More than one person has taken me to task for not trying the tokusen toroniku (choice fatty pork) ramen at Santouka. Interestingly, not one of my friends think Santouka is very good. But then again, none of them have tried the toroniku either. So finally, I convinced two other ramen-loving (well, ramen-enjoying anyway) friends to go to Santouka and splurge on a toroniku free-for-all.
Coincidentally, we all decided to order different flavors of ramen. I stuck with the shio ramen, while the rest of my motley crew opted for the shoyu and miso flavors. When we got our ramen, everyone wondered about the separate toppings: unlike the “regular” ramen at Santouka, the toroniku ramen comes with all the toppings on the side. I can understand why the pork is separate (more on this later), but why the other toppings? (And one pet peeve: what is the deal with Santouka and those tiny plastic teaspoons? Are they ashamed of their soup? Do they not want their customers to slurp away happily with real soup spoons?)
Before I started on the toroniku pork, I confirmed that my initial impressions of the ramen were the same as before: the shio ramen by itself was just decent and nothing special. Then I diligently ate a slice of the pork, as-is, cold, right from the plate. The pork is definitely fatty and delicious, and very tender. The texture was more like a piece of sashimi than a piece of pork. The happy secret that wins Santouka rave reviews is what happens when you put the pork in the soup and leave it there. Because the pork is so fatty, it literally dissolves into the soup, a little at a time. You can control the richness of your soup by simply adding more or less slices of pork and by soaking them for different amounts of time. Once the pork and soup blend together, it becomes a tremendously different creature, one that suddenly springs to life with a richness and body that makes you swear someone switched your ramen bowl.
My cohorts weren’t quite as impressed as I was by the drastic change and thought that other ramenyas still had better ramen overall, notably Shinsengumi, for one. Shoyu-san noted that the shoyu was too salty, a complaint echoed by some other people I know. And Miso-san thought the miso soup base was rather ordinary. While I still can’t agree with rameniac that this is “arguably the finest ramen outside of Japan,” the tokusen toroniku ramen does move Santouka up a few spots on my list. Value-conscious people be aware though: at $10.50 a bowl, the toroniku ramen is probably So Cal’s most expensive ramen. But for an occasional splurge, it’s worth it.
Santouka’s tokusen toroniku shio ramen gets an 8.