It's Time to Put the Spotlight on Udon
Because ramen's so yesterday.
B7 Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) From the outside, the first Philippine branch of Marugame Udon (otherwise known as Marugame Seimen in Japan) looks just like the rest of the restaurants that line busy Bonifacio High Street. But step inside, and you’ll feel like you’ve been teleported into a Japanese hole-in-the-wall. It’s not surprising that Marugame Udon BGC copped the look of their restaurants all over Tokyo, with a cafeteria-style counter, billowing banners, and hanging lights over freshly fried tempura and other sumptuous sides.
They didn’t just get the look: Marugame Udon prides itself in, of course, their udon, which is a type of thick, wheat-flour noodles. While this flagship branch doesn’t use the same flour as the one in Japan, choosing its local equivalent involved a rigorous selection process to get the exact firm-yet-chewy texture.
Ordering your udon from Marugame Udon is pretty straightforward: Get in line, grab a tray, order your udon, wait for your bowl, and then grab some fried side dishes before paying. Not only is this patterned after self-service udon joints in Japan, but this also lets you appreciate the freshness of your noodles, stretched and boiled on the spot in front of you.
Beef Ontama Bukkake Udon
But, does it matter? After all, noodles are noodles, right? You’ll realize it does make a difference, especially when you get a taste of their best-selling Beef Ontama Bukkake Udon (P210/regular, P260/large), which you can get either hot or cold. A hot bowl gets you udon noodles in a thick broth, made beefier by a heap of gyudon on top of it. The gyudon or marinated beef strips are tender and brimming with a savory flavor from a sauce of sweet onions, soy sauce, and dashi, also lending some of that rich taste to the broth. This could be one of the best versions of gyudon we’ve tasted, so it’s no easy feat for the noodles to stand out. And yet they still do: The udon remains firm and just on the right side of chewy even after sitting in a bowl of broth. It gets a hint of that beefy flavor, too.
Chicken Paitan Udon
For something lighter on the palate, have the Chicken Paitan Udon (P200/regular, P250/large). This one comes with sautéed chicken, a perfect soft-boiled egg, and a broth full of a distinct flavor that only chicken can give, which are all heightened by a dash of cracked pepper. With soup that’s more restrained with its flavors, you get to appreciate the freshness of the noodles more.
On the spicier side is the Curry Udon (P170/regular, P220/large), or udon noodles topped with beef curry. The fragrant aroma from the mix of spices is enough to turn heads, and while it can get a bit spicy, it never gets to the point of burning your tongue. The hint of sweetness from the chopped carrots also helps, while the mishmash of flavors makes the bowl rich and hearty. This is definitely a comforting meal for days when you need a warm hug (it feels like one, actually).
Marugame Udon offers a variety of side dishes, from fried egg to fried vegetables. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the classics, especially when they’re done well: The Chicken Karaage (P60) has a stick of fried chicken pops that are crackling-on-the-outside and juicy-on-the-inside, and has just the right blend of spices to make it a cut from the usual. The Ebi Ten (P60) is great, too—the battered shrimp are deep-fried on the spot so you still get that bite only fresh seafood can give, even underneath the crisp batter.
Even though they’re a restaurant that specializes in udon, Marugame Udon also offers excellent rice bowls, with some udon toppings making reappearances. We can't stop singing praises for the gyudon in the Gyudon Rice (P170) as the beef strips are tender, with a savory flavor that gets even more of a boost from the contrasting tang of the pickled ginger. You can also get curry in a rice bowl, and some may argue that the beef curry shines even more in the Curry Rice (P160)—after all, who can resist aromatic, subtly spicy, rich beef curry atop a bowl of fluffy white rice?
In a country where it seems ramen reigns supreme, other types of Japanese noodles are still a bit under-the-radar. But Marugame Udon is putting udon one step closer to the spotlight it deserves.
Photos by Ian Santos