Date Traveled, February 2013
I love ramen just as much as anyone else. Like any good ramen drone, I wait the obligatory hour or more for my ramen at the local hip ramen joints. But I am here in Hong Kong, on a short visit where I don't have enough time to try all the food I want as is and ramen is well, not really local food. There was no way I was going to waste my precious hours waiting for ramen no matter how good. Except sometimes your significant other wants to eat ramen in Hong Kong and then you go eat ramen in Hong Kong, and I am so glad I was dragged into Butao Ramen.
My favorite ramen shop in New York is the local Ippudo. If you are ramen fan you probably have heard of Ippudo, it is an extremely popular ramen chain found in many locations around the world (including Hong Kong) where people wait hours to get in. I guess making you wait for ramen is part of what makes it tasty because all the best ones seem to do that but I digress. Ramen shops have their rabid fans and followers and flame wars comparing rival shops are common. Hong Kong is no exception and you will find very varied opinions on the best Hong Kong ramen shop on Open Rice. Open Rice by the way is a great resource for foodies in many cities in Asia, highly recommended.
Butao Ramen judging by reviews is easily considered one of the top ramen shops in Hong Kong. Some people were a little upset that they had expanded from their single hole in the wall 12 seater serving no more than 200 bowls a day to their 3 stores today. I guess when restaurants or other things expand they do lose some of their unique cool factor. But still, as long as the food is good I am not going to judge it harshly for following the money. However I was skeptical about whether it would be any better than some of the other top ramen joints like Ippudo.
Waiting to get in
Inside Butao Ramen in Tsim Sha Tsu
The Red King
Major note to self, keep an open mind about good food. Entirely possible to get excellent food if a particular cuisine even if you are not in the place where it originated from. My other takeaway is I got a new favorite ramen shop.
I did not go to the original shop in central but to their branch in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. It was in a little alley called Minden Avenue and is an easy walk from the waterfront and most of the hotels in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon including mine. The store is small seating maybe 15 to 20 people but has a nice atmosphere. Like some of the other popular places in Hong Kong, you get a paper menu to tick your selections as you line up outside. We did not have to wait long, only 20 minutes or so but the line did get longer behind us.
Butao Ramen takes a minimalist approach to the menu which I actually like. They serve just 4 types of ramen bowls, the four kings, and let you customize the bowls in some ways as the pictures show. The Butao King is the original bowl which is what my partner had. I ordered the Red King which looked utterly delicious and spicy. There was a girl seating across from us who had the Black King squid ink bowl. That did not look as pretty but not sure how it tasted. Did not see the Green King around but that looked like something I would try some other time. A warning though that items do run out if you go late. They had unfortunately run out of Pork belly when we went.
Food was served within a few minutes of us being seated but just before that a server did come to check on who ordered spice level 3 on their Red King but seemed satisfied when she confirmed it was me. Guess she assumed I could take it. The Red King was absolutely delicious! I had never had such spicy ramen before and its flavors weren't just about the spice, there was so much going on and every slurp of broth and ramen just filled all your senses with goodness. Even now as I write this I keep yearning to go back to Hong Kong just to try it again. The other interesting thing about the Red King was their secret red ball in the bowl which I am guessing was some kind of spicy flavored ground meat. It went really well with all the other ingredients in that bowl. Shirley's Butao King was great as well and she too felt it was better than what we had at the New York Ippudo.