466-472 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei
Yokozuna 橫綱 in Yau Ma Tei has been around since 1987. That’s 24 years of culinary perseverance in a crammed Tokyo-style 24-seat restaurant, with a minimum 30-minute waiting line of people that realise the lengths one has to go to for some serious ramen in Hong Kong. Rumour has it the Japanese head chef left a couple years ago (or maybe more recently than this, although I’ve yet to find any reliable sources) so it was handed over to some Chinese owners, and I suppose if we’re going to be particular about the broth, some were lacking in either the thickness or complexity that apparently Butao Ramen in Soho is now renowned for.
Having not been to Butao Ramen – and not really too enthusiastic about the idea of lining up for at least an hour for grub, seeing Butao’s 200-bowl serve-up more as a gimmick than anything else – I’m not in any way entitled to say how Yokozuna contends as the King of Ramen, but I will say: that for HKD60 a head, with the somewhat authentic ambience of Tokyo-bar stools and 2am closing-time (save the Cantonese yelling of ticket numbers on a ‘what-the-fuck-warrants-this-kind-of-loudness’ speakerphone), there is something so effortlessly cool about Yokozuna that makes it a really casual place to catch up with your friends over a warm bowl of mmm ramen.
Maybe it’s cos it’s simply been around the block for long enough but if I had to personify Yokozuna it’d be close to some old, long-haired (not Long-Hair..) badman with Lennon shades who rocked the punk scene back in the 80’s, caressing a fag with thin bony fingers but with a kind of meticulous grace about him that you feel almost comforted by his cancerous presence. It really is where ‘Hong Kong meets ramen’.
In Japanese culture, Yokozuna refers to the highest rank in sumo 相撲, the rope – or tsuna 綱 – being worn around the waist to discern between the crème de la crème of these esteemed fatties. I honestly feel like we deserved one of these ropes after the foodmass we consumed for our Japanese dinner, but after waiting almost half an hour for a table, we were too hungry to be rational about things of reasonable weight and the like. My friends weren’t too sympathetic to my food porn perfectionism either, so I can only recall vaguely the flavours and feelings I had for their ramen before they devoured their generous servings of noodle and soup.
We started with the yakitori (焼き鳥). The chicken was succulent and the glaze was a heavenly mix of thickened soy sauce and mirin – with the sweetness of your standard tare sauce, I suppose. Also, I’ve never seen chicken skewered so nicely! in pretty loose squares, topped with sesame seeds and I think this was seaweed but I honestly can’t remember.
The gyoza was a bit of a par. I knew the photo I took was going to be a little blurry too, but I didn’t really care; there was nothing special about the dough, and the filling tasted rather bland, with no real distinction between the pork and whatever vegetable is was mixed with, I’m thinking chives but there was absolutely no crunch or way of differentiating between the mush or pork with the mush of veg. A bit disappointing, to say the least, but I guess when you’ve been brought up in Hong Kong, one tends to be pretty fussy about their dumpling?
And so cue the ramen:
The tonkotsu ramen my friend ordered was delicious. The pork marrow broth was satisfyingly unctuous, milky and perfectly complimentary to the chashu or simmered pork, derived from char siu or barbecued pork in China (was that too obvious?). The ramen toppings were the same for all of us – each with their own texture, flavour and colour: the crunch of the green beans and seaweed sheet/nori (海苔) until it’s plunged and softened into the broth; the slight sweetness of the bamboo shoots/menma (メンマ) and burst of sweetness from the corn; and the little slice of the delicate spiraling pink and white narutomaki kamaboko (ナルト/なると) that reminds you of Japanese precision at its best.
The shoyu (soy-based broth) was much lighter – and clearer – than the pork broth, but better than the soybean-paste broth that I ordered with beef, which was neither here nor there in terms of consistency or flavour.
I also ordered the beef which I think might’ve been a mistake when you’ve tasted how good the chashu is here. But no big; we just ordered an extra side of chashu:
Reared from the same place Canadians get their bacon, the sweet caramelisation on the tender flank was absolutely delicious. The mustard was a nice accompaniment to the dish, especially with that wasabi-nose-pow.
The salted eggs (鹹蛋) were also ordered as an extra side because my friend has a penchant for making good calls on these kinds of things. The perfect complement to the ramen, with the orange red yolk rich and fatty. A must-order.
Until next time,