“Thick noodles or thin?”
“Heavy, medium or thin broth?”
“Lean pork or pork belly?”
“Firm, medium or soft noodles?”
“How much oil do you want?” (more on this below)
These are the battery of questions you get asked by the wait staff when you order ramen at Ramen Fujisan in San Gabriel. On top of that, you have the option of adding extras for an additional cost: green onions, nori, sliced tree ears, chashu, bamboo shoots, corn, bean sprouts and egg, the first four simply more of what already comes standard. As a reviewer on Yelp carped, “I came for ramen I didn’t come to play 20 questions.” To me personally, they represent a great, if verbose way to customize your order for no extra cost. The trend of tailoring ramen (like udon) to your preferences seems to be popular nowadays.
My father-in-law was in search of another ramen restaurant since the demise of Ton-Chan, also in San Gabriel and soon to be replaced by another ramenya, when he read about Fujisan.
The ramen (☆☆☆) was pretty good served with a rich, milky tonkotsu broth that wasn’t heavy on sodium. Having gone once before, my wife and her sister remarked that the “heavy” broth was practically indistinguishable from “medium” strength. The difference between “firm” (or al dente) and “soft” noodles is more obvious. I ordered mine firm. “Thick” noodles, which we all ordered, have more girth than standard (thin) ramen noodles that can withstand softening in hot broth longer.
And now, about the oil that you get asked about when ordering. An obvious euphemism, it’s really pork fat that to many rameniacs (to borrow a word coined by a popular but now inactive blogger) is part of the ramen-eating experience. Many a ramen where one doesn’t have a choice come with a layer of it on top, unnoticed by many but definitely there. It adds flavor and also keeps the ramen hotter for a longer period of time. The process of making genuine tonkotsu broth naturally results in a fair amount of rendered fat. So, in order to cater to customer concerns, the grease must be skimmed off afterward and left up to the diner to add back in.
The difference between the “lean” pork and “pork belly” option is a matter of degree. The label of lean in my book is a misnomer because of the generous amount of fat still attached. Regardless, both cuts are flavorful and tender.
Yet another choice is the degree of spiciness you want, anywhere from none, normal, spicy and extra spicy. The capper is an even hotter level, wryly called Eruption of Mt Fuji. Why would anyone risk forever blistering one’s taste buds? For one thing, you don’t get charged for the ramen ($7.50 with no extras) if you finish it in 20 minutes. Secondly, you’ll receive a $10 restaurant gift card. There is a downside though: if you lose, you get charged $30 for the ramen, which means you don’t enter the challenge lightly. For the victor, your name and photo gets added to the winner’s list on the wall. Once you win, you can’t throw down the gauntlet again. I can’t imagine a serious ramenya sponsoring such a challenge, apparently a relatively recent phenomenon to satiate a growing interest in ever spicier foods. It seems more suited to theater even if it adds an element of fun and suspense to an otherwise straightforward eating experience.
529 E Valley Blvd, Ste 138-B
San Gabriel, CA 91776