Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You know you're a Raw Fishy Fiend when ...

... you go to a popular ramen place and get most excited about the ikura bowl in the combo set!

I got this beautiful bowl at Santouka Ramen in the Mitsuwa Marketplace food court in Costa Mesa - a place I've been meaning to try for a long time on the recommendation of ramenista friend Noodle Girl, reinforced by the kingdom of local ramen bloggers.

Even though it was one of the hottest days we've experienced in recent Junes, I was craving the salty flavor of some good ramen. But when I got to the counter and saw that Santouka has combo sets of ramen and rice bowls, with ikura bowl as an option, I couldn't think of anything else (though the natto fermented bean bowl looked good, too).

Don't get me wrong - the ramen is quite good, definitely living up to the ramen-fanatic reviews. For my set, I ordered a small shio (salt broth) ramen with the ikura bowl, and the slightly creamy broth was perfectly salty and porky-flavorful, not oily nor chemical tasting - really well-stewed soup. No wonder it's the crowd favorite among ramenistas.
It was garnished with a just-right amount of green onion and bamboo and - another nice surprise - an umeboshi pickled plum, which always adds a refreshing taste to foods. The piece of pork was almost-melt-in-your-mouth tender.

I also like how the marinated egg is served separately so you can control how you eat it with the ramen - dump it in all at once to make the soup thicker and heartier, or take bite-size pieces of egg and dip in the soup just before slurping.

It's a testament to how good the ramen is that I actually slurped down the whole bowl AFTER chowing down on the ikura bowl first. I couldn't help it - as soon as I got my order and took a second to look at it (and snap a photo), I dove into the ikura and savored every juicy, salty salmon bite. It was a hearty portion of roe, not chintzy at all.

Ikura on top of rice is perhaps my most favorite Japanese comfort food of all time, something I've loved since I was in elementary school. Because it's not cheap, my parents used to joke that I had expensive tastes even as a 10 year old.

Besides always ordering ikura at sushi bars, I occasionally treat myself to a little quarter-pound tray of it while shopping in the fresh fish sections at Japanese markets, taking it home to pour over hot rice.

But now that I know about Santouka's combos, I'll simply get my ikura fix there: the small ramen and ikura bowl set is a bargain for $10, the satisfaction priceless.

Santouka Ramen, 665 Paularino Ave. (inside Mitsuwa supermarket), Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714) 434-1101

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