For too long have I been subjected to people who believe the beginning and end of Japanese food is sushi. While living in Japan for half of a year, I believe I ate sushi once. This was not because I was avoiding sushi, but because sushi just wasn’t as prevalent as we are led to believe. Sure, you can find sushi if you are looking, but it is not as though every corner has a sushi place. Rather, it is much more common to find ramen. This isn’t your Cup O Noodle college hangover ramen, but a real, hearty bowl of broth with noodles, meat and more. Recently, some coworkers of mine were heading out to “that ramen place” in Gardena for lunch and I joined them, fingers crossed that this place would be the true Japanese food I’ve been waiting for.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I knew this place had to be good. There weren’t any Fords or Chevys (no offense, Detroit) in the parking lot, but it was full of Honda, Toyota and Nissan. I looked at the sign, which read Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi and knew I was going to a good place. Inside and outside, everything was written in both English and Japanese. Waiters were yelling random words in Japanese around the place, which could have been obscenities for all that we knew, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t since so much of the clientele was actually Asian.
I took a look at the menu and pretty easily found what I wanted. This was the B-Set, which was a bowl of Hakata Ramen, gyoza dumplings and steamed rice. Rather than telling the waiter what we wanted, we had a slip of paper to write our orders on. This gave you many options on how to order your ramen. I ordered my noodles hard, my oil normal and my soup base strong. I also ordered some Spicy Miso in the soup. At the end of the options, there was a section called “Un desire able?” None of us could quite figure out what this meant, since it seemed semi-Spanish. I thought that whatever this was, I would want two, but I was wrong. Our waiter told us that this was ginger and green onions. I only got the ginger, which I suppose constitutes only half of an “un desire able.”
My ramen (pictured above), gyoza and rice arrived together and looked so awesome that a drunk man wandering the streets of Osaka at 2 am would have been proud. I dug into both and was a happy man. The gyoza was crispy on the bottom and soft on top, just as it should be. When I took a look at the ramen my friends were eating, I knew I had made the right choice by going with hard noodles. It’s kind of like getting al dente with Italian pasta, but better.
The spicy miso was a great addition to this soup, also. It came in a scoop like ice cream, but happily dissolved into the broth with a little twirl of the chopsticks. It turned the broth into a beautiful orange color and added some delicious flavor. The only real problem with this soup came after I had eaten all of the noodles and meat. When the broth was all alone, it was too salty and strong. This was mostly my fault for ordering a strong soup base, so I have learned my lesson and will get the normal soup base next time.
As a bonus for having extra broth at the end of my meal and being childlike, I discovered the art of ramen oil painting. This involved me squirting bits of oil into my soup and shaping it with my chopsticks. If you look closely, you can see the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus to the right!–>
So, yeah. This was a pretty great place to get some lunch, and cheap too! The ability to customize your ramen is a pretty sweet option that can make anyone happy. Also, they have their own YouTube page, with is pretty badass. This is Japanese food as it is meant to be and not some silly, trendy sushi restaurant with rolls stuffed with jicama.