Afterthoughts – Slurping up Ramen at Butao Ramen
My top ramen obsession still remains loyal to Ichi-ran in Tokyo, but Butao Ramen comes at a pretty close second. And the good thing is – Butao is located in Hong Kong!
Although, the fact that Butao is located in close proximity doesn’t always equate to easy access, as the little ramen shop boasts an average wait time of 45 minutes. You will usually see a long line of around 20 people snaking down one side of the little alley in LKF. Are they lining up for a new bank note issue? Are these Mainlanders lining up outside Hermes? No, and no! They are lining up for a coveted spot at Butao, so they can sit elbow to elbow with other ramen enthusiasts and slurp up some of the best ramen in Hong Kong.
Since the shop first opened in Central LKF, they have also opened up in TST and Causeway Bay. But I am a traditionalist and prefer the authentic taste of the rickety Central store. The place, literally, is more of a shack rather than a restaurant, with around 12 seats ( including bar counter). Like Ichi-ran in Tokyo, you need to fill out a sort of questionnaire before being seated. The little slip of paper indicates your preference for noodle hardness, spiciness, garlic quantity, thickness of soup, plus additions such as extra pork and egg. The menu is pretty straight forward and offers 4 flavours of ramen: Butao King (original pork bone), Red King (spicy), Black King (squid ink), and Green King (cheese with pesto).
I’ve tried all the flavours except for the original Butao King, because I just find it to look way to average. But perhaps, next time I will give it a try. I’ve listed the pictures below according to my level of preference for each flavour.
Fresh ramen noodles being weighed before going into the boiler.
The tinny little kitchen of Butao with stacks of their signature red bowls and cauldrons of bubbling pork bone broth.
First up, my top choice at Butao – the fiery Red King. The Red King comes with a mound of spicy meat sauce in the middle of the bowl, like the rising sun of Japan. It’s actually not as formidable as it sounds, and I don’t feel that it’s particularly spicy. But I love the intense flavour of the sauce mixed in with the collagen-filled pork bone broth.
Here’s another shot of the Red King on a separate occasion. I love the spicy preserved vegetables and bean sprouts supplied as condiments on each table, and usually load up my noodle with these to add additional spicy flavour and texture contrast.
Let’s talk about the egg! I love love love half-cooked egg, with a glowing lava-like center and savoury shoyu flavour penetrating through the entire egg. The eggs are soaked in a bath of soy sauce and mirin overnight to achieve this incredible flavour.
Second on my list is the Black King, which is made of squid ink. I must say that the shocking part of this bowl is in its colour, and not so much in its taste. The flavour is on the sweeter side when compared to the Red King.
Sometimes, we order an extra side of pork and seaweed. The thin layers of pork are very tender and juicy. They also offer a pork belly option, which comes in a very thick, well marbled cut, and I will definitely try this next time!
My least favourite option (well, so far as I haven’t yet tried the original Butao King), is the Green King. I almost felt jibbed for waiting in line for so long when I tasted this bowl. The powdered cheese on top tasted very “goaty” and the pesto was just strange. Some flavours are best left alone when it comes to ramen. I personally would not try this option again, but if you are feeling adventurous, why not?
Verdict: As a fanatic foodie, I definitely recommend this place, but you need to be prepared for the line. The shop opens at 11am (closed on Sundays), so either get there around 10:50am, or go during non-peak hours like 3-5pm. I’ve recently walked by this place at 7pm and it wasn’t full, so I guess dinner here is also an option, although it’s not a very social meal or have a great ambiance.
The broth is very rich and full of sticky collagen from the stewed pork bones. However, I also feel that there’s a lot of MSG in the soup, as I get incredibly thirsty around an hour after eating this (MSG makes you very thirsty). A few friends have also reflected on the same feeling. After all, the Japanese invented MSG, so it’s only natural (hahaha, pun intended) they use it in food preparation.
G/F, Wo On Building, 8-13 Wo On Lane