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Yataimura Eats: Gifu Takayama Ramen


Gifu Takayama Ramen – Splash banner photo and graphic design by Pomai-San

After browsing around the many wonderful shops on the mall level of Ala Moana Center, I became physically and emotionally drained, ready to reload on energy and spirit. This time once again finding myself at Shirokiya’s ever-awesome Yataimura Food Court.

The Japanese Ramen-Ya-of-the-month for September at Yataimura’s corner stall, way, way, way in the back is Gifu Takayama Ramen…

Let’s check out what stay get, laddat…

OK, no need to see any more. I know what I want already. Witness it’s not just Shoyu Ramen, but “Special” Shoyu Ramen. Game on, Wayne & Garth!

Alright, alright, let’s see the rest of the menu…

4 optional ways to serve either Shoyu or Miso Ramen. What I really like is that’s all there is. No gyoza this or fried rice and curry that. These guys are true ramen purists. Having not ordered yet, I’m already optimistic!

Speaking of which, here’s Gifu Takayama Ramen Chef Hiro-San, and his lovely assistant Yuka-Chan…


Gifu Ramen Chef Hiro-San and assistant Yuka-Chan

Using my Canon Powershot S100, Chef was so kind to take a photo of his ramen stock-making station…

Like most authentic Japanese Ramen shops do, Gifu Takayama uses a base of  pork and chicken bones for their broth.

A note on that, while I didn’t see the episode, a late aunt of mine who used to watch KIKU-TV religiously, told me about a travelogue show she watched that visited a whole bunch of ramen shops all over Japan. And one owner said the secret to their very popular ramen broth (yes, a Japanese person actually gave away their SECRET “ingrediment”!) is guess what? I bet you won’t figure it out. OK, I won’t tell you, because I’m Japanese by heart (not blood). If you know, you’ll have to tell us in the comments. Ha-ha!

Another thing that had my hopes high for this Ramen is the display of a stock of Japanese Negi (MASSIVE green onions) displayed in front…

That Ginza Tokyo shop I continue to compare EVERY bowl of Japanese Ramen I will ever eat for the rest of my life with, used to serve their Shoyu Ramen with only the white stock base part of the negi, so it looked like little slices of round onion or shallots in it, however it was actually the white stock base of Negi.

Getting right to it, the Gifu Takayama Ramen Chef Hiro-San presents my bowl of “Special” Shoyu Ramen that he and his lovely assistant Yuka-Chan prepared with heart and soul (believe me, when I watched them make it, they were pretty intense!)…


Gifu Takayama Chef Hiro-San presents his very Special Shoyu Ramen at Yataimura Shirokiya

Hai domo! Onaka suita!

Off to find a spot now in the ever-crowded Yataimura food court dining area…

Ah, found a spot. Rest my tools…

Hai, dozo…


Gifu Takayama “Special” Shoyu Ramen. $13.80 (large)

What time is it now? Yes, it’s Chef Maezumi Ramen ritual recital time…

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, from the film ‘Ramen Girl starring Britanny Murphy and Toshiyuki Nishida


Gifu Takayama “Special” Shoyu Ramen.

I observe. Reflect. Think about two stores downstairs I wish I could at least window shop at, but can’t emotionally afford to even look its way. However I can financially afford this $14 bowl of “Special” Shoyu Ramen, so I thank my blessings for that. I breath in the essence of the steaming hot bowl of ramen sitting in front of me. Try to drown out all the chatter on the tables surrounding me, so I can find my “Ramen Peace”. Reflect again on what could have been, and what it is now.

Hai, itadakimasu!…

Notice this time I started with the noodles, as admittedly, there should have been more broth in it, in my opinion. With that, the chef said their noodles are all exclusively imported from their shop in the city of Takayama, in the Gifu prefecture of Japan. So these aren’t yet another Sun Noodle contribution, but the real Japan deal. And? SUGOI!

