Do Kukai, Jinya and Santouka Have the Best Ramen in Seattle?

A Hawaiian food blogger once asked me about Seattle’s ramen culture. Knowing how robust it was in Honolulu where the blogger lives, I was apprehensive about answering him. Here was the Seattle area, having as much claim as any big West Coast city to strong economic and cultural ties to Japan, a history of Japanese immigration and community, a good-sized population of Japanese nationals, a respectable ensemble of Japanese restaurants—but, no thriving ramen scene. He asked me at the same time what my favorite ramen restaurant in Seattle was. Well…uh…let me see…hmmm. The email exchange had that flavor. That was three years ago.

Mine wasn’t the only lament. Between the Bay Area and Vancouver, B.C., there really hadn’t been much to get excited about.

Then, serendipity struck. Three high-profile ramen restaurants opened almost immediately since that email conversation. Two of them had Japan connections, the other came up from Southern California.

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Osechi Ryori (New Year’s food)

Today is New Year’s Day. Like every year, the family can relax and enjoy each other’s company, watch some BCS bowl games and—let’s get down to it—eat the food that we’ve labored all day yesterday to prepare. Somehow, in a small kitchen, everything gets made, the only things done elsewhere being teriyaki chicken wings and chashu (char siu) that are barbecued in the backyard.

The cooks included my father-in-law, three sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, a nephew, my wife, my daughter, a longtime family friend and myself. In other years, my other daughter and her husband have also helped. Because they now live far away, they can’t always join us. Friends of the family also drop by occasionally, sharing in the repast.

The food will be our primary source of sustenance for the next few days. In the past, we’ve made way too much food, more than we could reasonably finish. As a practical matter, this year we’ve made a concerted effort to ‘downsize.’
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