Mention ume, and probably the first thing that will come to mind is omusubi…
Ume Musubi with Ah Fook’s mild and hot Portuguese Sausage (with Takuan in the center)
So when I seen Ume-Shio Tsukemen, a.k.a. “Dip Noodle” on the menu at Kiwami Ramen on my first-time visit last week, I just had to return and try it, which is what I did last night.
Could this tart and salty pickled Japanese plum really work in a ramen dish? We shall soon find out!
Reader Milo, who spent a lot of time in Fukuoka, Japan, knows specifically which style of ramen he prefers (Kyushu Tonkotsu), questioned this idea of putting ume in ramen with some good points made, and I pretty much agree with his thought on it. Yet I’m willing to think outside the box, or make that “think outside the bowl” every now and then, such as I’m doing here.
As for this “Dip Noodle” or Tsukemen, it almost literally is “outside the bowl”, as the noodles are served separately from the broth. So we have two parts here that break with normal convention, with one that there’s an ume it, and two that it’s tsukemen style. Add to that, the broth its served in is shio style, which is a lighter, salt-flavored soup, where as you know, I’m more a shoyu ramen kinda’ guy, but what the heck, we’ll bend over backwards this time.
Although I mentioned in my last write-up that I wouldn’t order this, never say never, as I actually ended up ordering a small bowl of Charshu Don (Japanese style roast pork on rice) to start my meal just to try it out…
I was a little disappointed the small size didn’t have the boiled egg in it, and the charsu was cut into little cubes, while I see the larger bowls have charsu in full slices. It still looks good though.
Let’s try it…
The sauce on it tastes kinda’ like teriyaki but there’s another element to it I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Whatever it is, it really enhances it, and would be lacking without it. I already mentioned from my last visit that I really like Kiwami’s Charsu, and this is a great optional way to enjoy it if you’re more in the mood for rice than ramen. The charsu is fall-part tender and packed with a great savory, mildly sweet flavor, while the rice it’s served with tastes like good quality stuff.
Yet as I suspected and why I said I’d probably “never” order this, it did indeed turn out being like more of the same thing when eaten along with my Ume-Shio Tsukemen. Kinda’ like eating a baked potato with a side order of french fries, to help you understand where I’m coming from.
Even without the boiled egg, and that it was overkill when eaten along with ramen, in and of itself I give Kiwami Ramen’s Charsu Rice a very, very tasty 3-SPAM Musubi.
Next time I visit Kiwami (I’m already a fan so I’ll be back repeatedly!), I’m gonna’ have to remember to ask the server how often they get questioned on why they don’t serve Gyoza. That’s the only thing I think is really missing here. Molly already answered that question in a comment, saying “The waiter replied that the owner-chef wanted to present an authentic Japanese ramen experience and gyoza was a Chinese item in his mind.” WHAT-EH-VERZ. lol
O.K., my Ume-Shio Tsukemen has arrived, let’s try it out…
As already explained, with the “Dip Noodle”, the broth – in this case Shio style – is served in a separate bowl from the noodles. As for the ramen noodles, the waitress will ask if you it served warm or cold. I opted for warm. Makes better sense to me. Why would I want to dip cold noodles in a hot broth?
This was my first time trying ramen served Tsukemen style, so luckily all the patrons in the restaurant were Nihonjin (Japanese natives), and the young Japanese fellah sitting right next to me had just ordered dip noodle himself, so I took some tips (candidly) watching him eat first. It’s very simple, yet I wanted to make sure I was eating it properly how the Japanese do it.
You simply grab some ramen noodles and dip them in the broth then have it…
I notice some Japanese folks – especially the younger ones – like to hold up their ramen noodles really high above the bowl after they pick it up, briefly obvserving it, then blow it to cool before taking a bite. Then there’s some who prefer to slouch their head down to the bowl and put the noodles directly in their mouth in a shoveling fashion.
I also noticed some folks would truly observe their ramen before eating it, just like The Ramen Girl’s Chef Maezumi taught ‘Abbey’ to do.Then they would lower their head towards the bowl and waft the broth’s aroma towards their nose.
Of course, it’s very polite to make a slurping sound as you eat ramen. Not slurping tells the chef or staff that you don’t enjoy their ramen and is considered rude.
Anyway, hai, itadakimasu!…
I taste the midly-salty Shio broth, but not a hint of umezuke. The shio broth is delicious though! I’d certainly consider ordering the shio ramen in the regular style (noodles in broth) in a future visit. There’s still some chicken flavoring in it, but it’s very subtle. I thought for Tsukemen the broth would be more intense, but it wasn’t at all.
Am I sold on this “Dip Noodle” style? Not really. It’s good, but IMO, the noodles gotta’ be in the broth. Gotta’. No other way. That’s just my opinion. Hey, if you like Tsukemen, great, but personally I wouldn’t order it like this again.
I don’t think the flavor of the broth adheres as much to the noodle when just briefly dipped in like this. Versus with regular ramen, the hot noodles are immersed in the hot broth and they both have time to “harmonize” with each other. Where as with Tsukemen, I feel like I’m eating two different things. Sorry, for me it just doesn’t have the same harmony traditional ramen has. At least not with this one. Maybe there’s another one out there that will change my mind, which we have yet to see.
Now that we got the tsukemen part out of the way, what about the Ume? Well, as I said, it didn’t impart any of its tart flavor into the broth, which is what I was expecting — and a little skeptical whether I’d like that — but thankfully it didn’t. I did save it for last though, nibbling at it with some ramen noodles and charsu…
I was hoping the Ume would compliment the noodles the same way it compliments rice with its highly contrasting flavor, but it didn’t. It was more like an accessory or add-on, not having any significant roll that made up the overall character of the dish, save for perhaps the novelty of adding a little red color for presentation’s sake. Don’t get me wrong though, the Ume didn’t “hurt” the ramen, but neither did it enhance it. Does the ume make this ramen worth $10? Obviously not. IMO, if you insist on trying their tsukemen, the Shoyu Dip Noodle would be a better deal at $8.75.
Rounding it up, the key parts of its sum by way of the broth, charsu and ramen noodles (this time the thin style) are all each and of themselves EXCELLENT and worth a rating of 4 SPAM Musubi each. Factor in my opinion of what I thought of the dish served tsukemen style, along with the ume’s (lacking) roll in it, and the unwarranted higher-than-average price, and I’m going with 2-SPAM Musubi rating for Kiwami’s Ume-Shio Dip Noodle.
Ssshhhh, don’t tell the chef, but when nobody was looking (at least I hope so), I ended up turning my Tsukemen back into regular ramen by pouring the broth in the bowl with the noodles…
Now that’s more like it! As you see, the dip noodle broth had the same amount of Charsu and menma as a regular bowl of Ramen. If chef does see this, he’ll probably just say “Gaijin Baka!” (stupid foreigner). lol Well, that is kinda’ rude changing the dish like that, so my apologies if I offended anyone, but I liked it much better this way. At least I know now that “dip noodle isn’t for me.
It just occurred to me that Sam Sato’s Dry Noodle dish is similar to Tsukemen, except I think Sam Sato’s has an edge because they flavor their noodles with Oyster sauce, so the noodles already have something going on its own, and it’s not entirely relying on the external broth for flavor, but more for moisture (texture). Plus it’s saimin, not ramen, so you can’t really compare the two.
So let’s see now what I shall try on my next visit to Kiwami Ramen…
It’ll either be the Goma Miso or the Shoyu “AO” Ramen.
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 (for Ume-Shio Ramen):
(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it.
“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