Hot soups made for Slurping

Much like the Filipino adobo, Japanese ramen is a specialty that varies from each of its regions. Hokkaido uses miso broth, while Honshu broth is made from pork and sardines. These have been sold in stalls through the years, the equivalent of western fast food joints.

In Fukuoka, the stalls offer a type of ramen called Tonkotsu, where the noodles are straight thin noodles served with a steaming rich, creamy pork broth that is the result of boiling pork bones for several hours with several seasonings to ensure an umami-heavenly hearty flavor.

To enjoy this noodle dish, one does not have to travel 2310 Kilometers from Manila to Fukuoka in Japan. Manileños simply have to follow the hordes of foodies who are eagerly lining up to get a taste of this tasty soup treat at a quiet nook inside the Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong City. The place is almost always packed, and the restaurant's marketing staff, Riza Meriado, even revealed that they served around 640 bowls of ramen last Father's Day - not bad for a decorative wood-plank flanked restaurant with a seating capacity of 50-60 at the most.

The secret is in the soup. Y.S. Food Group CEO and restaurant founder Masanori Ogata stuck to the traditional way of preparing the Fukuoka broth in his home prefect of Chikuho in the Kyushu region. Ikkoryu's chefs boil pork bones for hours on end to achieve that same creamy quality that is the trademark of their specialty ramen. This soup is seasoned with a special secret soy sauce, also prepared for several painstaking hours, tasked to give the broth not only its flavor but an enticing aroma.

The noodles are something special, too. They are not soggy, but full to the bite, freshly-made with flour that is imported from Japan. Orders would differ according to the toppings and extras that the diners would prefer, but the noodles and the broth base would remain unchanged. Another element to each bowl would be the tender Chashu Roast Pork, which rounds off the taste and texture of each hearty serving - except for those who opt for the vegetable-topped option, that is.

Among the ramen options on the menu are the basic Original Tonkotsu, topped with Chashu, green onion, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, and nori; and the Ajitama Tonkotsu, seasoned with the flavorful soy sauce and topped with an exquisite half-boiled egg that is prepared using Ogata's original secret recipe. Those who want a bit of a kick can order the Spicy Tobanjan, distinct among the ramen choices with its red tinge owing to the use of Tobanjan or chili bean paste. In contrast, the rave-worthy Black Garlic Tonkotsu has a dark broth, intriguingly yummy with its flavoring made with a special roast garlic oil.

There is a special etiquette involved in enjoying ramen, and the restaurant's menu encourages us Pinoys to give it a try instead of the usual attack tactics that we are used to when it comes to eating really good food. The particular steps involve taking time to savor the soup and awaken the senses before digging in. The first step is to inhale the rich aroma in anticipation of the first taste, followed by gently taking a small spoonful of soup and indulging in an appreciative sip.

Next comes the time to try the noodles, slurping it up with a distinctive "zu-zu-zu" sound - which is actually considered courteous in Japan. Seasoning may then be added, it says, to enhance the experience, and these come in the form of powdered sesame seeds or red pickles, which are a trademark of Chikuho style of eating. Then, as the bowl is emptied, the last few drops can be reserved for eating the remaining broth with rice. All in all, the process is said to take about 15 to 20 minutes.

Of course, it would not be a real Pinoy meal with the absence of side dishes and Ikkoryu offers these as well. Good choices for kids would be the Crispy Karaage Chicken and Potato Croquettes. The Gyoza and Harumaki Spring Rolls are also worth a try. While Japanese cuisine is not particularly known for its desserts, this restaurant offers several choices, such as the chef-recommended Mushi Pudding and various kinds of ice creams.

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen is located at Level 5 East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Edsa cor. Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong. Call 477-8333. Special note: the restaurant does not allow delivery or take-out.

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