17 February 2019
Watching the Japanese ramen masters prepare your favorite noodles before you savor them is an enjoyable treat in itself. Photos: HKEJ
Watching the Japanese ramen masters prepare your favorite noodles before you savor them is an enjoyable treat in itself. Photos: HKEJ

Admiring the culinary skills of ramen chefs

Just recently hotel tycoon Chan Chung-fan called me up to ask if I was interested in joining him on a visit to Ginza.

Chan is a romantic guy who does whatever he thinks of doing. Once he went to Tokyo, and left the same day, just to buy a wedding photo album for his best mate.

I, being a member of the working class, could not afford that kind of luxurious daring.

But as I was trying to make up an excuse, he told me he had just arrived at Happy Valley, ready to take ramen noodles with me.

Oh, I got it. He didn’t mean to go to Tokyo’s well-heeled district of Ginza, but Zagin Soba, the ramen specialty store.

It’s a newly opened shop in Happy Valley that has earned quite a lot of positive reviews, including Chan’s “must try” recommendation.

As a matter of fact, I had tried it even before he did; it’s a nice place that’s worth another visit. However, I was in the middle of work somewhere on Kowloon side, and so I begged off.

There are quite a few Japanese restaurants in Happy Valley. I could think of Bojyo and Yakitoritei, and that’s about it.

Zagin Soba is definitely high-end. Chicken soup ramen or seafood and chicken soup ramen will set you back HK$138 a bowl. Chicken soup dipping ramen (tsukemen) costs HK$10 more.

Whether that’s expensive or not depends on the guest, of course.

In the kitchen are two Japanese chefs; they look quite focused on their work of preparing the noodles, soup base and ingredients.

Watching them work is fascinating – heating the serving bowl by boiling water, boiling the ramen noodles, mixing the gelatin-rich soup broth gel with the right amount of water, and deep-frying the burdock root.

Though the pair work seamlessly together, it still takes them quite a bit of time, around 10 minutes, to prepare a bowl of ramen.

Tsukemen, consisting of noodles which are eaten after being dipped in a separate bowl of soup or broth, is a more difficult dish. That bowl of dipping sauce is undiluted soup base gel, which has to be beaten into liquid via the blender and then heated in a pan.

Meanwhile, the ramen noodles have to be cooled down as quickly as possible after boiling, so that customers could enjoy the chilled noodles coated with a layer of hot thick chicken and pork dipping sauce.

When the chef learns that you have finished the noodles, he then turns the sauce into a soup by adding boiling water.

The soup and ramen noodles are both of top grade quality. The slices of pork and chicken are so delicious.

I like the chicken very much as it is particularly juicy and tender, which is the result of slow cooking in vacuum-sealed environment at 68 degrees Celsius.

The burdock root on top of the ramen was fabulous, too.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 14

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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