“Contemporary ramen is totally different than what most Americans think ramen should be. Ramen is not one thing; there are many, many different types.”

– Chef David Chang

This is part 1 of a series of posts featuring ramen shops around Hawaii. Please check out the full series here!

COMPLEXITY IN A BOWL

Growing up my knowledge of ramen was mostly the fried bricks of noodles with soup packets. Here in Hawaii there was also a little bit of a craze during middle school where kids would smash up the noodles and toss them in a ziploc bag with the powdered soup packets, then consume the bits of crunchy noodle like popcorn. Thankfully in adulthood my exposure to ramen has increased exponentially.

Ramen is a highly focused dish with the soup serving as its star. Many are surprised to learn that the soupy goodness of ramen is usually comprised of three distinct and individually crafted elements: broth, tare, and oil. The broth is the main body of ramen soup, made using meat, vegetables, and bones that have been boiled for many hours. Tare (pronounced ta-re) is the umami bomb of the soup, often created using ingredients like shoyu, niboshi, and kombu. The last primary component, oil, is typically enhanced with aromatics like garlic to bolster the aroma of the soup.

Although the components are fairly consistent, their combined form can vary a great deal. The varieties of ramen broths range from some of your classic styles like shio (salt) or shoyu, to more complex offerings like tonkotsu and paitan. Beyond just the variations of broth, the serving method, noodle type, and toppings for ramen add even more diversity to the options available to diners.

PART ONE OF A SERIES

Fortunately for us in Hawaii we have many great ramen options, encompassing may different varieties. I’ll be slowly building up a series of ramen posts, exploring some of the most popular (and perhaps a few lesser known) ramen shops around Honolulu and the state.

GOLDEN PORK

First up in this series is a visit to Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar, located off of King Street between Piikoi and Keeaumoku. As the name suggests, this ramen shop specializes in tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu, or “pork bones” in English, is a style of ramen that originated in the Fukuoka area. Bones and other ingredients are boiled for many hours to create a rich, creamy broth. Tonkotsu is arguably one of the most popular and well known styles of ramen. Both Ichiran and Ippudo, two of Japan’s most famous ramen chains with numerous locations across Japan and the USA, also specialize in tonkotsu ramen.

Left: Spicy cucumber with chili and garlic. Right: Fried chicken with Japanese mayo.

Before diving in to some ramen I tried out a couple of appetizers. The spicy cucumber was cool and refreshing, with a mild heat. The fried garlic is delicious with the cucumber. Golden Pork’s fried chicken is one of the better versions I’ve had in a local ramen shop. Tender, juicy, and flavorful chunks of chicken are fried with a light yet crispy batter.

Black garlic tsukemen ramen with char siu, egg, green onion, fungus, and black garlic oil

One of the popular serving styles of ramen is tsukemen, or “dipping ramen”. In this style, noodles are served alongside a concentrated broth. Noodles are then dipped to coat them in the broth, then slurped up to enjoy. The noodles in tsukemen tend to be wavy and thick, creating more surface area for the broth to coat. Golden Pork’s tsukemen broth is a concentrated version of their tonkotsu base. Each slurp brings with it the salty, rich, and oily flavors of the broth. This serving is actually a double-order of the noodles, as I have found that just one is not enough to enjoy as much of the broth as possible.

Black Garlic Original - Char siu, sesame, nori, green onion, wood ear mushroom, black garlic oil, chili paste

While the tsukemen at Golden Pork is delightful, the star dish is definitely the more traditional version of tonkotsu ramen. The noodles served here are hakata-style, which are thin and firm to maintain a better al denta texture. While the noodles are cooked well, its the tonkotsu broth that shines. Very rich and creamy, Golden Pork’s tonkotsu broth is deep and complex. The umami enhances the luxuriousness of each sip. The cucumber side dish came in handy here, as the refreshing cucumber between slurps of ramen helped to alleviate the palate and break up the richness. Since Tsujita at the Waikiki Yokocho closed, this has become my favorite tonkotsu ramen in Honolulu.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Golden Pork serves a delicious, rich bowl of tonkotsu ramen with perfectly cooked noodles. The broth has a great depth of flavor and complexity to it. That alone is enough to warrant a trip back. But, if a singular bowl is not enough to satisfy your cravings the restaurant also serves tasty tsukmen ramen and side dishes. I’ve tried a few of the sides and so far the spicy cucumber and fried chicken have been my favorites. The only real drawback on the food here is the char siu, which is adequate but doesn’t stand out.

Service is attentive and fast, although with limited interaction. The inside of the restaurant is bright and colorful, with a great central art piece that divides the counter seating. The only ding on atmosphere is that the floor was oddly sticky on our last visit, but this wasn’t a major deal.

The pricing at Golden Pork is on par with other ramen shops around town, but given the flavor of the broth I’d say that your dollar is better spent here for ramen than in most other places. The appetizers are also reasonably priced.

As with many establishments on King Street, parking can be challenging here. There is a very small lot in the back, with a narrow driveway just before the shop itself.

SCORECARD

Food 93/ 100
Service 85/ 100
Atmosphere 80/ 100
Price Value 90/ 100
Overall Score 88/ 100

Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar
1279 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
808.888.5358