MANILA -- Making sizzling ramen noodles may be a daft concept. And Kureji, the newest homegrown concept by the Mother Spice restaurant group, the group behind Genki Sushi, Cocina Peruvia, and Mango Tree, just went crazy with the idea.
The space inside Japan Town atop Ayala Vertis North is a comfortable corner for Japanophiles. Besides the food, Japanese pop culture adorns the walls and shelves of Kureji. Anime posters of everyone’s favorite ramen-slurping ninja, figurines of mecha from different generations, and bottles of sake give the feeling that this is an izakaya is in a side street of Akihabara instead a restaurant in a mall in Quezon City.
“The name means crazy in Japanese. At least in Japan, that’s how you say crazy, you say kureji. We wanted this to incorporate ramen. We wanted to make ramen inventive. We wanted to make ramen fun. We wanted to reimagine it. Ant that’s why we thought of sizzling ramen,” explained Mia Mikaela Teng, marketing assistant of the Mother Spice Group.
“We were eating sisig at one time and we thought, what would happen if we put ramen in this plate, and then there you go.”
Sizzling ramen may seem like a gimmick, but upon eating it, the preparation of this variation makes sense. The ramen is served in a stone bowl with a bit of broth to keep the noodles from drying out. A plastic sand timer is then flipped around to mark one minute. When the sand runs out, the waiter pours in the rest of the broth.
Putting the ramen in a stone bowls keeps the ramen piping hot for a longer period of time. There is a danger of overcooking the noodles but Kureji bypasses this by having thicker noodles than usual keeping them nice and chewy.
These noodles are hot, and I’d recommend consuming them the way the Japanese eat their ramen -- quickly and noisily slurping them down for that noodle cooling effect.
That said, while the sizzling ramen makes a pretty picture, it’s not meant for to stay around as the noodles will become soggy and become overcooked after some time.
Kureji also deviates from the usual tonkotsu pork broth. Instead, they opted to use tori paitan made from chicken bones.
“First, I don’t like pork. Second, we patterned Kureji after the ramen shops of Tokyo and New York. The ramen shops in New York uses chicken more than pork. Lastly, there is interest to put up Kureji in Malaysia and Indonesia and they prefer chicken over pork,” said Mother Spice owner Eric Teng about choosing paitan over tonkotsu.
I personally prefer miso-based broths over everything else at other ramen joints. But in this case, the shoyu (soy-based) is my top pick. Make no mistake that the garlic miso is delicious. However, with the shoyu variant, the paitan broth shines through the soy. With the garlic miso, the broth is eclipsed by the strong flavors for garlic and the miso.
Another different ramen is the Tomato Seafood Ramen. This variant uses a predominantly tomato-based broth with kimchi to give it extra kick. While it is spicy, this ramen with squid, shrimp, and kani has sour notes because of the pickled spice.
This base is also repurposed in Kureji’s sizzling donburi. These donburi, again served in a stone bowl, resemble the Korean bibimbap along with the burnt crisp rice at the bottom of the bowl that nicely soaks up excess sauce from the spicy seafood, chashu and gyodon variants.
Kureji is not only about the mains but the side dishes as well. Shio Edamame is a good appetizer, while the Kimchi Edamame nicely puts more spice in the green beans.
Kureji's salads are also nice starters. The Kani Mango Salad in particular has a bit of wasabi mixed in to its mayo dressing giving it subtle kick.
Other sides include the gyoza, which are made fresh every day, while the Yuzu Chicken Karaage has a unique sweet-sour flavor.
The Kureji Chicken Wings wings come in soy-ginger, Sriracha, and salt and vinegar variants. While still tasty, I was expecting that the Sriracha, and salt and vinegar would have more intense flavor which might have been toned down for the average local palate.
Kureji puts the sizzle into ramen. It may seem crazy, but its thick noodles and bubbling hot broth make these noodles a joy to slurp.
Kureji is located in Japan Town at the 4th Floor of Ayala Vertis North in Quezon City.