It’s no secret how Manila’s food scene has been on the rise these past few years, but the ramen craze in particular doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Ramen fans will be happy to know that there’s one new player in town that brings forth what I feel are a bunch of unique ramen flavours you can’t find anywhere else. And guess what, they are 100% MSG Free too!
Uma Uma Ramen was originally named ‘Wu Maru’ back in 1953, but when the owner’s son took over the business in 1994, he decided to rename it ‘Uma Uma Ramen’ as a pun on the Japanese word for “tasty”. The son, Mr. Masahiko Teshima, is now the President of Uma Uma Japan. Under his leadership, Uma Uma Ramen took its first step outside of Japan and into Singapore, where it gained a cult following among ramen devotees.
To tell you the truth, people I know who go food tripping in Singapore have mentioned this restaurant to me but I have yet to try it. (I haven’t been to Singapore in years!) It’s why when I heard they were opening a restaurant here I was extremely curious. I had the same question in everybody’s minds: What did they have to offer that would set them apart from the many other ramen shops in the metro?
I was about to find out.
The main dining area of Uma Uma Ramen looks like your typical ramen place with just a touch of industrial-like flair. The tables are neatly arranged and bearing your usual ramen condiments. There’s nothing wrong with how this place is decorated, but it’s not particularly special either.
But then you’ll notice there’s actually a dark curtain at the end of this room, and behind that curtain is a bar that’s only open from 5PM onwards.
While the main restaurant is open during mall hours, there’s actually a bar at the back called the Horse’s Mouth Bar that really takes the concept of an izakaya-ramenya to the next level. The room has that same industrial luxe you get a glimpse of outside, multiplied tenfold thanks to the pipes and hanging lights. But most importantly it has an inviting vibe; making it the type of place you’d want to spend your Friday nights toasting to the weekend and watching the sunset.
When the evening rolls in, you can opt to lounge lazily inside, or step out onto the balcony to watch the sunset with drink in hand.
They have a long painting on one end of the room that takes the name of the bar– Horse’s Mouth– to a literal level. I love that the horses are wearing traditional Japanese garb. It adds to the room’s overall aesthetic and provides a decidedly Japanese touch. I love the koi fish on the sliding doors.
This is the type of restaurant ambiance I enjoy– classy but still kind of cozy. For someone who doesn’t do the bar scene, I actually do want to come back for some cocktails and ramen soon with my friends. Really.
The bar has an extensive selection of drinks that is a mix of classics and specially created drinks for Horse’s Mouth Bar in Manila. Here’s a little sneak peek of their cocktails menu at the moment. I have no doubt they will expand that menu eventually.
Before having our ramen dinner, we began the early evening with some drinks. Although I’m not quite sure how long the craftsmen of Horse’s Mouth Bar from Singapore are going to stay, I hear they’re on a mission to create a cocktail that uses Filipino elements before they leave. That should be interesting.
I’m not familiar with cocktails at all but after the one that I had I officially feel compelled to learn about them.
Although I cannot remember for the life of me exactly what this is called, it’s kind of like a gin sour type of cocktail. This was refreshing with a lovely sweet citrus tang and a strong basil scent that makes me think of springtime– if springtime were spiked with gin that is. I think the basil component is mostly found in the foam, created from basil and egg white shaken together.
I liked my drink way better than my Dad’s negroni. (By the way, this is the second time my Dad wanted to join me in a media event. 👍🏻)
But of course, an izakaya isn’t just about the drinks; it’s about drinks with food– in particular, yakitori (charcoal-frilled skewers) and kushikatsu (deep-fried breaded skewers). Oh, and edamame in place of nuts!
Uma Uma’s Chicken Karaage (Php 160) is a nice crunchy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside treat. It’s really just a classic karaage that isn’t too strong on the flavour but goes well with the mayo. You can’t go wrong with a fried chicken dish.
The one thing that all the meaty side dishes we were served with had in common was that they were all tasty, juicy, and even succulent. The texture and flavour of everything was on point!
