A wide range of noodle dishes are available on Guam, including Philippine pancit, Vietnamese pho, and Korean cold sesame noodles. But few can compare in variety and artistic merit, both in taste and appearance, to Japanese ramen.
Originally from China, ramen was brought to Japan over 100 years ago during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles in a flavored broth with the addition of various toppings. Though seemingly simple, ramen combines the flavors from a large number of ingredients with the soup, which may take more than a day to prepare, to create a harmonious whole.
Just like with other foods, there are regional variations of ramen based on the ingredients available in each locality and the tastes of the people living there.
Ramen’s popularity in Japan is due in part to the fact that it is inexpensive, making it an ideal lunch, dinner or after-a-night-on-the-town snack for budget-conscious students and businessmen.
It is also simple and quick to eat. Though aficionados will gladly wait on line for a half hour or more to get into a favorite ramen shop, once seated and served they are all business. All talk ceases and they concentrate on eating. It is said that ramen should be eaten in seven minutes to enjoy both the firm texture of the noodles and the relaxing warmth of the broth.
This fits with the business aspects of running a ramen shop, which depends on high volume to make a good profit. Unlike most Japanese restaurants, coffee shops and other such places, ramen shops encourage their customers to leave as soon as they finish eating so they can serve someone else.
In Guam, however, speed is not of the essence, ramen is not appreciably cheaper than other food on island, and it doesn’t have the cultural history that makes it so popular in Japan. So it must appeal on taste.
NOODLE SOUP SCOOP
The following are some reviews of ramen shops on Guam by Ken Stewart of Guam Diner.
Menkui Ramen Noodle House
Tumon Trade Center, Fujita Road, Tumon
I happened into this quaint little Tumon noodle house and found the Special Negi Ramen ($9) that's made with soy-based broth, noodles, meat sauce, and green onions. The only thing is that this is no ordinary amount of green onion...it's Japanese green onion and it's shaved into a pile on top of your ramen. The noodles are fresh and made to the chef's specifications. They are delicious, as is the broth, which the chef has also taken great pains to create. The meat sauce is his own special addition. It was my second time having this that I "kicked it up a notch" by adding some hot chili paste. This is a special soup with no MSG and an unforgettable freshness...just like eating in Japan!
If you can get a better bowl of ramen on Guam than what they serve at Menkui, please let me know! One of the selections we had was the Soy Ramen (no meat) for $7.00. Ideal for vegetarians, the freshness of these ramen noodles is the first thing that hits your palate, because they have a freshness you can taste! The MSG-free broth is light and served at the right temperature so you can eat without having to slurp your noodles. Rounding out the flavor and texture are bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and scallions.
Zee had a Special Tan-Men ($8.50), that's a salt-flavored broth with vegetables less the meat that usually goes into it. They really do ramen right here and it's hard to decide which is better, the broth or the fresh noodles! Ok, I've decided - it's a tie!
For this visit I passed on my regular Special Negi Ramen, which is loaded with shredded Japanese green onion and specially seasoned ground pork, and had the Chasyu-men ($9) instead. This is something you can definitely compare to other "Chashu" ramen dishes featuring slices of pork loin. I was told that Menkui uses a special recipe for the pork - it was heavenly in flavor, sliced thickly and noticeably tender. This superb pork is only matched by the awesome noodles with which they're served.
It's been over five years since this little ramen shop opened. As best I can recall, it was April or May of 2007 and its reputation as having the island's best ramen has continued to grow with a steadily increasing client base, many who return almost every week for their "ramen fix". I've become a "ramen snob" too and can't find myself eating ramen at other restaurants thanks to Menkui's spoiling me! Chef/Owner Akira Kudo and his wife Sumiko, who handles the front of the house, have definitely made a niche for themselves with this specialty ramen shop.
Uncle Sim's Ramen
Tumon (across from Sand Castle)
Uncle Sim's Ramen is a place that has a bright future. They are in the heart of Tumon, have a very diverse and extensive menu of items besides ramen, and are open daily from 10am to 4am, which ideally suits the late night/early morning appetites of visitors and locals alike who need something sustaining after partying.
I went in for a bowl of ramen and ended up ordering the Chasu Ramen ($8.50). Uncle Sim's menu boasts 17 different types of ramen, including Seafood Ramen, KimChee Ramen, Hiyashi Ramen, and Champon Ramen. The pork in my Chasu Ramen was quite tender and well-flavored. It was like a slow-cooked roast pork, and they didn't skimp on the portion. The broth was light, not overly spiced (and blessedly MSG free). The noodles were fresh-tasting and good enough to notice more than once. This bowl comes with a considerable portion of freshly crisp daigo.
