For those who like to have control over the small things in food, Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen is the perfect joint to customize a ramen bowl.
Upon entering the establishment, the workers warmly welcome customers with a synchronized Japanese greeting. The restaurant is small and cramped, so it is inconvenient and hard to move past workers to sit down at a table, but the room was bursting with friendly workers who made the atmosphere comfortable and homey.
To order, there is a slip of paper on the table that one fills out. For ramen, one can choose to have the regular-sized bowl or the half-sized bowl ($8.50 and $5.75, respectively). Customers can customize the firmness (hard/normal/soft), saltiness (strong/normal/mild) and amount of soup oil (thick/normal/light) in the Hakata ramen. All the ramen bowls come with two slices of cha-su (barbecue pork), chopped green onion, red ginger and sesame seeds.
For the half-sized ramen bowl with normal firmness, saltiness and amount of soup oil, it was nothing special. The noodles were thin, slightly chewy and absorbed the flavor of the soup. The Tonkotsu soup (broth made from pork marrow) was thick, creamy and a little too heavy compared to other ramen bowls. However, the red ginger made the dish less fatty and greasy, along with the chopped green onions while the sesame seeds served no purpose in the ramen bowl except for decoration. The cha-su was a big disappointment. Although it was very tender, there was no barbecue flavor that one would expect. Overall, the whole dish was hearty and filling, but the salty flavor of the soup was unpleasant.
The kashiwa onigiri (rice ball) was made of brown rice, chicken, mushrooms and carrots. The flavor of the rice, chicken, mushrooms and carrots were unnoticeable and one would not be able to distinguish them; the onigiri tasted like nothing. The whole rice ball broke apart and it was hard to eat it without making a mess. Another side ordered was the curry rice, which costs $4. The curry sauce had a salty punch and was more sweet than spicy. The rice was grainy and hard; the cook probably did not cook it long enough.
For those who like seafood, the takoyaki (fried dumplings made with an egg-based batter, bits of octopus and other ingredients) should be ordered. It comes with five takoyaki balls and costs $5.25. It is a small dough ball made with deep fried octopus legs, bonito flakes (flakes of dried, smoked bonito fish) and powdered seaweed with a crunchy exterior and a gooey center. There were two sauces: Takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise. The texture and crunch was satisfying and the piping hot center was delicious. However, the fried octopus did not seem like it was fried; it was slimy, wet and off-putting. The takoyaki smelled fishy because of the bonito flakes, but it was entertaining to watch the flakes move.
Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen is located in a small plaza at 8450 E. Valley Blvd. It is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch) and 6-11 p.m. (dinner) and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-11:20 p.m. For more information, visit shinsengumigroup.com/en/restaurants/rosemead-ramen.php or call 626-572-8646.
Shin-Sen-Gumi, a popular ramen restaurant with numerous locations in California and Tokyo, is a place for those who want to make their own personal ramen bowl and appreciate Japanese culture.