Had my ramen and met Neal Oshima too

14 06 2010

Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s Miso Ramen

IT TAKES a lot to get me star-struck.  And by the time I had taken the long walk from Dusit Thani Hotel to this restaurant I was searching for – all I could remember was a portion of the restaurant’s name (the “Ron” part) and that it was on Arnaiz Avenue – I wouldn’t be easily impressed or fascinated anymore.  Well, I guess I spoke too soon.  And I’d leave it at that for now, lest I get ahead of myself.

Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s specialty is their ramen, which is available in three broth flavor variants – shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso.  I went there for the Miso Ramen which has good word-of-mouth publicity as their bestseller.  As I waited for it with breath that was bated, I asked for a tall glass of Iced Green Tea and one of my favorite Japanese appetizers, Agedashi Tofu.

My love for Agedashi Tofu is just one of the many good things I have assimilated from my association with Friendship.  So everytime it’s on the menu, I would ask for it.  Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s version was quite authentic.  They took a smallish block of firm silken tofu, dusted it lightly with cornstarch and fried it until perfectly golden brown, with the bottomside bearing grill-like marks.  They served it in a very very VERY hot broth made of dashi, mirin and soy sauce, and topped it with a generous mound of grated daikon radish, the whiteness of which was beautifully blemished by a smidge of red chili paste perched on top.

Agedashi Tofu

Notice the perfectly golden brown block of firm silken tofu, the mound of grated daikon radish, the chili, all that spring onions, and the nori! Super comforting!

I cut a piece of the tofu and flipped it to see the grill marks. Perfect.

In the savory broth were lots of finely chopped sping onions and strips of nori (seaweed).  Though I burned myself with the very first excited slurp I took of the broth, it was well worth the sense of comfort that washed all over me – exactly what I needed after over six grueling hours of creative writing.  While the silken tofu ensconced beneath the very thin batter slid playfully on my tongue, I couldn’t help telling myself that I was eating healthy and could live on it.  I was all the more convinced when, looking down at my lacquered bowl, my sight caught an inadvertent glimpse of my expanded girth, one side of which was already touching the side of the bar table I was sharing with a Japanese expat to my right, and a father and his son farther down.

Miso Ramen, served with a generous sprinkling of spring onions, lots of bean sprouts, and a ladle for the soup.

 I was licking the last traces of the broth on my upper lip when my humongous bowl of Miso Ramen was served, its arrival from the kitchen being heralded by some Japanese “cheer” coming from the wait staff.  I sheepishly applauded the ramen’s presence in front of me and silently acknowledged that it could be the biggest bowl of noodles I would ever have to devour.  Those I’ve had at international airports in Hong Kong, in SanFo and in Shanghai would pale in comparison!  I whipped out my camera and began taking the requisite shots – the tigher, the better.  My patience was put to the test as the photo shoot took quite a while.  As is always the case with steaming hot food, I had to contend with all the steam rising from the food’s surface.

A tight shot of the Miso Ramen. Notice the strip of pork on top!

Once satisfied with the photos I had taken, I slurped away, making good use of both the chopsticks and the small ladle they served the noodles with.  Chopsticks alone proved insufficient as the oily noodles would slide off, putting to shame years of experience in using this oriental tableware.  Halfway through, the Japanese expat to my right had to ask me how I was finding my noodles – but not before first asking me if I was Korean or Filipino.  I looked at him and said, “I find it to be average (gesturing with my left hand stretched out in a seesawing motion).  But the ramen noodles are quite good – thick enough, and cooked to perfection to give that “bite.”  I like it that they put in a lot of spring onions and bean sprouts.  The broth though is a bit salty for my taste.  And I’m someone who has a high tolerance for saltiness.”  He mouthed back, “it’s average,” before getting up from his seat and shaking my hand.  We couldn’t be in any more agreement.  I guess I set the bar too high – what with all the good I’ve heard about the house bestseller!

Halfway through my bowl of ramen. Mine was extra huge because I had an extra serving of Omori (ramen noodles) added to my order!

Yaki Gyoza!

The Iced Green Tea I washed everything down with. It was really straightforward – just freshly brewed green tea and ice. Very cold. Very clean. Very simple. Loved it!

Feeling for myself that my excited anticipation had plateaued, with my arteries already lined with a thin film of oil, I decided to pick one more item from the menu to help pick me up.  I thought the Yaki Gyoza wouldn’t hurt, especially since it was consistently one of every three items dished out from the kitchen counter.  I asked the wait staff what sauce was best for it and she told me to mix the Japanese soy sauce and the vinegar together.  I did.  But before I could even dunk the first dumpling in, the father to my right quipped, “It’s better with the chili oil.  Only if you like.”  I did and when I was shaking the small bottle like crazy, he followed through, “You have to press the button on top.”  I smiled at his helpfulness, and he carried on with the conversation.

“Do you have a food blog?  I saw you taking pictures of your food earlier.”

Yes, I have.”

“Is that a Lumix?”

No, it’s a Canon IXUS860IS.  Just a point-and-shoot.

“And that’s all you have to do.  Your blog, what’s it called?”

It’s eponymous.  It’s called ‘eNTeNG’s MunchTime.’  It’s at entengvince.wordpress.com.

“’entengvince?  It’s one word?  Like, I can google ‘entengvince’?”


“I take photos professionally.  I did a shoot for Rogue magazine, a feature on food bloggers.  Like Market Man.  It’s the established ones.”

Oh my God!  May I have your name please?

“I’m Neal Oshima.”

At this point, I had officially freaked out.  I was actually sharing the bar table with one of the Philippines’s foremost lensmen and one of the most seldom-photographed at that!  Since he actually was the one who struck up a conversation with me, I went out on a limb and asked if I could have a photograph taken with them.  He was quite shy, saying that he would just always ruin photos.  I insisted.  I remember my hand shaking a little, hence the blurred shot.

I went back to my part of the table, and as I was muching on my gyoza, he went on, “How’s the gyoza?  It’s good right.”

Yes, it is really good.

He and his son stood up, I stretched my hand out and he shook it and said, “eNTeNG, right?”

I was star-struck.

A cropped me, with THE Neal Oshima and his son.

The bar table (counter) faces the open kitchen at Ukkokei Ramen Ron.

Ukkokei Ramen Ron – I found it walking all the way from The Dusit Thani Hotel where I was earlier in the day. All I remembered was that the restaurant name has a "Ron" in it, just like one of my best friends Superman's name.

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