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At Masamune, Japanese chef finds the key to a good ramen

Shio ramen, ajitama and sparkling wine in a masu.
Shio ramen, ajitama and sparkling wine in a masu. Athena Zelandonii

At Masamune, Japanese chef finds the key to a good ramen

“In Sendai, we associate the city with [seventeenth-century warlord] Date Masamune,” says 27-year-old Yusuke Tanaka. (Missing an eye, Masamune was also known as the “one-eyed dragon”). “He was the strongest, so the restaurant is named after him.”

Tanaka opened the ramen and gyoza bar Masamune on Bassac Lane late last month with three other Japanese businessmen and restaurateurs. He says they are bringing an authentic northern Japanese-style ramen to a scene otherwise dominated by heavier ramens, like the Tonkotsu of the south.

“Some people like the light taste, some people like the heavy taste,” he says.

Masamune, which first opened in 2010 in the northern city of Sendai and has branches in Tokyo, Saint Petersburg and now Phnom Penh, offers ramen in two varieties: shoyu and shio ($5.50 or $3.50 for a small bowl).

“Shoyu is a basic soy flavour, while shio [salt] is most difficult – a very sensitive flavour . . . so you can taste all the seasonings,” Tanaka says.

Masamune does not disappoint, especially if you throw down the extra dollar for the ajitama topping (an egg that is parboiled, then put in ice-cold water, shelled and left to soak in a flavoured soup). The key to a good ramen, Tanaka says, is the wheat-flour noodle, which is made fresh each morning.

“Moisture is very important. [In Cambodia], things become moist fast, and so all the noodles would stick together,” he says. “We are very strict for the noodle; if the noodle is not good, the soup is not good.”

But Masamune isn’t just about the ramen (or the gyoza dumplings at $2 for four or $4 for eight); it offers a variety of appetisers and drinks including Japanese whiskeys and sake.

The sparkling wine ($4.50) is served in a glass in a masu (measuring) wooden box, which is filled as well, and while it may seem like a quirky Japanese trend, it’s essentially a buy-one-get-one-free when you realise the liquid in the box refills your glass.

The bar, Tanaka says, is the difference between a ramen place and the European model of a gyoza bar, attracting a dinner and late-night crowd alike.

“I don’t know about you, but after I go out for drinks, I like to eat a little something,” he says.

Open every day from 11am-midnight, Masamune is located at #M47, Street 308. Tel: 012 734 163

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