I especially loved these beef cubes. They were so skilfully cooked that they were simply bursting with juices in every bite! There’s an almost melt in the mouth quality to the beef actually. The small size makes them perfect for popping in your mouth, and they do pop with flavour.
I enjoyed the grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and the Tsukune (chicken balls) well enough, but I couldn’t really sense anything extra-special about them. The fact is these classics are there because they pair well with drinks from the bar so they probably didn’t want to change it too much.
The kushikatsu though was fried to perfection. Its crunchy outer shell gives way to something fresh, tender, and juicy inside. Doesn’t matter if it’s fish, seafood, or pork– it’s all good. No oily or soggy problems, just pure breaded goodness.
If you’re a fan of dried fish and squid, it’s safe to say you will love the Eihire (stingray fins). It’s tender with just enough bite to make it chewy but not too exhausting to eat. The taste is a touch sweet and a touch salty, but it goes well with the mayo that’s been dusted with some chilli powder.
The one thing I did not enjoy as much was the One-Bite Gyoza (Php 140), mostly because of the way they stuck to each other. It was difficult to get one gyoza without tearing off the wrapper for the one beside it. It’s more a problem with the gyoza wrapper than the filling though. Despite that, I liked how they cooked this to get a golden crunchy bottom.
The filling itself was delicious and very nicely moist, but I found dipping the gyoza in soy sauce made it too salty and overwhelming.
Now their Yaki Chasiu (Php 160) is probably the best version of chasiu I have ever eaten. It’s sliced very thinly that sometimes it breaks apart if you’re too aggressive with the chopsticks, but other than all I can think to say is one more order please! 😛
Polishing off the side dishes would’ve been an easy task had we not been preparing ourselves for the ramen. Five of them to be exact. Before the ramen came out, Chef Satoshi Nakamura popped in to say hi and we made sure to express our gratitude for how good the food was so far. If the side dishes were any indication of what was to come, then it was a very good sign indeed.
A 60-year experience in the ramen industry seems to be enough of a merit to assume that this place serves up some mean ramen, but of course theories should always be put to the test. I was lucky enough to get to taste test all five of the ramen dishes they currently have on their opening menu.
All of their ramen dishes are generously topped and served in generous portions. The texture and quality of the think Hakata-style noodles are good too. Just one glance is enough to make your mouth water, and once the smell starts joining the party you’ll want nothing more than to sit and start polishing off the bowl! And now I shall rank them from my least to most favourite, because the ramen is what you all are here for isn’t it? 🙂
#5 Tonkotsu Ramen. Classic tonkotsu ramen with chasiu, spring onions, sesame seeds, and marinated egg.
Any time I have a bowl of tonkotsu ramen I cannot help but compare it to my top favourite from Ippudo Ramen. I feel that Ippudo’s has a bolder flavour compared to this one even though technically it’s not even as salty as most other tonkotsu ramen out there. That’s not to say that this one is bad, I just feel it isn’t as good.
#4 Garlic Ramen. Garlic-infused ramen with chasiu, white onions, bean sprouts, fried shoots, and marinated egg.
I cannot remember when and where was the last time and place I had Garlic Ramen, but I remember it had more of a garlic kick than this. It’s possible that you would have to eat the whole bowl solo to get the full garlic effect. (I only had a small bowl.) It’s also possible that my love for garlic makes me wish this had a stronger garlic flavour, but most people would probably find this garlicky enough.
On a scale of 3 to 5, my bottom two ramen would probably rate no higher than 3 in terms of presenting me with something new and exciting, but this is the point where that changes.
My feelings for the next three ramen are what I would call a huge leap from how I felt about the other two. It also didn’t help that I had eaten the below ramen before I gave the other two a try. They were totally overshadowed!
#3 Spicy Chasiu Ramen. Chasiu with spicy marinade in chilli oil infused broth, topped with leeks, spring onions, and marinated egg.
