I dropped by Ramen Ukokkei for dinner after having a wonderful game of catching murderers at Beer and Boardgames with Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. But I shall talk about that in a Geek Blog and not a Food Blog. Here, we are concerned with one of the oldest high-end ramen joints in Makati, Ukokkei.
Ukokkei was once the only place you could get real quality ramen. It also had a chef with a really high-and-mighty attitude, and legend has it that Erap Estrada once came by for a bowl, but they had already served their quota for the day, so the chef told the hungry Mr. Estrada off because he don’t make extra bowls for anybody, no exceptions! A few weeks later Ukokkei was closed down for “healthy inspections” and had to re-open a month or so later with a kindlier smile and none of the attitude.
I’m glad I didn’t have to take any of that attitude, because I had just solved a murder and was hungry for some grub.
So I got the menu and looked for the awesomeness that was my next meal. When I go to a ramen joint, my first order is usually Tantanmen. if it’s not available, whatever karai-thing is available. Luckily, Ukokkei built its reputation on its tantan, so that’s what I’m ordering. It’s not on the menu, but you’ll see it on the chalkboard going for 400 bucks.
What can I say? I love spicy food. I love tantanmen. Originally a Chinese dish from Szechuan, the branch of Chinese cuisine that specializes in red hot spicy food, it’s been adopted by the Japanese ramen artisans and elevated to an art form. Ukokkei’s tantan — DELIVERS!
The broth is nice, thick and tasty, just the way I like it. None of that sissy thin watery gunk that tastes of nothing but onions and salt that you get from Lapaz Batchoi. This is the real deal. The pork bones that were boiled in painstakingly the previous night gave up their ghost and imbued the soup with supernatural powers, like the ability to make me go, “Umai!!!”
It’s mixed with a wonderful red chili paste that gives that kick I so love in Indian and Szechuan food, and the green onions bring a hint of freshness that goes great with the spiciness. The noodles were a little disappointing, but I’m used to ramen noodles not being good — I think the only ramen noodles that I really enjoyed were Mitsuyado’s. These are stringy, thin and altogether forgettable noodles.
Finally, here is a Tantan that fights on the same level as Yushoken’s Tantanmen. I still think the original Yushoken’s tantan is better, but this is not far off. In fact, I have felt lately that Yushoken’s tantanmen has degraded in quality. Why, I do not know, maybe they changed chefs, but the last time I went the tantan did not taste as good as I remembered. It certainly didn’t taste as good as this bowl. That’s very, very high praise, coming from me. Because I worship at the altar of the Ramen God at Yushoken.
As good as the tantan was, I only finished off the broth and left the ground pork and some noodles at the bottom. My stomach isn’t as bottomless as it used to be, but I was not a big fan of the ground pork either. The pork actually felt… undercooked, if that makes any sense. I don’t really get it, but my impression was the pork was just chopped up and just tossed into the stew, letting the warmth of the soup cook it slowly just before it was served. I did not enjoy it. But the broth more than made up for it, so I’ll let that slide.
We got some Aji Tamago to go with the ramen. I was not that impressed with the Aji Tamago, it was about on par with the Aji Tamago at Ramen Bangaichi, but not as good as the one at Yushoken or Mendokoro. The insides weren’t as firm and tasty for some reason, and felt a little watery.
We also got a bowl of Miso Ramen.
The Miso Ramen… where do I begin? Well it’s the same negi and noodles as the tantan, but as always instead of ground pork it has chashu instead. The chashu is suitably soft, and not really flavored as chashu goes, but this one did not have the “melt in your mouth” goodness that I associate with really good ramen chashu.
I then went on and tried to savor the sauce. The sauce was…. decent, but not very nuanced. I can taste the soybean base, and it’s very umami, and it’s a bit salty, but not too salty, but overall this broth did not light up my imagination. I guess that’s to be expected since I had just had the awesome tantan, so perhaps it was not a good idea to try this after the tantan. I was simply not impressed. I would give this a pass and stick with the tantan.
I should also note that we ordered some Gyoza, but for some reason I can’t find the picture I took of it. Well, no matter. Long story short, the gyoza is mediocre at best, icky at worst. The pork inside didn’t bring me pleasure, I didn’t get various hints of veggie goodness biting it, no juice, no complex texture on the skin, just a cold slimy wrap on top and a not-so-crisp texture at the fried bottom side. It reeked a bit of ginger. Standard fare, but nothing to write home about. I’m sort of glad I don’t have a picture.
All in all, though, my visit to Ukokkei was worthwhile. Although the Miso and Gyoza were no good, the Tantanmen made my trip worthwhile. I am happy that I ate dinner here after a hard day’s work solving crime. Us crimefighters need a place we can lean back, tip off our hats and slurp hot spicy food to make your lips pout and your tongue scream in agony. Yes, Ukokkei is that kind of place.
Be sure to try the Tantan if it’s your first time dropping by!