Tucked away in a small space in Kaka`ako, Menya Musashi Bukotsu sits a casual eatery serving ramen that is seriously delicious. The store is part of a restaurant chain that is popular in Japan for serving tsukemen, a variation of ramen that consists of dipping noodles into soup. Tsukemen noodles are thicker—somewhat between the thickness of ramen and udon—and the soup is more concentrated than ramen broth. While not many locals have heard of tsukemen, the dish is relatively common in Japan.
Ambience and Location: 4/5
Like most ramen restaurants, Menya Musashi Bukotsu is quite small, similar in size to a cafe. Though the restaurant is clean and not overly crowded, its location is rather inconvenient. Menya Musashi Bukotsu is wedged between two other small stores, and the lack of a big sign makes it a little difficult to find. However, the interior of the restaurant makes up for the inconvenience.
The restaurant decor is inspired by the talented samurai Miyamoto Musashi (whom the restaurant is also named after), with Japanese style calligraphy brush paintings on the walls. Garlic, tempura, and pickles are stored in small Japanese ceramic pots on every table. Natural lighting creates an open, casual ambience and the kitchen at the back of the restaurant is elevated, which allows customers a small view of their meals being made and adds to the clean atmosphere of the restaurant.
To order, we first chose between tsukemen and ramen. We were then able to customize the serving size, soup base, spiciness level, and toppings. Toppings could be ordered from the recommended sets like Musashi Style Ramen and Kakuni Ramen, or they could be ordered individually from a list of toppings like seaweed, cabbage, pork, egg, spinach, and bamboo shoots. We ordered shoyu ramen, Musashi style with no spice, and shoyu tsukemen, kakuni style with a spice level of 2 out of 5. We also ordered a side of gyoza.
The shoyu ramen broth, with a distinct bonito taste, was delicious. The ramen noodles were chewy and just the right thickness for the thin, clear broth. The musashi style toppings set included one ajitama (marinated soft-boiled egg), two pieces of kakuni (braised pork belly), nori, bamboo shoots, and green onions. The flavors of the ajitama and kakuni were a perfect complement to the savory broth, maintaining their own distinct tastes, while the vegetables added texture and more nuanced flavors.
The tsukemen, with its strong, intense flavor complemented the noodles perfectly. The pieces of kakuni soaked up the broth, adding a burst of flavor. While the spiciness of the broth seemed mild at first, it does build up after a while. For novices, we recommend trying a milder flavor if you’re not used to handling spicy food. Perhaps the best part about the dish was dipping the noodles into the broth, which makes it easier to control how much flavor to consume. The separation of the noodles and the broth prevents the common problem of the noodles swelling up and becoming soggy, and also makes for a quicker, lighter meal. It doesn’t feel like you’re eating too much even when you are consuming around the same amount as the ramen.
The side of gyoza we ordered was tasty but had somewhat of a bitter aftertaste, perhaps because of ginger in the stuffing.
The prices of regular sized ramen at Menya Musashi Bukotsu are higher than the average bowl of ramen, ranging from $10 for a basic ramen/tsukemen without toppings to $16.50 for the Super Musashi Style ramen/tsukemen, which includes all available toppings.
However, the servings for ramen are large, so the cost is not unreasonable. Ultimately the meal is well worth the cost.
The waiters were accommodating and polite, and the orders arrived quickly. They checked up on us intermittently, but ultimately gave us privacy, which allowed us to enjoy the meal in comfort. The only thing we would note is that they didn’t fill up our water as often as we would have liked, as ramen in general is high in sodium. In the end, though, the service was excellent and left us with a great experience at the restaurant.
When we asked Chef Eric Fleming about his experiences in the kitchen, he attributed his love of cooking to helping his mother cook meals, and the eight years he spent living in Japan with his family. “I remember hanging around the kitchen when my mom cooked, watching and helping her with dinner. I slowly started to pick up things, even her habit of just throwing things in instead of a conventional recipe,” Fleming said.
Menya Musashi is located at 560 Pensacola St, Honolulu, HI 96814. For more information, go to their website at http://musashiramen.weebly.com/.