Super “eggy”, although that isn’t really eggs that make it taste that way, but a key ingredient called Kansui, a solution of potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate that reacts with the flour to make it yellow in color and also toughens the protein so that the noodles are springier than regular wheat noodles. Which in turn, when combined with the depth of flavor from the ramen broth, gives off that sort of “eggy” flavor profile, which surely you “rameniacs” out there know exactly what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Yes, I’m still living a pescetarian lifestyle, however as always, allow “room” for meat in limited amounts on special occasions. And a visit to a new Ramen-Ya is ALWAYS special to me. Kind of like a first date, if you will. An event most folks don’t ever forget. With that, let’s hit the Chashu (Japanese Ramen version of Chinese Charsiu roast pork)…

Oh yeah, this is definitely their forte. This is by far one of the best Chashu I’ve tried yet on Oahu. It can’t quite beat the fatty goodness that is the rolled pork belly used at Goma Tei, yet, flavor-wise, Gifu Takayama’s Chashu is on POINT! It comes across as slightly on the salty side, with just a hint of sweetness, while you can certainly taste the broth they simmered it in fully saturated into the fibers of the pork. And there’s ample amount of fatty striping along the center that bursts in your mouth even more rich flavor. Super tender as well, where I could somewhat easily (but not too easily) break it apart with my Hashi. So good, especially when combines with those “eggy” noodles. Mmm-mmm-MMMM! So far, we got a winner!

Them eggs are just staring at me, so time to hit that…

Again, leaning on the saltier side, but not too salty, as nobody likes salty eggs. lol They’re permeated completely with what tastes like the same broth they simmered their excellent Chashu in. And it’s not rubbery at all, being “mushy” yet al dente, where I could easily pick up the whole half with my chopstick without it falling apart, yet easy enough to cut through with the chopstick at my will. I kinda’ wish the yolk was semi-runny, however this works. Just good. Eat them eggs, damned it. lol

Now this is the shot I call “Ramen Love”…

If I ever see my life flash before my eyes, chances are that right there will pop-up somewhere along the way. Having a bite of good ‘ole Menma with my Shoyu Ramen. It just doesn’t get better than that. And Gifu Takayama’s Menma epitomizes authenticity and greatness. Menma (marinated bamboo shoots) just doesn’t get better than this. In fact, when I return, I’m going to ask the chef to serve me “Special Panda” Menma Shoyu Ramen, having just one or two slices of the chashu and CHOKE memna slices in it. God I so love menma when it’s done right, and this is done GREAT!

After a long visit with my hashi, here’s the result…

Oh, the broth. Can’t forget about the broth! This is the part where I’m on the fence. Chicken and pork bones simmered like, FOREVER, check. Dashi and konbu, check. Shoyu check. But it’s missing SOMETHING. And I think that something is that “secret ingrediment” I’m asking any of you to throw out here. Not that it’s bad. It really is oishii in its own way. However, like other aspects of my life, I can’t help but compare every bowl of Shoyu Ramen with that one “Special” bowl I had time and time in Tokyo, Japan again, so long ago.

Aside of my personal nitpicking, If you never had authentic Japanese Shoyu Ramen before, and this was your first, you’d swear this was your last. Famous last words.

Summing it up, not letting the past entirely rule the present, I’ll give Gifu Takayama’s “Special” Shoyu Ramen 3 SPAM Musubi. All the toppings and ramen noodles itself are SUPERB. 5 Musubi on those parts, for sure. However, the broth — the “life” of the ramen — needs some work, in my opinion.

Well, that’s just me. Just go to Yataimura and try it for yourself, then let us know what you think! Gifu Takayama Ramen will be at Shirokiya’s Yataimura Food Court & Beer Garden, way, way, way in the back from September 11 to 28, 2013.

Now it’s back to hop and skip with glee along the mall level of Ala Moana Center. Yay!

