Filipinos in Manila have reached such a level of sophistication with ramen that its cognoscenti bandy about terms such as katame (hard noodles/al dente), kotteri (general term used to describe ramen stock as thick and rich), and tare (ramen-defining seasoned sauce). Ramen is so popular because it flips a finger at two previously-held-sacred food movements. First, ramen is easier to love and universally easier to eat than those molecularly-inspired dishes – come on, it’s a bowl of noodles and soup. In addition, carbohydrates in steaming broth satisfy a most basic need, so farewell for now to those tyrannical, low-and-no-carb diets.
With a range of ramen quality available from the divine to the outstandingly banal, this dish is quite the fetish, and for many, Ramen Yushoken is their mecca. It’s also because ramen is so painfully hip right now that Yushoken’s relative obscurity only adds to its mystique. Add to that the restaurant’s declaration that their ramen is derived from “Ramen God” Kazuo Yamagishi and it all boils down to a bowl of ramen ready to be revered.
Quite the claim and all laid out for me to read on their menu-slash-placemat, as are the rules. Yes, rules. As might be expected of ramen descended from on high, expect nothing less. So: no sharing, no take out, no forks. Raised eyebrows and tearful begging aside— hey, their restaurant, their rules, so I’ll abide willingly.
The menu’s a quick read. Ramen reliables of shio, shoyu, tantan-men, and miso are bound in a hot tonkotsu broth created from pork (thigh) bones and boiled for over ten hours. Such lengthy cooking over high heat releases the bone marrow and collagen into the broth, imbuing the soup with a velvety thickness that cloaks tongues and stokes desire. Yushoken’s Miso (above, P380) ramen, a house-made amalgam of several types of the soybean paste, rides on distinctive notes of ginger. I slurp and savor until I suck on a strip of chashu. Pork striated with webs of fat blessed by the heat of the grill and simmered until it almost falls apart of its own accord, its meatiness suffuses the soup with smoke.
The Tantan-Men (above, P380) is milkier than others I encounter. Rather than a peanutty paste that ravages, this one revivifies with a slight sear of heat while nubby bits of ground pork pock and pleasure the palate.
Rather than the abyss-like bowls used in other restaurants, the receptacles at Yushoken are manageable. One bowl is good enough for one person, even one with a slight appetite. But don’t disregard the side dishes. The Gyoza (P150) are some of the best in Manila with crispy edges encasing a meat mixture that’s slightly zippy and made even more so when dipped into the accompanying rice wine vinegar-shoyu sauce.
The Chahan (P220) is infinitely more than the sum of its parts, certainly worthy of being called more than just “fried rice.” The al dente texture of the grains is swiftly undercut by bits of chashu and tamago-yaki (Japanese-style fried egg/omelet). With plate positioned close enough to allow direct access to my gaping mouth, I frantically shovel in the fried rice, and am amused when I hear myself smacking my lips in delight.
While staunch opinions and contentious claims are rife over which ramen place is the best, Yushoken is superior in one area: its noodles. Made on-site everyday with Japanese flour, they are slippery strands of utter chew with impressive tensile strength akin to the best hand-pulled noodles. In the ramen, they serve more for texture than heft, and their exceptional qualities are showcased in my dish of choice at Yushoken.
Shoyu Maze Soba is a hot, dry ramen. A bundle of noodles is embellished with a decidedly motley lot: bean sprouts, chopped cabbage (a bit too much), green onions, minced chashu, and white blobs of (for now) indeterminate origin. An egg yolk of impossibly orange hue lures from the middle of this mass. “Mix it all up, ma’am,” says the server. So I do and as the egg yolk rips and stains its soul into all – orange, brown, green, white toss and tumble, I try and taste.
Shoyu maze soba isn’t just a dish at Yushoken, it’s an awe-inspiring union of texture on flavor, playing tag and teasing. Tangles of noodles are the pathways on which pleasure pulsates in alternating and variable iterations: crunch, piquancy, and smoke – lubricated and illuminated by those white blobs that I now know as trimmings of chashu fat. Mercy! The totality in taste is so deep and strong that it’s simultaneously comforting and obscene, so good it’s illicit.
I’m an egg whore and Yushoken’s Aji Tamago (P80) does me in. Their glittering middles gleam feverishly, sirens that sing a song of seduction. They’re cool to taste and flood my mouth and mind with thoughts not meant for general patronage, doused with a salty end note to tame the flame.
I agree that Yushoken requires commitment in terms of time and traffic if you’re not based in the South. In addition, its styles of ramen might be found elsewhere in Manila, especially if you’re the sort who prefers a more viscous, kotteri broth. But I maintain that Yushoken’s noodles are superior, as are their side dishes, and I don’t have to say anything more about that tremendous shoyu maze soba.
Molito Lifestyle Mall, Madrigal Ave. corner Commerce St., Ayala Alabang
Open daily, 11am-11pm.
Another ramen post: