Hokkaido Ramen Santouka Opens Thursday

Tonkotsu shio ramen

Shio ramen, before.

The Eastside and the greater Seattle area has seen a rise in restaurants offering ramen in the last year, but perhaps the most anticipated noodle offering in the region has been the arrival of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka in Bellevue. The Japanese franchise opens its first free-standing restaurant in the U.S. to the masses at 103 Bellevue Way on Thursday, April 24.

Hitoshi Hatanawa, the restaurant’s founder, was on hand last week to introduce media and guests to Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. He explained through a translator that Bellevue was chosen for the first free-standing restaurant in the U.S. because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback from Seattle-area diners who traveled to the Vancouver location to eat ramen.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka offers four different flavors of broth: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso and karamiso (spicy miso). The broth’s base is made up of pork ribs and chicken thigh bones, which are braised for more than 20 hours. The result is rich, creamy and full of flavor.

Shio ramen, after. It was terrible. Not.

Shio ramen, after. It was terrible. Not.

The Hokkaido region in Japan is known for its shoyu ramen, but this restaurant’s specialty is its shio variety. I tried the shio, which is topped with tonkotsu (braised pork belly), bamboo shoots, fishcake and kikurage mushrooms, plus the added bonus of an ume plum, which is a pickled plum that offers a sour and crunchy contrast to the salty flavor. The flavor of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka’s ramen took me back to my recent travels in Japan, and so far, it’s the best I’ve had in the Seattle area.

The base price for a medium bowl of shio ramen is $10.96. A dollar less or a dollar more will get you a small or large bowl, respectively. The karamiso flavored ramen is $.50 more.

In addition to the bowls of ramen, you can order a variety of side dishes and combos. You can also find tsukemen, which is a fun way to consume ramen. Your cold noodles and hot broth are served separately, and instead of slurping soup and noodles together, you dip your noodles in the broth, and chase the bite with some hot soup.

Speaking of the proper way to eat ramen, Hatanaka’s said there really isn’t one. “As long as you can put your ramen in your mouth, that’s a good start.”

Sounds simple enough. Local food writer and ramen expert Jay Friedman offered a slurp-filled demonstration, explaining that you should dispense with the niceties when consuming ramen — get your face close to the bowl and slurp to your taste buds’ (and heart’s) content. He added that in Japan, you won’t hear chatter and laughter in ramen shops. Instead the only sounds should be loud slurping and pots banging in the kitchen.

Expect long lines at the restaurant as it opens to the public this week. However, you can help expedite the wait if you remember that ramen is meant to be consumed quickly. In Japan, long lines and small spaces force diners in and out at ramen shops. Plus your ramen will taste best if it’s hot. So enjoy your ramen. But don’t dillydally.

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