A restaurant that started with a movie.
The year was 1985. A young Japanese man named Hitoshi Hatanaka watched a new Japanese film, Tampopo, a comedy labeled as a "Ramen Western" as a nod to the "Spaghetti Westerns" about the old American west made by Italian production studios.
The movie, with its campy dedication to the rich bowls of noodle soup, inspired Hatanaka to eat at a ramen shop with his family the next day. But Hatanaka had a problem: It didn't seem as good as the ramens talked about (and joked about) in the movie. So he decided to make his own.
He opened his first restaurant in 1988 as a nine-seat, family-run ramen shop in Asahikawa, in the center of Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido. It had only one item on the menu: Shio Ramen.
There are now more 53 of the Hokkaido Ramen Santouka restaurants in 10 countries around the world.
Now, nearly 15 years later, he is opening his first freestanding Hokkaido Ramen Santoukka in the United States. Lucky for all of us, it's in Bellevue.
The art of eating ramen.
I got a chance to eat a bowl of ramen at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka before it's opening on April 24th.
Food writers from across Seattle huddled around tables, anxiously awaiting a chance to try some of the internationally acclaimed broth; but not before getting a lesson in how to correctly eat ramen.
First, you lean over and put your head close to the bowl. Then, with your chopsticks, take a strand of noodles and slurp them into your mouth. Slurping with abandon is the proper way to eat ramen, and you should definitely suck in air along with the noodles to cool them down.
You can then take breaks to sip the broth with your spoon or try bites of the fatty pork cheek and soft boiled eggs. If you do it right, you'll probably have spots of oily broth on your shirt. You should be able to eat the entire bowl within ten minutes.
This is not a delicate, first date kind of meal.
Shio ramen at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is known for its Shio Ramen, a salt-flavored broth. There are several broths you can get, including shio, miso (soybean paste), spicy miso and shoyu (soy sauce). It takes 20 hours to boil the pork that makes the broth, a process you can watch live in the restaurant.
I got a bowl of shio ramen and was overwhelmingly impressed by the richness of the broth. It reminded me of old-fashioned dairy milk, where the cream rises to the top. The thick, oily broth clung to the thin noodles as I slurped them up. The pork cheeks were incredibly tender, melting in my mouth.
I also grabbed a bite of the miso ramen with some added pepper on the table. I actually preferred the miso to the shio, but I tend to always prefer the miso flavor when it comes to ramen. I would likely try the spicy miso the next time I go.
It's not an incredibly cheap restaurant, a bowl of ramen will cost between $11.00 and $18.00, depending on how many extra goodies you want to add to the bowl. But with an open kitchen, and incredibly delicious food, the experience is unique and fun.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
103 Bellevue Way, Suite 3
Hours: 11am-9pm Daily
Opens: April 24, 2014