New Japanese restaurant dips into ramen craze

Posted at 11/19/2012 7:11 PM | Updated as of 11/20/2012 6:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A new restaurant in Makati City has joined the growing list of specialty eateries focused on ramen, the Japanese noodle dish that has been enjoying a resurgence among Filipino foodies.

Mitsuyado Sei-Men, which opened early this month on Makati’s Jupiter Street, has quickly gained a following for its freshly made ramen and novel pairings, such as pouring cheese sauce over the noodles.

The restaurant, a sister company of the UCC chain of Japanese coffeeshops in Metro Manila, is the first Mitsuyado Sei-Men branch outside Japan, where it has 26 stores, according to Emmanuel Torrejon, who along with Tina Vitas, hosted a dinner for select food writers recently.

“The ramen (craze) started a couple of years ago and recently there have been many ramen places that opened -- ramen bars, we call them -- so the market was already developed,” Torrejon told ABS-CBNnews.com. “So it's improving the ramen scene and raising the bar also for other ramen bars. So now all the ramen places have to upgrade. Probably they also have to do their own noodles.”

Near the entrance of the restaurant is a glass-encased room where customers can see the ramen being made using Japanese flour.

“He (the owner) wanted it to be different, not the normal ramen that we know, which is thinner and yellow in color, more like the egg noodle type. This one has no eggs actually,” Vita added.

Dipping noodles

As such, it is actually recommended to order the ramen cold and al dente so one can fully appreciate the quality of the noodles.

Besides, the star here at Mitsuyado Sei-Men is tsukemen (or dipping noodles), which are served separate from the broth (which is served hot). The diner then dips the noodles in the soup before eating.

Of course, if you order the cheese sauce tsukemen, then there’s the additional step of pouring the cheese sauce on the noodles before dipping it in the broth. (There’s also the “double cheese,” which, in addition to the sauce, also has Parmesan cheese shavings sprinkled on the noodles.)

Mitsuyado Sei-Men has seven kinds of tsukemen (available in regular and large portions), as well as five “special” varieties, served with a curry broth.

Diners can also order extra toppings, such as char-siu, which are fat slices of roast pork, similar to the Chinese barbecue but with cleaner flavors because it doesn’t have food coloring or sugar; or a “morutoku” set that includes char-siu, vegetables, nori (dried seaweed sheets) and the soft-boiled aji-tama egg.

Those who like their food spicy can go for the tan tan tsukemen, which is the Japanese version of the Sichuan noodles known for its reddish, spicy chili soup.

Other Japanese faves

The restaurant also serves the traditional Japanese noodle soups, such as the miso ramen and the shoyu ramen; as well as ae sobas, which are soupless ramen dishes.

But Mitsuyado Sei-Men doesn’t just offer ramen. The menu also includes several donburi rice toppings such as the ubiquitous katsudon and gyudon, curry rice dishes, and side orders of shrimp tempura, fried chicken karaage (which are really crispy) and one of the best gyozas (dumplings) in town with a very light wrapper that’s almost as delicate as the Chinese xiao long bao. (The trick is that the gyoza wrapper is also freshly made with the same machine used for the ramen.)

The dessert menu is limited to kakigori (or the Japanese snow cone), a mini halo-halo, the recommended anmitsu (with fresh fruit slices, gelatin and cream) and, since this is a UCC affiliate, the Sumiyaki coffee jelly with ice cream.

Those looking for more sweet choices can simply slip into the Yamato Pan next door -- another sister establishment -- which is like a Japanese neighborhood bakery with freshly made breads and baked treats.

Unique interiors

But more than the food offerings, diners at Mitsuyado Sei-Men are treated to an all-around Japanese experience with its unique interiors that are bound to be talked about as well. The restaurant is designed like an outdoor eatery but indoors. Instead of plain walls, they created facades of old Japanese businesses and stalls, including panels made of rusted corrugated iron sheets plastered with vintage Japanese movie posters.

The dining area includes a mix of benches, chairs and long tables, like one of those al fresco Japanese izakayas tucked in the side streets of Tokyo or in rural Japan.

“Supposedly the store in the Philippines is much, much better looking than the ones in Japan. I think he really made a special effort to make this store feel like, number one, make it feel very authentic and have a vintage look, and number two, to make you feel like you're eating out in the streets but you're indoors,” Vitas said.

But with more ramen restaurants set to open soon, isn’t the Japanese noodle trend getting too stretched out?

“In Japan, it's a lifestyle, it's a way of life,” Torrejon said. “When you think about it, the Chinese were just ahead here, like Man Mon Look. We're just doing another variant (of noodles).”

“And also I think Filipinos love pancit in all its incarnations,” added Vitas. “I think this is just a different form of pancit, right? And it's something new for Filipinos after Canton, bihon, guisado, sotanghon.”

Mitsuyado Sei-Men
22 Jupiter St., Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 511-1390