Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the owner and head chef of the original Foo-Foo Tei, Takeshi Murakami. He had contacted me by email on Day 1 of my recent trip to Japan and I was completely stunned when I read that he wanted to meet me and talk about ramen. So being the ramen geek that I am (yes I admit it now), I was looking forward to this night for weeks.
It ended up being more than I expected. We basically spent four hours casually talking about ramen, eating ramen, and drinking shochu. There was so much knowledge to be extracted from Murakami-san and it was just flowing into my alcohol soaked brain at a frenetic pace. And although I wasn’t there to learn about his secret ingredients, he did trust me enough to share a few. But out of respect, I won’t be able to share everything with my readers (sorry…). After all, we don’t need another Monterey Park to happen. For those that don’t know, the Monterey Park Foo-Foo Tei is a result of partnerships gone sour and an ex-manager’s betrayal. And to make a long story short, Murakami-san is currently in litigation with them to resolve this huge headache. As for the recipes, he smiles as he says “they didn’t get everything.” For instance, their shoyu ramen is completely different. Murakami-san’s technique of extracting flavors cannot be matched!
Some other things I learned are:
- The name Foo-Foo Tei is derived from the action of blowing the noodle before you slurp it, hence the kanji 風 (wind).
- If you’ve ever read those free magazines they have at the Japanese supermarkets, you’ll notice that Foo-Foo Tei is never listed in the restaurants section. Murakami-san’s customers have always just showed up, so he feels that there’s no need to advertise (I don’t blame him).
- A lot of people have thought (including me): “Why is this place in such a remote industrial area?” And the simple answer is: “Because it’s close to my home.”
- Another thing he doesn’t advertise is the use of organic ingredients in everything that he cooks. I was shocked to learn that he doesn’t use any pork for any of his soup bases. It’s all chicken-based.
- Even the rice is super premium koshihikari and not the cheap stuff that most other restaurants use.
- The reason he and other ramen-ya’s don’t make their own noodle is due to the strict health regulations imposed by the regulators. So he has Myojo mass produce his own noodle recipe solely for Foo-Foo Tei.
- There are 31 bowls of ramen on the menu for everyday of the month–1 noodle a day. Could this be a challenge?
On to the food…
Nanchatte Tonkotsu Ramen: If you ask Murakami-san what his specialty is, he’ll just point to the wall listing all 31 bowls of ramen, but the Nanchatte is by far the most popular and the most interesting. We all know that tonkotsu ramen is made primarily with pork bones, but that’s not the case with this one. A cruel joke to most tonkotsu lovers (nanchatte means just kidding), but what this ramen does is actually help shed America’s image of an unhealthy soup. The main ingredient of the base is tofu and how he gets it to taste and look like this is beyond me. Although it tastes like a creamy Japanese corn soup, there’s no corn in it at all. If I had to guess, I’d say the other key ingredient is…soy milk?
Shio Ramen: Of course the shio ramen’s key ingredient is salt, but this shio ramen is also infused with a perfect blend of pepper and you can taste it’s uniqueness right away, but you may not appreciate it. The next time you try this, please pay attention. I also have a thing for baby bok choy in ramen. I tend to use it a lot when I make ramen at home.
Tenshin Ramen: If you like omelette ramen covered with a sweet and sour sauce, then you’ll enjoy this one. I’m not much of a fan of Tenshin-men, but I know my brother will like this one.
Gyoza: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Foo-Foo Tei has the best gyoza that I’ve ever tried in Southern California! And I finally know why! Instead of using water when cooking them (which often results in a loss of flavor), they use the ramen soup…genius!
Fried Potatoes: The perfect food to go with a few drinks…or a couple bottles of shochu.
The most flattering part of the night was learning that Murakami-san has read practically every page of this blog. I thought he was kidding, but his memory of certain posts proved it.
So if you’re in the neighborhood be sure to stop by. It just might become a fixture in your regular dining rotation. And remember…Hacienda Heights NOT Monterey Park!
Murakami-san ありがとう！ご馳走様でした！Thank you for your time and most importantly the advice you gave. I truly appreciate it.