I knew it wouldn’t take very long after watching the film The Ramen Girl that I’d be on the hunt once again for that “perfect bowl” of ramen. Which landed me this time around at Kiwami Ramen in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. The restaurant is located in the food court in the basement, just an escalator down from bustling Kalakaua avenue…
Here’s the shop front…
That man sitting there is Hans “Takamiyama” Franz, the Grand Master Ramen Chef from Austria. Nah, just kidding. lol He’s just hangin’ out in the food court.
The shop’s decor is similar to Goma Tei, with an asian-inspired, clean contemporary look and feel…
Also similar to Goma Tei, there’s a split counter where the server tends the customers from the center aisle, along with private tables on the side. When it comes to Ramen shops, I much prefer eating at the counter, as I feel more “immersed” in the experience.
Here’s the menu on the shop window, which is all in Nihongo (Japanese language)…
Instead of a plastic food display that you usually find in front of Japanese restaurants, Kiwami Ramen has beautifully photographed posters of their most popular dishes…
Chef Yasuyoshi Sato was there in the kitchen at the time of my visit, so I was confident that the ramen being served was made to his exact specifications. My friendly server girl who I had a nice conversation with about all things ramen mentioned that the former owner of Daruma Ramen (remember them?) was there in the kitchen talking with Chef Sato. Apparently they’re friends, as she said he’s there almost every evening at 9:30pm. I’d like to ask if he’d consider reopening Daruma, which I still think was one of the best ramen shops to exist this side of Japan.
Several Yelp users recommended Kiwami’s Tsukemen, or “Dip Noodle” like you see in the poster above. Which sounds great, but since this was my first time at Kiwami, I had to go with my standard “gauge bowl” as an introduction, so I ordered the Shoyu Ramen, opting for the ‘Thick Noodle’ style…
Ah, oishisou (looks delicious)!
“Thick Noodle’ style you say? Hai, as Kiwami’s ramen noodle is available in two gauges of thickness. I have yet to see or try the non-thick noodle, and I was expecting the ‘Thick Noodle’ to be like Udon, but it turned out being more like spaghetti in gauge.
Wait, now before I lift a spoon or chopsticks, from the film The Ramen Girl, I must make note of Chef Maezumi’s “ramen philosophy 101″…
A bowl of Ramen is a self-contained universe. With life from the sea, the mountains and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen. Understand? So with that in mind, observe the ramen. Observe the ramen. — Chef Maezumi
I’m looking at it. Looking at it. Looking at it. Smelling it. Absorbing its ichinen (life force).
O.K., I’m ready now. Hai, Itadakimasu (let’s eat)!
First let’s have a taste of the most important part of all, the broth…
Whoah, Oishii yo! Excellent, excellent, excellent. We’re off to a GREAT start!
According to their website, the broth is made with chicken. “Chicken feet and fruits are boiled together for over 5 hours. Since we use the whole chicken, it contains lots of collagen and it makes the soup taste very mild.” Interesting. I’m used to pork-based ramen broth, and I was admittedly skeptical of it being made any other way, but I’m now convinced a chicken-based ramen broth can be just as tasty.
As you can see, there’s an abundant amount of chicken fat floating in the broth, which of course adds plenty of flavor and a wonderful, silky texture to the noodles as they slip through the surface. I did taste just a little hint of sweetness thanks to the fruits I suppose. Choto sweet, and very hearty, with enough complexity about it to know you’re not going to be able to duplicate this broth at home anytime soon.
Now let’s try the ‘Thick Noodle’…
Really nice body and substance to it thanks to the added thickness. It was cooked perfectly katame (al dente), and as mentioned earlier, had a wonderful silky, texture thanks to the globules of chicken fat in the broth kissing it as it leaves the bowl.
Now let’s try the Charshu (Roast Pork)…
Ding-ding-ding, we have another winner! A nicely-browned edge, with all the right flavors of marinade, while the generously-thick slice of pork just falls apart in your mouth as you bite into it. It’s similar in flavor and texture to the excellent charshu at Goma Tei, except it doesn’t appear to be rolled-up pork belly like Goma Tei’s. Unfortunately they don’t have a charshumen (same as shoyu ramen, but with more charshu toppings), but the menu does list charshu ala carte for $2. Not sure if that’s just one slice or what.
Notice there’s also a generous amount of Menma (marinaded bamboo shoots) in it…
Even the menma here is just about perfect in flavor and texture, with enough of it to accompany just about every bite of the thick ramen noodles as you slurp away at your bowl. While they don’t have one here, some Ramen Shops have what they call Menma Ramen, which like Charshumen, is the same broth, just with more Menma toppings.
One thing I clearly remember about that ramen shop in the Ginza you always hear me reminisce and rave about, is that they used Japanese Negi, which is green onion, albeit, much, much bigger than regular green onion you see in most supermarkets here. More specifically, this ramen shop only used the white part of the Negi, not the green, and they slivered it paper-thin. It was the perfect finishing touch to what I still say was the perfect bowl of ramen I’ve ever had in my life.
That said, here, you see Kiwami Ramen uses the green part of regular green onion in their soup. Which is still good, as I do that even with my made-at-home nama ramen, but just can’t compare to the delicately-flavored thin slivers of the white part of Japanese Negi. To note, Marukai and Don Quijote carries Japanese Negi. When you see it, you’ll be amazed how big it is.
Did I enjoy my Shoyu Thick Noodle Ramen from Kiwami? This says it all…
Oishikatta, sugoi deshita (It was delicious, it was awesome)!!! Don’t mind my broken Nihongo, but I’m trying.
Service at Kiwami was quick, with my order arriving within 5 minutes, while my server was very friendly and attentive.
On my next visit I’ll try the Ume Shio Tsukemen (dip noodle). Sounds and looks interesting. I’m curious to taste how the ume (tart pickled plum) works with the noodles, charshu and the salt-based shio broth.
Reflecting what others said on Yelp, I’m a little perplexed that they don’t serve Gyoza, which is always a nice accompaniment with ramen. Some proclaim their Charshu Don (Charshu on rice) as a tasty side dish, but personally I think that’s too much of practically the same thing and wouldn’t order it.
Whatever the case, my bowl of Ramen alone (along with a glass of Kirin Biru) was more than enough to fill me up, leaving me satisfied, as well as excited to return to try more of what’s on the menu. Based my first impression, I have to say Kiwami Ramen is highly recommended.
Waikiki Shopping Plaza (in the Waikiki Food Court, basement level)
2250 Kalakaua avenue
Open Daily for lunch from 11am to 2:30pm and dinner from 5pm to 10pm (closed between 2:30pm and 5pm)
The Tasty Island rating:
(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)
P.S. After I finished my bowl of ramen in the restaurant, for some mysterious reason, these Maneki Neko (good luck cats) caught the attention at the corner of my eye…
…and they magically came to life and briefly gestured in a very animated fashion with their arms and paws, which somehow, spiritually, revealed an inner truth at the depth of my soul.
I then aggressively walked up to Chef Sato and demanded to him, “I wanna cook Ramen! I wanna’ make people happy like you do. Teach me how to cook your Japanese ramen!” To which he looked at me with a blank face, then fired back, “Baka! (idiot!)” LOL! Just kidding. That’s from a key scene in The Ramen Girl.
“If you cook with your head, it can be full of noise. You must learn to cook from a quieter place deep inside you.
Each Ramen that you prepare is a gift to your customer. The food that you serve becomes a part of them. It contains your spirit. That’s why your ramen must be an expression of love. A gift from your heart.
If you feel pain and sadness, begin by putting your tears in your broth.”
– Ramen Chef Maezumi’s mother