MANILA, Philippines — What makes Hokkaido Ramen Santouka different?
“We are true to our tagline: Passionately cooking the best authentic ramen,” says Anna Liza Uy Lim, president of Hokkaido Ramen Philippines, at the opening of their 11th branch at UP Town Center on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. “We cook the soup fresh every single day in each store. With our multi-stores, it’s really a challenge.”
While they have a commissary where they process the other food items for dispatching to the different branches, the soup is made daily in the kitchen of each and every store. With such importance given to the process, at least 40 percent of each store’s total floor area is dedicated to the kitchen alone.
“While others would freeze their soup, dispatch it, then add flavored powder, here everything is done fresh in-store,” Lim says. “We don’t do fusion flavors. This is really authentic. We don’t compromise. Our ingredients are imported.”
The pork bones are simmered for 20 hours over low heat. Everything is done under the supervision of a Japanese chef, a representative of their principal, who goes around regularly to the different branches.
The soup is never served boiling hot. “Our principal believes that the ramen should be served at 95 degrees, so there is no way that your tongue is burned,” says Lim.
She also advises that the ramen should be consumed immediately. Ramen noodles, which are made of wheat, absorb liquids and can get soggy, so they are best eaten immediately after they are served.
“Our noodles are freshly made, with a medium thickness, not very straight nor very curly, but wavy. That’s how it is done in Hokkaido,” she explains.
Santouka’s signature ramen is the Shio Ramen. The soup is made of pork broth seasoned with salt, which is the traditional way ramen soup is flavored. It makes for a mild and creamy soup.
Shoyu Ramen, which is the most common type of ramen, has a clear, brown broth flavored with soy sauce.
Among their other popular flavors is the Kara Miso Ramen, which is seasoned with hot spices and miso or soybean paste, which gives the pork broth a rich, complex flavor.
In addition to ramen, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka offers other popular Japanese dishes like specialty sushi rolls as well as rice bowl sets, light meals, salads and desserts. Their Tori Karaage is said to be the best fried chicken you can find in a Japanese restaurant. Currently, the soft-shell crab salad and sushi, regular takoyaki and cheese takoyaki, tonkatsu tsukemen, and fried chicken tsukemen, are only available at the UP Town Center branch.
“For this particular branch, we want to target the students,” Lim says. Every Friday until Oct. 13, they can enjoy a 20-percent discount on Santouka’s new offerings: fried chicken tsukemen and tonkatsu tsukemen, upon presentation of a valid student ID. They may also treat themselves with the “buy one, get 30 percent off on a second order of a regular takoyaki or cheese takoyaki” promo.
Ideally located near schools and universities, the Hokkaido Ramen Santouka at UP Town Center offers a slight departure from the usual subdued and dim interiors typical of its other branches. “We made it brighter here for the younger crowd, with its clear glass panes that let the outside in. The bright look also appeals to the families, who often come on weekends,” says Lim, who joined the family-owned business somewhat reluctantly at the start.
“The girls in the family traditionally stayed in the background, taking care primarily of the financial aspect of our family-owned agri-based business,” Lim shares.
But circumstances found her on the frontline of their expansion with the Santouka franchise, where she is now deeply engaged in the day-to-day running of the stores. And, just like the meticulous preparation that goes into every bowl of ramen they serve in the stores, Lim makes sure to go the extra mile to ensure ultimate customer satisfaction. No shortcuts. She says, “We’d like to offer a total dining experience.”