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For a better ramen experience, leave your manners at the door

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I’ve driven alone as far as Mindoro and back, sleeping in the car aboard a boat that also had a truck of noisy pigs screeching for their lives beside me. So I understand how, like the drivers in the avant-garde Japanese foodie movie “Tampopo,” you can be so tired and hungry that you can consume an entire bowl of ramen.

I remember the following scene on ramen appreciation as I try to consume a huge bowl of char siu ramen by my lonesome at Mitsuyado Sei-Men, one of the latest additions to the fast-growing Manila ramen houses:

“First observe the whole bowl: Jewels of fat glittering on the surface. Shinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. Spring onions floating.

“Concentrate on the three pork slices. First, caress the surface with the chopsticks tips, to express affection; then poke the pork. Gently pick it up and put it into the soup on the right of the bowl. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying, ‘See you soon.’

“Finally, start eating, noodles first.”

(I’ve probably quoted “Tampopo” in every ramen article I’ve written since the mid-2000s, but what can I say, it still cracks me up every time. Juzo Itami, its scriptwriter and director, is brilliant!)

Perfect slivers

In fact, the pork at Mitsuyado is just what The Master talked about: “jewels of fat glittering on the surface”—perfect slivers of fat aligned against slivers of tender pork meat to create a beautiful fat-meat pattern, to which you can indeed express affection. There are five large pieces; a little too much respect for pork, perhaps?

The noodles, made in the restaurant’s own noodle house, are thick and tasty. You have the option for thin noodles, but don’t shortchange yourself; go for the thick ones that better absorb the broth’s flavors.

The broth is likewise commendable for its depth, so be not timid in slurping. Make a sound. Just like wine, you have to gargle it a little. For a better ramen experience, leave your manners at the door!

Anyway, some of the servers do—leave their manners at the door, that is. On a busy night, the wait from the time you place your order can be as long as half an hour; and some of your orders might be forgotten.

But don’t complain, lest the waitresses make a face. You may be consoled by the spit guards that the cooks in the kitchen wear, and be assured that a waitress’ wrath won’t end up in your bowl (although I did catch one who had slyly pushed it down to her chin, defeating its purpose).

You might be inclined to ask for sake after this treatment. Alas, the restaurant’s alcohol is limited to beer.

Odd hours

The experience is far more pleasant during lunch, when there is less of a crowd, although parking may still be a problem. Even better to come at odd hours, when the waitresses can breathe and give you their full attention. At this time, they are rather pleasant, even chatty.

During the day, consider the Tsukemen, precisely created for that time of the year (or day) when the weather is too warm for one to appreciate a hot bowl of ramen. This Tokyo concoction has the noodles, broth and side dip set in separate bowls, with the broth acting as a kind of dip instead of as a soup.

At Mitsuyado, the most popular side dish is the cheese sauce (thanks to bloggers’ raves), which you pour onto the noodles. (In Italy, they call this carbonara!) If you fancy Chiz Whiz on a pile of noodles to be dipped in a bowl of salty adobo-ish broth, that’s what this is like.

Personally, I’d rather spread the fabulous cheese dip on toasted pandesal—but that’s just me.

In any case, come with your family or come alone; come dressed or come in shorts. The setting is relaxed and come-as-you-are, as a ramen house should be.

More importantly, the traditional ramen, whose broth is cooked for a good 24 hours, is hearty, as ramen should be. Ukokkei’s ramen Nazi beware; he may be The One, but ramen lovers now have an alternate sweetheart.

Mitsuyado Sei-Men: The House of Tsukemen is at 22 Jupiter St., Bel-Air, Makati; tel. 5111390. Reservations recommended; major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible; P250-P400 for a bowl of ramen.

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