Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Savouring the Ippudo Experience in Every Sip

The ramen wars go into high gear, with the entry of another iconic name to the local food scene...

Ippudo, Japan's legendary ramen chain, officially opens today, September 10, 2014, at the SM Mega Fashion Hall, serving its signature Hakata-style pork-based tonkotsu ramen.

The elegant yet simple and zen-like interiors, with classic wood and stone, are draped in a warm amber glow, ready to serve its famous ramen. The name is loosely translated as "One Wind Hall," inspired by the vision "to continuously innovate to remain true." Consistent with this single-minded and focused philosophy, Ippudo has gained a reputation for traditional ramen with creative and modern twists, combining international concepts, ingredients, and cooking techniques with the classic ramen. At Ippudo, this philosophy remains at the very core of its daily operations, continuously reinventing and redefining recipes for a unique Ippudo experience.

Established back in 1985 by the famous Ramen King Shigemi Kawahara, known for his Hakata-style tonkotsu or pork-based ramen with his delicate and creamy broth, Ippudo has grown to over 80 ramen stores all over Japan. Along with its domestic growth, aggressive expansion plans have resulted in a strong global presence, with stores in New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Sydney, Malaysia, and now Manila.

Yota Shiiba (L), Operations Manager for Ippudo Philippines, leads the staff in a pre-opening session, where each member is assigned a specific role, like actors in a stage. Every move is choreographed, from cooking to serving, to ensure a memorable dining experience.

Yota Shiiba (R) welcomes guests to the private tasting event, with Standard Hospitality Group's Marketing Manager Denise Cabotage (L). Yota Shiiba believes in three elements that are crucial in achieving the corporate philosophy, embracing the Japanese Omotenashi hospitality in creating the right ambience, a shared culture of strong family ties and personal bonds, and spreading that "smile" and "Arigatou" with each bowl of high-quality ramen. 

As more guests arrived for the private tasting, Ippudo's Japanese ramen masters fire up the kitchen. The kitchen is immediately transformed in a blur of activity, but behind the steam, one can sense order, a result of experience and numerous dry-runs. Each chef at the kitchen knows his precise role, and the plated appetizers are rolled out without a hitch. As with all dining establishments, the kitchen remains the heart and soul, the primary stage where creativity and precision combine for that perfect bowl of ramen.

As orders are taken by the courteous staff, diners are also asked their noodle preference, ranging from soft, medium, hard, to very hard. I've always preferred chewy noodles, almost like al dente, and I go for the very hard noodles. Timing becomes crucial, but the Japanese ramen masters have everything under control. With years of experience, the Japanese ramen masters prepare each bowl of ramen in a perfectly choreographed performance. The open kitchen layout provides a sneak peek at the intricate operations, adding to one's overall experience.

Ippudo's signature side dishes were then served, including (L-R) the Ippudo Hakata-style Gyoza, Goma Q, Dashimaki Tamago with Mentaiko Mayo, and Curry Cheese Harumaki...each with delicate flavors presented in that classic and elegant manner the Japanese are known for. The signature gyoza or pan-fried dumplings is perfectly executed, soft and chewy with a light layer of crispness from the seared bottom for balanced textures. The refreshing Goma Q, fresh cucumbers with a light sesame dressing and delicate flavors is an ideal starter before the ramen, as well as the light and fluffy Dashimaki Tamago. The Curry Cheese Harumaki, served on a bed of crisp noodles, presents bold flavors, and great with Japanese beer.

The popular Ippudo Pork Buns is also served, with juicy and slow-braised pork belly and Ippudo's original sauce on a soft steamed bun. Sweet and savory, the tender pork belly releases so much rich flavors in every bite, you'll definitely want another. 

Then, it was time to sample the signature Ippudo Ramen, and the blend of Ippudo's key components for that perfect bowl: a rich and creamy pork tonkotsu broth simmered for over fifteen hours for that distinct milky texture, the chewy Hakata-style noodles made fresh daily, the tender slices of pork, stewed and lightly seasoned Kikurage or mushrooms, and flavorful dashi. The Shiromaru Motoaji (starts at P 375) is the perfect introduction to Ippudo's ramen, the classic and original Hakata-style tonkotsu broth served with its signature ultra-thin noodles topped with tender pork loin, bean sprouts, kikurage, and spring onions. The white broth is mildly flavored, yet rich and buttery, perfectly complementing the hard noodles and tender pork. The spring onions and kikurage add subtle flavors and textures. To fully enjoy your ramen experience, simply follow the three basic steps: Sip, Slurp and Top. Enjoy the rich broth first with a gentle sip, then, pick up the noodles and slurp (yes, slurp away!), and finally, pick up the piece of tender pork to complete the flavors.

The Akamaru Shinaji (starts at P 390), the original tonkotsu broth updated with a modern twist, enhanced with rich special blended miso paste and aromatic garlic oil with Ippudo's signature thin noodles, tender buta bura pork or pork belly, kikurage, and spring onions. The flavors are slightly more pronounced, with the blended miso and garlic oil combining for upfront flavors. And as you gently mix your bowl, the color of the broth is slowly transformed to a bright orange. This one's a personal favorite.

And if you're looking for a fiery number, this is it. The spicy Karaka-Men (starts at P 390), Ippudo's original broth with a spicy kick, with thin, wavy noodles in a rich broth, topped with pork belly, and spring onions. The special spicy minced meat, miso paste, and fragrant garlic oil add a flavorful punch and refreshing heat.

The spicy blend coats each noodle, delivering a subtle release of spicy notes that linger, as you go for more. The level of heat is not at all overwhelming, but it gradually builds after every sip. A cold beer between sips should do the job.  Each ramen presents its own unique and distinct notes, making each sip different and special. A perfect blend of tradition and innovation in each bowl, allowing diners to experience Ippudo's philosophy, "to continuously innovate to remain true" in each and every sip.

Experience Ippudo, now open at SM Megamall.

Ippudo is located at the 3F, Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City or call 470-1837 for inquiries.

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