I love spicy stuff, seriously. But I hate it when something is spicy just for the sake of being spicy, so it says something that I really enjoyed this one. The spiciness is like a slow burn that warms you up from the throat, and not just the tongue. The first sip already gives you a good kick so I think if you don’t have a good tolerance for spicy things this one is not for you.
Frankly speaking, even I’m not quite sure if I can even finish this whole bowl without running for water because that chilli infusion is the real deal. For the ladies, if you’re wearing make-up and don’t want to sweat it all off, maybe order something else haha!
#2 Mazesoba Dry Ramen. Dry noodles topped with spring onions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, onsen egg, sesame seeds, and some chilli oil.
A signature ramen that is certainly unique, this one has you mix all the components of the plate up to create a super tasty- and despite its name- super saucy dish. This spicy dish was created in Singapore apparently, but it was so popular they decided to take it back to Japan!
The noodles used in this dish are the fatter, chewier, and yellower Sapporo noodles and it’s a great choice! The flavours of the toppings cling to the noodles so well that every bite gives you a little kick. The bamboo shoots and bean sprouts also give you something crunchy to chew on. Sadly this dish does not come with chasiu, so order one on the side. (I’ve just given you an excuse to order the Yaki Chasiu so do it!) It is however a more refreshing choice if you’re not up for the spa-like effect of a hot bowl of ramen.
#1 Uma Uma Ramen. Chasiu, spring onion, black fungus, and marinated egg in a spicy miso super umami-fied base.
Another signature ramen and my favourite one because I don’t think I have ever eaten ramen with a broth like this before. The base is dense and even creamier than your typical ramen broth. Filipino friends, the soup for this one tastes startlingly close to balut. Yes, that little egg with the majorly tasty soup.
The umami flavour of this one was literally tickling my tastebuds the moment I had my first sip of the broth. Pork bones are slow-cooked and infused with konbu (dried sea kelp) over high heat for hours and hours on end to create the broth, turning it into something that’s incredibly savoury without being salty. The experience of eating it is made even more pleasurable by the crunchy black fungus, and that melt in-your-mouth chasiu. Oh man. They weren’t kidding about their signature dishes. Definitely recommended!
Reading the reviews from Singaporean bloggers, I was expecting the Mazesoba to be my number one pick from the way they described it. I definitely see myself ordering any of my top three depending on my mood for the day, because let’s face it, our choice in food is often dictated by our mood and feelings. However at the end of the day, nothing beats a piping hot, comforting bowl of ramen. With soup. And the Uma Uma Ramen was truly unique.
Talking to Russell Yu, who is the director of Singapore-based Iki Concepts (the company that brought Uma Uma Ramen here), I learned that they are planning to slowly introduce their full Singapore menu eventually once they get a real handle of their Manila operation. I’m actually very excited for their famous Tan Tan Mien because I have heard nothing but good things about it, but I hear they have a seasonal White Truffle Ramen as well which is pretty mind-blowing! (Calling my brother Jason! TRUFFLE!)
Russell is the one on the far right of the photo, and he is the Director of Iki Concepts Singapore. In the middle is Uma Uma Japan President Mr. Masahiko Teshima, and on the left is Mr. Junji Okabayashi who is the Chairman of Iki Concepts. (Thanks for the photo GreenBulb!)
Russell also shares that the owner Mr. Teshima is very much open to experimentation instead of just sticking to classic flavours, so we can expect a Philippine-exclusive ramen dish too so be excited guys! I know I am!
Overall, I think apart from the bit about being 100% MSG Free, Uma Uma Ramen Philippines does let its unique ramen speak for itself. I have a feeling that once operations at S Maison begin in full swing, we will see lines outside this restaurant. While I do look forward to coming back here with my brothers, we’re going to have to do it before those lines begin to materialize. Can’t wait for them to get a taste of the signature ramen!
Uma Uma Ramen Philippines
Full disclosure: I received an invitation to dine in Uma Uma Ramen, but rest assured all opinions stated above are my own.