With more restaurants specializing in ramen opening up faster than we imagine, it’s becoming clear that the world of ramen extends far beyond the instant variety we grew up on. Butamaru Ramen in Westgate Center, Alabang is another fitting example where you can expect to seize perfect components from a bowl of ramen. We took our turn to visit the place last Saturday not only to learn more about Butamaru by name (buta means pork) and how the ramen tastes, but also to discover how it serves chasu in round, melt-in-your-mouth slices.
Butamaru Ramen opened last September 2014, with Chef Jerome Lim heading the kitchen backed up with extensive training experience from Sugimura-san of Menko noodle company in Oita, Japan. From his account, we’ve known that achieving the right combination of ramen ingredients plus mastering the timing aren’t too easy. So when a ramen place nails it—and elevates “good ramen” to “great ramen,” foodies would feel thrilled to try it. And great ramen is what we’re after here. 😛
Review of Butamaru Ramen (Westgate Center, Alabang)
Butamaru Ramen in Alabang is built with two floors, with the first floor housing the kitchen and the ramen bar and the second floor covering more of the dining area. The nondescript entryway leads to a wide staircase that whisks you upstairs into a likewise light and open space.
The place was smaller than I pictured, but it’s well-appointed and not at all cramped. The layout is a welcome change from the narrow counter of a traditional ramen shop. Tables and seating can be rearranged for bigger groups. Decors are minimal and I’ve nothing to complain. I’m a fan of minimalistic and simplistic design. Overall, the ambiance was inviting and cozy, ideal for families and a variety of diners who would like to have a quality but relaxed dining experience when in Alabang.
Servers were courteous and helpful. It was good for them to consider having to station at least one staff on the second floor to accommodate and reach out for customers’ requests and make sure that guests are well taken care of. Attentiveness was also not a problem. The staff was quick to provide recommendations of food on the menu.
Broth of ramen at Butamaru go through 16 hours of cooking, making it thick, sticky, and opaque. Packed with emulsified fats and proteins from the long-boiled bones of the pig, the ramen broth tasted solid and true to the flavor.
I had the Curry Tantanmen (PhP 350) for myself and tried a few sips of the Tantanmen (PhP 350) and the Shoyu Ramen (PhP 320) as well. I loved that the noodles are firm enough at standard (tip: you can ask for the noodles to be served firm or soft). After tasting the three, I had a mental note awarding Curry Tantanmen as the winner.
Made with spicy peanut and sesame, the Curry Tantanmen was exuberant and almost creamy in texture. It’s what you can consider an in-your-face food, as it’s extremely delicious, awash with curry powder. The fiery color made the ramen more appetizing! Minced pork was juicy and wholesome. Adding soft-boiled eggs (PhP 50) is optional but you’ll be happy you did.
Tantanmen tasted almost like Curry Tantanmen—only without the curry, literally and figuratively. Delicious in all its glory, this ramen variant made my taste buds feel bombarded with fireworks of intense spice. The taste of peanut was more evident, ending with heat at the back of my throat. It can be requested to be moderately spicy, but we liked it hot! 😛 It all comes down to your personal preference.
The soy sauce-based tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen was also a joyful bowl of food that when mixed with chasu had a smoky complexity to the already excellent soup.
If there’s one item on the menu that’s vegetarian-friendly, I guess it would be the Ramen Salad (PhP 280). It was fresh-tasting, with noodles and an assortment of vegetables tossed in black sesame dressing. Cut into manageable lengths, the noodles were silky, cold, and toothsome, and a little bit sweet. After mixing the ingredients together, the resulting blend was good, kinda counteracting the lingering tastes of the ramen broth and resetting our palates back to a refreshingly neutral state. 🙂
With a decent amount of fat, Chashu (PhP 150) has to be the prime highlight of our visit. It was moist, sweet, and tender. This can be ordered as a side dish separate to your main. Each order comes with three slices of Butamaru roast pork.
If you’re more of a “rice person,” consider pairing the short order of chashu with Takana Chahan (PhP 200), which itself can be very filling. Think of it as a comforting respite with bits and slices of chashu and egg in between bold and full-bodied tastes of ramen, and eat with a leisurely pace.
To combine both chashu and rice in one dish, you’d better look toward getting Chashu Don (PhP 280) instead and appreciate more of the chashu served over steamed Japanese rice with soft-boiled egg. With a good balance of saltiness and sourness from preserved/pickled mustard cabbage (kiam chai in Hokkien, or hum choy in Cantonese) and the sweetness of chashu sauce, there comes more excitement!
Once we were done dipping out feet into Butamaru’s crazy-good ramen and chashu, we tried the pork dumplings next. Butamaru’s Gyozas (PhP 130) were like little pockets of heaven. All were cooked well and far from frozen bags you get at the grocery store. The regular gyoza came with thin pliant wrapper which embraced ground pork filling that’s light and juicy.
Arriving at the table upside down, the Cheese Hane Gyoza (PhP 150) showed a delicately crisp lace of starch formed at the bottom of the pan. When cut through fork, a layer delivered a pleasant crackle and the taste was exceptional. Too lovely! 😀
Filled in with aburi chasyu with special curry paste, the Curry Gyoza (PhP 150) was a more unique and interesting version that appeared more yellowish than the regular kind. The cheese hane gyoza may be better received than the regular gyoza, but the curry gyoza will also give a run for your money.
Price for Value: ★★★★☆
The first-rate noodles served at Butamaru Ramen can make you totally forget about the instant ramen you used to cook and prepare at home. This ramen place can become a local favorite quickly, since prices are sensible for the good quality of dishes. My only qualm is the location because it’s far away from Manila. If you’re willing to drive to the south and spend maybe an hour or two on the road (and toll fee if you’re entering via the Skyway), then be ready for a seat at Butamaru Ramen, where you will be rewarded with slurp-ilicious bowls of ramen goodness—and more. 🙂