Gifu Takayama Ramen
Shirokiya Yataimura Food Court & Beer Garden, Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Limited engagement, from September 11 to 28, 2013
Featuring Shoyu and Miso Ramen
www.facebook.com/hironori.kobayashi.1829

The Tasty Island Rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

P.S. Keeping my OCD and ADD for all things noodles in check, coming soon in the next post, I taste the all-new Tanaka Saimin Burger!…

P.P.S. A new Ramen-Ya will soon open up in front of the Kaheka Street Don Quijote (near Ala Moana), in the former spot where Ezogiku was, called Ramen Santouka…

23 thoughts on “Yataimura Eats: Gifu Takayama Ramen

  • September 13, 2013 at 4:28 pm
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    Pomai,

    Great post on a favorite topic of mine. Your analysis is great as usual. So, you threw out the gauntlet on what the missing “ingrediment” is. You checked off pork and chicken bones. I’m also assuming you’re not referring to aromatics or umami boosters, since you checked off negi and shoyu. I’m guessing it’s kombu, though dashi (which you also checked off) should have been made with it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from your pictures, it looks like the ajitsuke tamago is overcooked.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm
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    I’m guessing the secret ingredient was apples. I saw that on KIKU once, a long time ago.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm
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    Secret ingredient is scallop powder.

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    • September 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm
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      Matsu for the win!

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    • September 14, 2013 at 9:02 am
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      matsu-san (or chan),

      Sorry, couldn’t elaborate, as I was on my cel for that reply. Yes, it’s Scallops! Not necessarily scallop powder, as I remember her telling me it was actual scallops. Yet, if you look at the ingredients list in good packaged nama and dry ramen (such as Myojo), the broth includes scallop powder. Which I take is the next best thing to the real deal, right?

      Anyhow, I think scallops round-out the full “umami” element of the broth, when combined with the dashi, konbu, shoyu, and of course pork and/or chicken. Exactly as Chef Maezumi explains, “with life from the sea, the mountains and the earth”. Deep stuff. And that’s EXACTLY what a true authentic Japanese Ramen broth should taste like: DEEP.

      If not scallops, I take fish such as Saba would work, too. Or perhaps another shellfish such as clams, which also are KEY to GREAT Miso Soup (the small black Japanese clams). ;-)

      Reply
      • September 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm
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        Aloha Pomai,
        Yup, scallop powder! Saw that on an old Soko ga Shiritai where the theme of the show was “secret ingredients.” They would add a small amount to the bowl before pouring in the broth. Marukai used to sell scallop powder.
        Great post.
        Mahalo,
        matsu

        Reply
  • September 14, 2013 at 5:51 am
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    Dang… I was just about to say peanut butter.

    Reply
    • September 14, 2013 at 10:58 am
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      oops…thought this was the ‘secret ingredient for chile’ thread.

      I don’t want to derail this thread but this got me thinking, sometime in the future could you please devote some time to exploring ‘secret ingredients’ in various dishes? I threw out one for chile already but I also understand that some folks put mayo in theirs.

      Back to the thread, I always liked it when my mom threw in just a few dried fish when she was making dashi. She tried to explain to me once the nuances between head on/off, guts in/out, species, size, time of year when it was caught, etc… but I was young and did not listen well.

      Reply
      • September 14, 2013 at 11:10 am
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        Isn’t Chile the South American country, while Chili is the Tex-Mex’ stew? lol

        Speaking of which, the secret ingredient to kickin’ up Chili is Portuguese Sausage. At least that’s Zippy’s secret ingredient. That, and bacon. Then again, doesn’t bacon kick-up, like, EVERYTHING?

        Too bad you didn’t really grasp what your mom tried to explain to you about the nuances between making dashi with the fish’s head on/off; guts in/out variations. That goes to show the depth the Japanese approach is to cooking. That said, surely when making ramen broth, chefs are keen on ALL those differences, whether it’s fish, chicken or pork, right down to the konbu, whether it’s from the seas of Japan or elsewhere.

        A friend of mine from Nagasaki, Japan, used to make her AMAZING Miso Soup by starting the base dashi broth with a slice of Saba filet and Konbu added for extra flavor. So, so oishii!

