There’s a movie that I recently watched called Ramen Girl with Brittany Murphy. After abandoning her life in the US to join her boyfriend in Tokyo, she gets dumped. Right on the spot. So what’s a girl to do? Apparently, learn how to cook Ramen. She then begs an OG ramen chef to teach her his ways, and throughout the process, she learns that making ramen is more than just a recipe to follow. It’s an art. A very intricate, complex art.
The story of Butamaru is a bit similar, except a lot less dramatic than what Brittany Murphy went through. Jerome, the owner of the iconic ramen spot in Alabang (and also now made its way to Ortigas), lived in Japan for a few months to learn the art of ramen. It’s a beautiful story, really. He was lucky to find a sensei that was willing to educate him, learned from scratch, and from there he grew to be a successful ramen restaurant owner. He intended on flying his sensei to Manila for his grand opening, but sadly, the sensei didn’t make it as he passed away just when the restaurant was almost finished.
I was touched when I heard his story, but his legacy lives on, thanks to Jerome. And let me tell you, Jerome sure brought a piece of Japan to Alabang and added a twist of his own.
Butamaru’s original branch is located in Westgate Alabang, a very convenient location that anyone who’s from the South would be familiar with. It’s a two-story restaurant, with the ground floor reminiscent of a typical Japanese hole in the wall restaurant, but with a bit of a modern twist. The second floor is where the bigger tables are, so we chose the counter bar to keep the atmosphere and vibe at bay. You know what’s better than watching the chef through the window and observing every move they make as they prepare your ramen with all the anticipation filling you up inside? — Finally devouring your hot ramen on that very counter.
The aesthetics that Jerome chose for Butamaru is quite a personal one. The accent wall is a collage of the best photos he took in Japan while studying the art of ramen. And no, they’re not awkward selfies, it’s actually a collection of beautiful photography in black and white. I love that he did that because in comparison to ramen chains in the Philippines, Butamaru has a story.
I thought about holding out on the ramen until the last part of this article, but why wait when clearly, ramen is the star here. Butamaru’s ramen is delicious, alright, and if I were to describe it, I’d say that it’s a good representation of traditional with a pinch of modern. Kinda like what Brittany Murphy did in the end– served the perfect combination in a bowl.
Originally, the broth was on the strong and rich bracket, but because Jerome noticed customers aren’t finishing their soup due to “umay” (a weird, uncomfortable dizzying state brought on by the richness of flavor), he decided to tone down the richness of the broth and adjust it to his customer’s preference. I personally like mine rich and strong so it was good news when I heard that you can actually request yours to be adjusted to your liking. No need to stress about it because they’ve got their titration game mastered.
Many of his ingredients are imported for Japan, giving his dishes the authenticity they deserve. His noodles, on the other hand, are freshly made, which is trust me, how you’d want it to be. Because he uses local flour for that, the quality of the noodles isn’t as authentic as one may wish, but nonetheless, still compliments the entire dish itself.
My favorite ramen would have to be the Tantanmen Curry, which has a stronger taste considering it has a spicy broth. Every sip is satisfaction guaranteed and every bite had me picturing fireworks in my head over and over again. They also serve the traditional shoyu and shio ramen, and on top of that, they do serve a specially concocted fusion bowl every now and then. For instance, their Red ramen is a big hit and remains under their new menu.
Beyond The Ramen
Amazingly enough, Butamaru goes beyond the ramen as well. They have an incredible variety of meals for customers that aren’t entirely craving soup, or for ramen lovers themselves that could use a bit more appetizer to complete their experience. Let’s do a quick rundown on my favorites from their menu;
Their Takana Chahan, or Japanese fried rice, is top notch. When I eat ramen, I don’t normally need anything else because it’s a heavy meal enough as it is. But I learned that it actually makes a lot of sense to have a side of some kind of fried rice side dish with your bowl– because it works amazingly together. Now you might be thinking, who needs that much calories though? Well, none of us do, but one thing you need to leave outside the door is the worry about unnecessary calories, because we’re all here for a reason. To not GAF. And that is why I’m recommending this. Fortunately enough, they also offer lunch sets inclusive of fried rice. I learned that it’s best eaten after you finish your noodles. Toss the rice with the remaining soup, and eat away!
Next thing I loved is their gyoza. Most ramen chain offers gyoza on their menu so it’s a typical item to pair with your bowl. We were served two different types of gyozu at Butamaru– the regular gyoza and the curry gyoza. Both are delicious and very generous with flavor. Gyoza are perfect as appetizers because they’re not too heavy, but Butamaru also makes sure that the serving is good enough so you and your party doesn’t feel teased.
A heavier option for an appetizer would be their Toriten, which is described as “tempura style fried chicken prefecture with ponzu sauce”. Again, another fried recipe that might be a little heavy, but if you phase yourself precisely, it can be one delightful ramen experience. I specifically love the sauce on this one as it compliments the chicken really well.
Another popular side order that goes well with ramen are pork buns. This is another favorite of mine at Butamaru. The shredded crispy pork are perfectly marinated with sweet and savory flavors. The tenderness easily had me enjoying every bite with the perfectly steamed buns.
Butamaru also has new items for their menu including one of the most interesting Japanese fusions I’ve tried– the Katsu Gyozayaki. Think of it this way; if gyoza and takoyaki had a baby and wrapped it around in katsu breading, it would be this. To put it lightly, it’s a genius invention and I highly recommend giving it a try!
And finally for the non-soup lovers but would still wanna experience ramen, I recommend giving their Abura Soba a try. This is basically a dry ramen. It’s also topped with bamboo shots and an egg yolk so when you mix it all together with the rest of the other toppings, they form a perfectly blended dry noodle. Not entirely a stir fry, and not necessarily a cold noodle either. It’s Abura Soba, and it’s its own genius recipe.
Overall, do I recommend Butamaru for ramen lovers? Absolutely. I don’t argue that ramen chain competitors are an easier go-to, but if you give Butamaru a try, you might realize that sometimes, a little less tradition and a little more fusion could actually work for you. It’s different, but different can be good, and you know it. Plus, it’s never a bad day to start supporting local businesses!
Butamaru now has two locations, in Westgate Alabang, and in Ortigas. Check out their Facebook page for more information and updates. They try to come up with new specials so don’t miss the chance to be the first to try.
Dislaimer: Thank you so much to Butamaru for preparing a delightful, food-coma inducing meal for us in return of this review. As always, all thought, opinions, and photos are mine and I only recommend places I know would be great for my readers!