Just when you thought all the noodling around quieted down already, comes a whole slew of new ramen shops – and big hitters at that.
One of them is called Ramen Nagi – though to a lot of local travellers to Hong Kong, it will still be known in hushed tones as Butao Ramen.
When it opened in Hong Kong a few years back, the waits in line to eat at Butao could go on for hours – a little nuts if you look at ramen as just a bowl of soup and noodles, but if you consider it as an art form and know that it’s actually not an easy dish to execute, waiting to experience an exemplary bowl of goodness is tolerable. Just ask some of the owners of Butao – like Enti and Clarissa Coscoluella – who waited in line with the rest of ‘em and fell in love with it, enough to want to bring it to their homeland.
The soul of their ramen comes from a tonkotsu broth – made by boiling pork bones and proprietary spices for hours. In a pork crazy country like hours, the whole concept of this is so enticing - like dangling a crate of freshly made donuts in front of Homer Simpson. Appropriately enough, a Fukuoka native named Satoshi Ikuta, who spent years perfecting his craft, originated Ramen Nagi. Fukuoka is also known as the land where tonkotsu ramen was born, so you know there’s a well of inspiration right there.
Their food, though, is not your lola’s ramen. Its base can be considered traditional, but that’s where it ends. Of course, you can still eat it in its most basic form when you order the Butao variant. Straight up and “naked” - if you’re a Nagi virgin, then this may be the way to go.
However, things get more interesting when you dig deeper into the menu.
Their claims to fame are the 3 other “Kings”: The Red King (Akao) is for the spice lovers. It’s red from select cayenne, and topped with a ball of minced pork coated with miso. The initially odd Green King (Midorio) is topped with pesto and parmesan. Yes. It’s Italianese. But if you stop and think about it – it’s basically adding umami (parmesan cheese, especially, is huge source of umami) on umami of the broth. Not for everyone, I suppose, especially purists, but ordering it will reward the open minded. And finally there is the awesomeness that is the Black King (Kuroo). This is the one that put Butao in Hong Kong on the map, which indirectly ensured Ramen Nagi to enter our consciousness and tummies: a variant with squid ink, blackened garlic, and again a ball of minced pork. It’s intense, full of flavor and rich. It’s a bit of a challenge to finish all the broth, but you may be enticed to do so, much to the chagrin of your date. No kissing tonight, yo.
These 4 bowls are their initial offerings, but at some point they will have 9 kinds, and a monthly “special”. As of this writing, the month’s special is an Ebi Ramen, made of prawn stock. The permanent Japanese chef Kobeyaki himself is all praise for the flavor of our local shrimp heads – and that all comes out on your first sip of the broth base. It’s packed with enough flavors to knock you out in noodle bliss.
And if you want to customize your bowl, there is the Omotenashi sheet – a piece of paper where you can choose how thick you want your broth, the spice level, firmness of noodles, and even ramen accessories like soft boiled eggs, nori, cabbage and such. It all makes for fun eating!
The amazing thing about all the quality ramen places is that they all have their own specialties – giving the hungry public many choices to satiate their ramen desires.
Ramen Nagi will definitely be one of those at the forefront of all this ramen craziness, with a myriad of funky and delicious offshoots. Extra rich broth, spice level 3, noodles extra firm please.