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        • September 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm
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          Dagnabit, I knew it looked wrong…..

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        • September 17, 2013 at 6:01 am
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          Yeah, my mom used to put iriko (sp?) (small dried fish) in the shoyu bottle to pump up the flavor. then use the soaked iriko to fill musubi or as an accompaniment with hot rice.

          Reply
          • September 17, 2013 at 7:28 am
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            Keith-San,

            Hmmm, interesting. Iriko in the Shoyu bottle, eh? I’ll have to try that! I take it the Shoyu bottle must be kept in the refrigerator after doing that. Whatever the case, Tanaka Saimin should do that to their Shoyu bottles, as their Saimin broth desperately needs a “kicker-upper” such as that!

            Dang, now I’m craving a hot bowl of Iriko and Rice! I’ll have to pick some up after work.

  • September 14, 2013 at 9:32 am
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    I had the saimin burger without cheese and see it was only one thing I want the saimin patties more grill to be more firm. So send it back to be grill otherwise is great. I do make it at home and see soon someone will have it on food truck business for it getting popular.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2013 at 10:11 am
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    Hi Pomai, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog. Thanks for all the very useful information. I use it a lot when visiting the islands! I wanted to let you know that Santouka ramen is excellent. We have it here in New Jersey as part of the Mitsuwa Market food court. Alawys a line for their ramen. The Shio and the Spicy ramen are my favorite. One day I’ll take a picture and put it on my blog. :)

    Reply
    • September 18, 2013 at 5:52 am
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      Aloha Su-Lynn,

      Gosh, when I first went to your blog, I thought you lived here in Hawaii, then you say you’re living in New York City? lol I would say, with all the travel you and your ohana do to the 808, you may as well use that money to buy a home here, however, then that would take away the novelty of Hawaii right? Nah, I love living here. It’s not perfect, but worth the bumps and bruises. I could never live farther than 1 mile from the ocean. It’s the Pisces in me.

      Mahalo for the heads-up on Santouka Ramen. I’m looking forward to trying it when they open here. Thankfully they have Shoyu Ramen. Yay!

      http://santouka.co.jp/en/menu/index.html

      Reply
      • September 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm
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        Pomai, I am practically local, I should just move to the Aloha state already! It’s funny because I get asked directions all the time in Waikiki (it’s a good thing I do happen to know where the zoo is), and locals think my husband is 5-0. We just play along and think it’s funny. In fact, there was this waiter at Sweet Home Cafe who could have sworn we were regulars when it was in fact our first time there. Good times. I am a Pisces too! I do love the water…although I don’t like to be in boats…get seasick, prefer to be IN the water, snorkeling, swimming etc. I agree that although I love Hawaii I don’t think I could move there forever…my family is all in NYC, and I will desperately miss them. However it’s just a direct flight away now so I am looking forward on our yearly visits – next one is Maui this October! If you ever come to new york, I will gie you some recommendations.

        I am definitely looking forward to reading what you think of Santouka. From what I understand they specialize in Shio ramen, and I’m not even sure they have Shoyu. But if they don’t, I’d stick to the shio to get the true flavor of their umami-mazing soup. Their noodles are also perfectly al dente and perfect. I pair this usually with a bowl of ikura rice. Oishii!

        Reply
        • September 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm
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          Su-Lynn,

          Of course anyone asian (such as yourselves) will blend right in here. I was actually surprised how many asians there were in San Francisco; particularly Vietnamese and Chinese (HUGE Chinatown district there). It almost seemed like whites were the minority there.

          Anyways, funny the locals think your husband is 5-0. I get that all the time too, as I have that typical local “Podagee cop” look, especially with a shaven head. Actually, my dad was a cop in hilo, so go figure.

          What side of Maui you staying this time? East (Wailea) or West (Ka’anapali)? I LOVE Maui. In my retirement years, if I can afford it, I can see myself living there. Not now though. It’s fun to visit, but I’d probably get bored after about a month.

