Food and Leisure

Ramen indulgence at Kenji Tei

OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Watching Japanese movies always makes me hungry, especially when the object of gustatory desire is a big bowl of hot ramen or meticulously crafted sushi. Whether it’s a comedy-drama (The Ramen Girl), romance (Tokyo Tower) or a documentary (Jiro’s Dream of Sushi), seeing that delectable rice roll wrapped in nori or the hot mishmash of chewy noodles, chashu (rolled pork belly cut into thin slices) and the just-set egg spilling its yolk into the miso-based broth onscreen never fails to tickle my palate.

Why does Japanese food look so pretty and scrumptious?

“In Japan, the locals pride themselves on the presentation, taste and freshness of the food, so much so you could live off the food you get from the vendo machine or convenience stores,” notes restaurateur Kenneth Kho. Kenneth was brought up in a household that always had Japanese food served on the table. 

“Just like you, I’ve developed a fondness for Japanese food just by watching Japanese movies and interacting with my parents’ Japanese business partners. My parents would always invite them to our house for lunch or dinner. They would also bring our favorite snacks: sembe (rice cakes) and onigiri (rice balls),” he shares.

In 2008, a time when the Japanese restaurants they would frequent were dwindling, Kenneth and his brother Richard, who worked in Japan for quite some time, decided to share their love for Japanese food by opening their own restaurant at BF Homes in Parañaque. From Kenneth’s nickname, Kenji, the brothers decided to call the place Kenji Tei, which in Japanese translates to “Kenji’s house.”

“It was in our home, after all, where it all started. It’s like inviting diners to our house, where Japanese fare has become a staple,” Kenneth explains.

At a time when ramen restaurants weren’t all the rage yet, Kenji Tei took the lead in 2009 when it opened its first branch in BF and gave Filipinos a taste of the simple and flavorful Japanese cuisine that they would soon come to love and keep coming back for.

Under the strict guidance of the Kho brothers, a team of Japanese and Filipino chefs developed Kenji Tei’s streamlined menu and created a flavor profile that would appeal to both markets. The specialty? Kenneth’s personal favorite: ramen.

“We took into consideration what would appeal to Filipino diners. Ramen in Japan is enjoyed particularly during the cold weather so it tends to be spicier. Kenji Tei ramen is milder in flavor,” he explains.

For the hot months, there’s Hiyashi Chuka, a refreshing cold ramen with assorted toppings served with a sweet, tangy sauce.

To accommodate more diners, Kenji Tei relocated to Alabang Town Center in 2011 and opened its second branch at Greenbelt 5 in 2012. Dishes were also added to the menu for variety. 

At Kenji Tei diners can choose the broth for their ramen: shoyu, a dark-brown soup made from fermented soybeans, or shio, a clear broth seasoned with salt.

Kenji Tei specializes in yatai, or street-style ramen. There’s the Miso Butter Corn Ramen with chashu slices, the Spicy Negi (shredded onions) Ramen with chashu, and the Gomoku Ramen with seafood and veggies.

There are also hot plates and donburi (rice bowl) meals to choose from. Kenneth let us sample the katsudon, gyudon (beef bowl rice) and the crunchy maki, which tastes really good. I just took small bites of each dish, though, as I patiently waited for my Chashu Miso Ramen.

As soon as the waiter put the hot bowl on the table, I remembered that particular scene from The Ramen Girl when Abby (Brittany Murphy) first samples chef Maezumi’s specialty noodles. I, too, breathed in the ramen’s steam, twisted the noodles into a perfect spool around the chopsticks and slurped it with gusto. The taste is so light yet flavorful. Just like the movie, Kenji Tei’s ramen is something I won’t get tired of.

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Kenji Tei has branches at Greenbelt 5 and Alabang Town Center.

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