MANILA – Just when you thought the ramen craze is over in Manila, Menya Kokoro enters the Philippines with its first mazesoba shop at Uptown Mall in Taguig.
Chef Takuma Ishikawa opened his first Menya Kokoro shop in 2013. A year later, he received the Best Mazesoba Award in Japan.
Since then, Menya Kokoro expanded to other countries including Canada, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and now, the Philippines.
Mazesoba (abura soba) or broth-less ramen seems like a misnomer, as what is usually prized in a ramen is its type of broth. The term ramen, however, can refer to Japanese noodle dishes besides the traditional soupy variety.
Aside from its obvious novelty, the draw of mazesoba is its ability to deliver flavor – notably umami – in spades, even without the presence of a long-simmered broth. It reminds one of minced lu rou fan (a Taiwanese braised pork dish served atop rice) but with noodles and a more pronounced soy-umami flavor. This is more soy and spice than sweet.
What’s in a typical Menya Kokoro mazesoba bowl? Expect thick chewy noodles (similar to udon more than thin soba) hidden underneath a generous amount of green onions, small mounds of minced garlic and saba (mackerel) powder, shredded pieces of nori, and the soboro – the thick sauce of minced pork and soy that gives this bowl flavor – all crowned with a raw organic egg yolk.
Mix the noodles first before eating as mazesoba literally translates to “mix” and “noodles.” If you’re trying it for the first time, though, we recommend taking a few bites before adding any condiments like their seaweed-enriched Kokoro special vinegar, or their chili flakes.
A word of caution: Bowls come with a certain level of spice as indicated in their menu, so go easy on the chili flakes before tasting. If you’d rather control the spice level, ask for a non-spicy version of their mazesoba.
These noodles have intense umami flavor and are heavy on the palate and the tummy, thanks to the thick noodles and the meat sauce. A few bites may get cloying in the mouth, so the vinegar helps in creating a more fluid “sauce” and a balanced flavor. An order also comes with a complimentary serving of Mushroom Shoyu Soup to sip in between heady bites if you need to refresh your palate, or just in case you need more umami.
Nearing the end of your meal, you’ll most likely find yourself looking at some leftover soboro at the bottom of your bowl. This is where the portion of Japanese rice that’s included in your order comes in – add it to the leftover soboro, then mix and enjoy until the very last bite.
Menya Kokoro has a limited menu that currently offers six mazesoba items. Looking for fiery heat? The Spicy Mazesoba should hit the mark and induce some sweaty sighs.
For heavier appetites, order the Zenbu Mazesoba that comes with everything on it. Aside from regular toppings, there’s also zenbu (bamboo shoots), aji tamago (onsen egg), and sliced grilled pork chashu in the bowl.
At the lower end of the spicy scale are three options – the Cheese Mazesoba, the Curry Mazesoba, and the Vegan Mazesoba.
The Cheese Mazesoba is this author’s hands down favorite, with the melted cheese providing a creamy and stringy element to the dish, and yet adding another layer of umami. For sure, the non-spicy version of this mazesoba will be a hit for the kids.
Curry Mazesoba, meanwhile, enriches the bowl with trademark Japanese curry sweetness, so there’s the enticing play between sweet and soy.
Last comes the Vegan Mazesoba, a much-lauded bowl that has Menya Kokoro’s trademark umami flavor but using soy-based “meat,” served with wild rocket, pickles, tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and young corn. A secret sauce that mimics the luscious mouthfeel of the egg found in regular mazesoba, as well as the lemon that comes with the dish, work together to make this dish sing, imparting a hearty and healthy noodle salad feel to the bowl.
This is the Philippines, after all, so for the rice lovers, Menya Kokoro has two donburi dishes (the currydon and the mazedon), where you can enjoy the mazesoba toppings on top of rice.
Appetizers including Gyoza (which comes in three flavors – original, cheese, and wagyu), Agedashi Tofu, Takoyaki, Karaage, and Edamame are available as well to pair with your mazesoba.
For dessert, options are limited to two flavors of ice cream – matcha and kurogoma (black sesame).
With both novelty and authentic award-winning flavor, Menya Kokoro is sure to win fans in our ramen-loving nation, one filling bowl at a time.