          You got a deal on the Santouka Ramen. Going outside my proverbial box, I’ll try their Shio Ramen first for that “Umami-mazing” soup you recommend. Looking forward to it!

          Reply
          • September 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm
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            Hi Pomai,
            We’re going to do a split stay – 4 nights in Wailea and then a week in Kaanapali. I’m actually looking forward to exploring Kahului and Wailiku a little more too…we didn’t explore much of those areas before, but we will definitely be having our favorite Sam Sato’s dry mein! I’m actually surprised you like Maui because most people I know from Oahu tend to think Maui is overpriced and touristy. But I guess it still is beautiful and they do have their fair share of local eats – the fun part is seeking them out!
            LOL I am sure you get mistaken for 5-0 too.

          • September 20, 2013 at 5:37 am
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            Su-Lynn,

            You definitely need to hit “upcountry” Maui, from Makawao to Pukalani and Kula. GORGEOUS! Also, before or after your visit to Sam Sato’s in Wailuku, head on into Iao Valley. There’s a really nice and short, yet very steep hike up the mountain to see the Iao Valley Needle, while below there’s this really cool replica of Hawaii’s Plantation Village, including mock homes of the original Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Chinese and Portuguese plantation workers’ homes. Really neat!

            Have you been to Makena Beach yet? Particularly Little Beach? Ha!

          • September 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm
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            Hi Pomai,
            I love upcountry and I will definitely visit again. We’re there for about 10 days and we’ve done most of the iconic sites, like Hana, Seven Sacred Pools, I’ao Needle and Haleakala, so we have time to really explore places we’ve never been to and revisit our favorites. Do you have a favorite place to eat Upcountry?
            I have been to Makena Beach – Big Beach to be exact…but no have not done the Little Beach. I have heard it’s tales…we’ll see if it lives up to it’s reputation!
            I didn’t know there was a plantation village at the base of I’ao needle. It sounds very interesting! We will have to take a look!

          • September 21, 2013 at 8:08 am
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            Su-Lynn,

            Ah, so you guys pretty much covered all the touristy stuff on Maui. How about driving out to Kahakuloa town on the west end tip? It is SO GORGEOUS out there. The only caveat is, that part of the roadway isn’t paved, so you’d need a capable SUV (preferably 4WD) rent-a-car to get out there safely and reliably. I also drove around the east end tip of Maui, PAST Hana, where it returns around the other side of Haleakala, connecting back to Makena. CRAZY drive. Dangerous, actually. Not recommended. lol

            Yeah, you definitely need to climb over the rock and walk (don’t just peek!) across Little Beach. I’ve sunned my cheeks there many times. Love that little beach! I’d definitely be a Little Beach regular if I lived on Maui.

            As for the plantation village at I’ao Valley, it’s right there by the parking lot where you walk up to see the needle. Except instead of walking up, walk downward where the trees are below the parking lot area.

  • September 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm
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    Pomai, just wanted to comment that this ramen is the real deal like you say. It tasted just like the ramen I ate while visiting Takayama city. Since Takayama is located in Gifu, it is a mountainous region nowhere near the ocean. That accounts for their use of pork and chicken for the broth and not seafood.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2013 at 6:03 am
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      K I,

      Mahalo for the explanation about Takayama being located in the mountainous area of Gifu (been there myself), hence no seafood (scallops) in the broth. Similar to cuisine in Italy between the central north, where as Molto Mario once explained, there’s more meat, cheeses & french influence (rich pasta sauces), vs. the coastal and southern areas where more seafood dishes are popular. Makes sense.

      As for ramen by regions in Japan, the Sapporo, Hokkaido style has me scratching my head, with their use corn, butter and garlic. In ramen? Ack! I think the cold weather got to their brains. lol As trendy/commercial as it sounds, I’m partial to the Ginza Tokyo style. And only one flavor: Shoyu. ;-)

      Reply

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