By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
Old School Tokyo ramen was one of three ramen options offered at the Sun Noodle Ramen Lab pop-up at Lucky Belly Nov. 25. The chicken and shoyu broth was topped with ajitama egg, charcoal-grilled char siu, wafu spinach and bamboo shoots. The flat, medium thick noodles are most popular with ramen lovers in Japan today.
Most people still think of Sun Noodle as the little company in Kalihi that supplies our ramen houses and makes pi for our won ton soups.
But the company, founded in 1981 by Hidehito Uki, is a major player on the national food scene due to the growing popularity of ramen. After shipping noodles to California and Washington for years, the company opened a Los Angeles factory in 2004, started shipping noodles to New York a year later, and now has established Ramen Lab in New Jersey, where executive chef Shigetoshi Nakamura helps would-be ramenya owners develop original menus and concepts for their restaurants.
They've also helped established restaurateurs like Marcus Samuelsson, who wanted a recipe incorporating Ethiopian teff flour.
With much of the country yet to discover the joys of ramen, it's definitely a business with an upward trajectory.
Nakamura was in the house at Chinatown's Lucky Belly on Nov. 25 for a one-night Ramen Lab popup. The particulars: No reservations, first come, first served from 5 p.m. while supplies lasted, and there were at least 60 people lined up from the corner of Hotel and Smith streets to Little Village, after the first in line, from about 4 p.m., were admitted.
I arrived at about 5, but was lucky enough to be part of a group that had been second in line at about 4:15 p.m.
The chef presented three types of ramen, representing local, Japan and New York styles. With the enthusiasm generated by this popup, more events may be coming our way. It's only fair, given that Hawaii has offered a warm, supportive environment for Sun Noodle to grow up.
New York Heritage ramen is Italian inspired, in a tomato broth topped with basil, crimini mushrooms, Italian sausage and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The chewy, curly temomi noodles are best sellers in Hawaii and New York. You need to be in the mood for Italian to enjoy it. I ordered this because I like different, but what I really craved was the Tokyo combination of pork and egg.
Tonkotsu black ramen with thin, straight hakata noodles, pork broth topped with sumibiyaki charcoal-grilled char siu, kikurage (cloud ear mushroom), scallions and drizzled with black garlic essence. These noodles should be eaten quickly. Alas for the food blogger, time required for photography takes time from enjoying the ramen at its optimal.
Sun Noodle Ramen Lab executive chef Shige Nakamura and his wife Maiko.
Hisae Uki, daughter of Sun Noodle founder Hidehito Uki, wears a Sun T-shirt touting outposts in Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York.