Guam Premier Outlets, Tamuning
Hours 11am-10pm Daily
Ajisen Ramen is a franchised noodle house chain that boasts over 500 locations throughout Japan and Asia. My first impression was a good one as it was clear they run a class establishment. This Kyushu-based restaurant chain is known for their white "Tonkotsu" broth made from slowly simmered premium pork ribs. They emphasize the health benefits of enjoying the food's natural flavors derived from traditional cooking techniques. There is no MSG used, so that's a relief to many.
I stopped by for lunch alone and was stunned by the enormity of their ramen menu selections. The restaurant is spacious, with solid wood tables and chairs, expansive window views looking across to Ruby Tuesday and Chili's, and seems devoid of any wall art with the exception of a large collection of ramen bowls mounted on a wall. When you first walk in, you are greeted by the entire staff of servers and kitchen staff.
I ordered the Paiku Ramen Karaage Set ($13.90), which is also sold as a ramen only entree for $9.95. You merely upgrade this by adding a number of options, including gyoza, edamame, tonkatsu, side salad, tofu salad, tempura, and kimchee, each having their own price.
Paiku Ramen has slowly braised succulent pork ribs, crisp kikurage (wood ear) mushrooms, soy eggs, and garnished with a sprinkling of scallions. Each item is listed in the menu description for every entree. Also included in the large bowl are carrots, cabbage, and some onion, along with a generous serving of fresh noodles. I enjoyed the newness and unique combinations of flavors in this dish. The Karaage chicken was okay, too, and not greasy like some others I've had.
The service here was exceptional and I felt that my server Emilie was genuinely concerned about ensuring that I enjoy my dining experience. You will have to come and try one of the nearly 20 Ramen dishes, including Volcano Ramen, Spicy Ramen, Negi Ramen, and the ultimate Zen Nose Ramen ($12.95), that has medallions of pork and ribs.
Blue Lagoon Plaza
Aji Ichi Japanese Restaurant has come of age in its relatively new Blue Lagoon Plaza location, next to Wagaya 88. Aji Ichi's owner, Keiko Tsuraga, has operated this popular restaurant at several locations for over 23 years and her efforts have made the name Aji Ichi synonymous with quality and affordability - two critical factors in customer satisfaction. I would further define the "quality" benchmark to include food quality and service quality. This new location is the third operating unit with additional locations in Upper Tumon across from Nissan Motors and a fast-food outlet in the GPO Food Court. This new restaurant is the most spacious and decorative, and its ambiance with high ceilings and tasteful Japanese art work makes this an appealing and comfortable eatery.
Aji Ichi’s first claim to fame in the early days was its selection of noodles from ramen to soba, which they still serve. Many is the night you could drop by Aji Ichi and see people from all walks of life finding nourishment and comfort from a bowl of noodles at Aji Ichi. The large selection of ramen noodles, including a delicious Chashu Ramen (I can personally vouch for as having some of the largest portions of tender pork), remain as popular as ever even though they have expanded the menu.
A bowl of bliss
Ramen in the movies
“Tampopo (Dandelion),”a 1985 comedy dubbed the first “Japanese noodle Western,” examines the relationship between people and food through a series of vignettes revolving around the story of a widow who goes on a quest to learn how to create the perfect bowl of ramen in order to reopen a noodle restaurant. Among the stars is Ken Watanabe, now known in the U.S. for his roles in “The Last Samurai,” “Inception,” “Batman Begins” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” Scenes from the film, subtitled in English, can be seen on YouTube.
To slurp or not to slurp
In Japan, it is not only polite but it is virtually required to slurp noodles when you eat them. First, it’s a way of bringing air into your mouth to cool off the hot noodles. Second, it enables you to have some soup at the same time, adding some flavor to the blandness of the noodles. Third, it’s hard to eat the long strands with chopsticks without slurping them up in sections (imagine eating spaghetti without twirling it on your fork). This is the case even when eating cold noodles. Irregardless of these reasons, if you ask Japanese people why they slurp their noodles, they will invariably say, “Because they taste better that way.”
How to eat ramen
Despite the Japanese penchant for establishing rules to govern every aesthetic experience, there is no “right” way to eat ramen. Some people focus on the noodles first, some on the slices of pork or vegetables, and others on the soup. There does seem to be some agreement, however, that you should not delay too long in eating the noodles because they will get too soft and cool off. The important thing is to just enjoy the food and eat it while it’s hot. For a funny take on how to eat ramen, check out the “Noodle Master Scene” from the movie “Tampopo” on YouTube.
Types of ramen
Ramen, which usually comes in a beef-, chickenor fish-based stock, can be named according to the type of flavoring or toppings used. The most popular flavorings are shoyu (soy sauce-based), miso (soybean paste-based), shio (salt-based) and tonkotsu (pork bonebased). Among toppings, chashu braised pork slices, is the favorite, along with tamago boiled egg, and negi sliced scallion. Other toppings found in many kinds of ramen include nori dried seaweed, kamaboko fish cake, moyashi bean sprouts and corn.