A number of trusted “advisers” consider Honolulu the best place to eat Japanese food outside of Japan, and based on my trip in the early fall, that’s a believable viewpoint. The sheer variety of ramen alone would make Hawaii’s largest city a dining destination. During my very first foray into the humid Honolulu afternoon, United States Barista Champion Pete Licata and local food blogging legend Reid of Ono Kine Grindz both recommended Goma Tei, a unique ramen house on the ground floor of a massive shopping mall called the Ala Moana Center.
The Ala Moana location opened two years ago, with a nearby original dating seven years. The newer space is modern, minimalist and functional, with wood flooring, light tile walls, wood four-tops and two long and lean wood counters facing each other, so servers can work in the middle.
Goma Tei means “sesame seed” in English, and that isn’t arbitrary. Their specialty is Tan Tan Ramen, a pork, chicken and vegetable broth with “spicy sesame flavor.” Licata singled out Char Siu Tan Tan Ramen with extra char siu and vegetable garnishes, but that just wasn’t possible considering my earlier stop at Shirokiya food court. That meant regular ‘ole Tan Tan Ramen ($8.18), with similar flavor, and one slab of pork instead of three. But, oh, what a pork slab! This meat was a half-inch thick, poached for 12 hours until ultra tender, practically quivering. It lent added depth to an explosively flavorful broth, which was murky orange, sesame fortified, loaded with firm yellow egg noodles and accented with choy sum, a Chinese cabbage with crisp stalks and spinach like leaves.
Goma Tei delivered an intensely powerful bowl of ramen that showed little restraint with any of its components. That worked for me, considering subtlety can frequently be ramen’s Achilles heel, but the nearly overwhelming effects of the bowl did leave me lurching down Ala Moana Boulevard.