As anyone who has attended an American college can attest, the word “ramen” in the US is a blanket term for tasteless $.25 instant noodles. They’re usually slurped on late night study binges as a substitute for real food ruled out by the school’s meager financial aid package. Even authentic Japanese restaurants in the US often avoid the term due to its connotations with culinary depravity. Despite my time in Asia, I have a deep-rooted bias against anything called ramen.
But Gachi Japanese Noodle serves as a wonderful antidote. Located on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard well away from the usual expat haunts, its Japanese chef spent 10 years working in Tokyo and Fukuoka before migrating to Phnom Penh. So confident was he in his menu that he offered free soup to anyone who liked Gachi’s Facebook page on the restaurant’s first two days of business last July.
My hang-ups over ramen disappeared when I tried the ganso gachi tonkotsu ramen soup ($8). Served in a broth made of pork bones, fat and collagen, the dish took three days to cook, the server said. The long prep time showed, with surprisingly tasty mushy balls of pork fat floating between bits of equally delectable connective tissue. The broth and pork, which were topped off with shredded green onion, were by far the most interesting parts of the soup, and I had scarcely noticed the noodles in the bowl until after I had downed the liquid.
If ramen isn’t your thing, numerous sides and rice dishes can substitute. I ate the yaki gyoza dumplings ($1.50 for four pieces, $2.75 for eight) and the teriyaki chicken don ($2.75 for regular, $4 for large). Both were fine, but I wish I had swapped them for another ramen dish. The tom yum goong ramen ($7.25), a spicy Thai-Japanese fusion prawn soup, looked particularly enticing.
The restaurant itself is a humble affair with minimal decor, no tables and about 10 seats along a bar to serve customers. Service was exceptionally fast, with all three plates dishes up within five minutes. But perhaps that’s to be expected for soup cooked for three days prior to serving.
I noticed several guests speaking Japanese as I ate my meal, suggesting that it is popular with Japanese expats. So whether you are a homesick Tokyo native or a silly American who thinks that ramen is something you buy at Wal-Mart , Gachi is worth a try.
Gachi can be found at #804 Kampuchea Krom Boulevard.