okay, I'll stop harping on the virgin line now) - and I'm afraid this signifies a closer inspection on what the other ramen places are serving and how they compare to the first time.

Okay, now I'm done with the virgin references.

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