Going to Ramen Ya in Kaahumanu Center is the closest you can come to being transported to Japan via a bowl of noodles. Sit at the bar and spock the action in the kitchen, where more often than not you’ll see Wilson Wu at work. Wu is a noodle shop veteran, yet he never looks ruffled by the the hundreds of bowls coming out of out this small shop, which often has a line snaking out the door.
I caught up with Wilson to find out how he keeps his soup hot and his tempermant cool.
How does ramen differ from saimin?
Saimin has a pre-packed powdered seasoning. The noodles are deep fried, frozen or dried. Good ramen noodles and broth are made fresh and have better nutritious value.
What other kinds of food are on your menu? Do you serve Japanese food?
Ramen-ya’s aim is to serve healthy, good quality comfort food with excellent value in a nice clean modern atmosphere. Our menu covers a broad range of traditional as well as local favorites with a Japanese flair. Other than ramen-style noodles, you’ll find seafood, katsu and curry as well as rice dishes.
I can’t eat your soup without making a loud mess. Is there a special noodle shop etiquette diners should follow?
In a Japanese noodle shop you’ll find people making loud noises when slurping the noodles, and they hold the bowl to drink the broth. This is normal to show that the customer is enjoying the food—so you can slurp and make loud noises to your heart’s content.
How do you make your broth?
Good ramen chefs take pride in the creation of their broth. We use a combination of pork bone, bone marrow, chicken, mixed vegetables and our chef’s secret ingredients. Each pot of broth is cooked for over 12 hours.
Another favorite on the menu are the gyoza. How do you make them? Can you reveal any gyoza secrets?
We make our own filling from scratch and it’s freshly cooked to order. Our gyoza fryer from Japan is of authentic quality. It creates gyoza with a crisp, golden brown bottom and a soft top with a juicy filling.
Were you born into the life of a soup noodle king like Kung Fu Panda, or did you work your way into it? What kind of training did you undergo?
I have been in the restaurant business since I came to Hawaii. Cooking is my passion. When I had an opportunity to run a ramen shop for my relative about 10 years ago, I took this opportunity. I was able to fine tune my ramen concept while learning the business side of running a restaurant. Ramen-ya has been a result of my on the job training.
What’s your secret to handling the pressure in a fast-paced kitchen?
All it takes is a well-planned structure to the day for things to work and fall in place. You need to be properly staffed, have all the necessary prep work done, ingredients ordered, ready and on hand. Even though it looks busy and hectic, with all the ingredients in place we can produce good, fresh food at a rapid pace.
If you were eating at a ramen shop, what would you be looking for?
A great bowl of ramen has three elements: noodles that are fresh and cooked to the right consistency; broth that is tasty, slow and long cooked for full-flavor and nutrition; and a well-garnished appealing presentation. Due to Hawaii’s diversity of ages and tastes, we also provide a selection of table condiments to meet individual taste buds.
Is there a perfect time of day to have a bowl of ramen?
Remember to take advantage of our daily happy hour from 2 -5pm, where we give away free gyoza with a regular meal purchase.
I hear you guys throw an awesome party. What’s that all about?
Technically we don’t throw the party, but we can certainly provide the food. We cater any item on our menu, except for soup-style noodles. We can go with appetizers to entrees, or entree dishes like mochiko chicken or chicken katsu. Other favorites are fried rice and noodle dishes. All of these can be special made to order, and put together in party pans to fit any size party or budget.
Ramen-Ya; 275 West Kaahumanu Avenue, Kahului; 873-9688