How often do you walk into a room and hear 15 people yelling enthusiastically at you in Japanese from all directions? Every time you enter Santouka. We’re not quite sure what the friendly staff are shouting, but we imagine it’s something like “I will feed you delicious ramen.” Knowing what’s about to happen, it’s music to our ears.
Lucky for us, this successful ramen chain—which has over a dozen locations in Japan and several on the West Coast—chose Harvard Square and Back Bay as the staging ground for a recent Northeast expansion. And it’s no wonder Santouka is growing: They’ve figured out how to streamline that slow-simmering soup-making art and offer a menu with just the right amount of flexibility and choice (Gyoza Combo, yes please).
Four distinct “tonkotsu” pork broths are served—miso, spicy miso, “shoyu” (soy sauce), and “shio” (salt)—plus a vegan soy option. Shio is Santouka’s claim to fame, a white liquid that’s lighter than the intensely porky kind we’re used to. That can be a relief, since you really can slurp it down to the last drop without turning comatose, but the added boost of savory salt means it doesn’t skimp on flavor. The soybean paste flavoring up the Miso Ramen adds a nice umami kick to the experience, but the spicy Karamiso dials up the proceedings with heat from three varieties of chili pepper.
Every ramen comes topped with tender, fatty pork, and a range of ready-to-dunk extras, from hard-boiled eggs to buttered corn, can be ordered on the side. Santouka skips on the alcohol, but you can still order an enormous bottle of cold Japanese green tea—and really, there’s no reason to get hung up on any other liquid when that steamy, salty broth is bound to steal the show.
We like to order the Bara Toro Cha-Su and Aji-Tama (soft-boiled egg) on the side to add to our ramen as we go along.
There will be a wait, but Santouka’s got a fancy automated texting system to let you know when your table’s ready. Plus, both restaurants are located within a block of excellent independent bookstores to kill time: the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge and Trident Booksellers in Back Bay.
At the Harvard location, creep over to the wall on the left and ogle the lineup of giant simmering broth pots through a little window.
The very first Santouka opened in 1988 on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido with just nine seats, less than half the size of the Back Bay location.
Tastes of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
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