Is the Era of Ramen in the Philippines Over?August 3, 2014
As I write this, it’s cold outside, rain and wind smashing windows signifying the beginning of typhoon season. All I want is a huge bowl of ramen, the rich tonkotsu kind that woos me into submission, with fat skimming the surface.
There are at least 30 restaurants in Manila specializing in ramen alone.
A few years ago, to satisfy my cravings, I would have had to make my way to Ukkokei or Shinjuku, but now, there are at least 30 restaurants in Manila specializing in ramen alone. At first the ramen craze seemed to be just a skyrocketing fad, with shops opening left and right. It was the 2013 gastropub, the year’s farm-to-table. At the moment, with ramen joints still popping up everywhere, have we had too much? Is this fad going to die as soon as the Cronut did?
At the moment, with ramen joints still popping up everywhere, have we had too much? Is this fad going to die as soon as the Cronut did?
The reason why ramen has become so popular is because of how well it lends itself to so many different flavors—in fact, in Japan alone, there are so many different styles, that every region is bound to have their own take. Tokyo for example, has a common variety made with dashi and flavored with shoyu, while Hokkaido has it’s Sapporo ramen. Before the craze, most people here associated ramen with the kind you’d sop up as a student on a budget, but it has now become a staple almost everywhere in the world.
Elsewhere, it isn’t just a passing fad: instead, it is a culinary icon with museums devoted to it, invading even the chic-est of restaurant menus. David Chang of Momofuku is most famous for it, and places like Yuji have turned the ingredients of ramen into pasta-type dishes. This shows how far the humble food of Japan has gone, and how fast it is still growing today. In the Philippines, we have seen international brands claim their stake; most notably, Ramen Nagi known for their ridiculously loaded bowls, and soon, Ippudo, regarded by some as one of the best around the globe. In a country known for downing cupfuls of rice, this seems unprecedented, but we have our own noodle dishes, our pancits, which make this fast trend easily adaptable.
However, our increasing fondness for the warming bowls of noodles doesn’t mean all ramen concepts will survive, and at this point, the market is infinitely over-saturated.
Ramen is definitely here to stay. Unlike Cronuts or kale, ramen is incredibly versatile. It’s hard to get bored, with the plethora of soup bases and toppings one can get with the stuff. It has the ability to be assimilated into our food culture, just like how Japanese has become commonplace in Manila, or how Korean has built up a steady following. However, our increasing fondness for the warming bowls of noodles doesn’t mean all ramen concepts will survive, and at this point, the market is infinitely over-saturated. I’ve been to several places that seem to be serving ramen just to make a buck, disregarding flavor entirely. Unless a restaurant brings something new to the table, or is incredibly delicious and original, people will hardly flock to it, when there are so many other places one can choose from.