Monday, January 03, 2011

Hapa Ramen at Home at the Ferry Building

When I was off during the holidays, I took advantage of a free Thursday to check out the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market and, in particular, the Hapa Ramen food stand.

I’m always looking for good ramen, but the reason for this visit was more than just a growling stomach. It was sort of a second parter to a visit to a Hapa Ramen pop-up earlier in the year. Some of you might recall (and some of you may have experienced it first hand), that pop-up in May was a major fail, partly because of the Twitter-generated crowds and partly (by Hapa Ramen’s own admission) some kitchen issues that affected the final results.

I didn’t want to just write off Hapa Ramen and its creator, Richie Nakano. So after Hapa Ramen finally launched at the Ferry Building farmers’ market, I wanted to see how the ramen tasted after settling in for a few months.

Nakano gained a following as a line cook at the popular Nopa restaurant and blogging about it at He developed the idea of ramen using quality ingredients from local sources over the last year or so, and now sets up show at the Ferry Building every Tuesday and Thursday as well as occasionally doing a pop-up service around town.

With his schedule, I’m not sure if he’s still working as a line cook at Nopa. He was, however, manning the ramen noodles station at his Hapa Ramen stand when I visited a couple of weeks ago.

Hapa Ramen serves up four different ramen options, with “the works” called the Big Daddy for $12. But that bowl includes fried chicken nuggets. So when I found out all the ramen bowls are the same size, I skipped the Big Daddy and got the pork belly ramen ($9) and added a farm-raised egg for another $1.

My bowl of ramen was filled with noodles, the extra egg, pork belly, some seasonal greens and a piece of nori on the rim.

The first thing I noticed when I took a bite of the noodles was that they were better than the first go-around when I tried Hapa Ramen at the pop-up and at this past summer’s San Francisco Street Food Festival. I recalled that the noodles needed a lot of work because they weren’t exciting in flavor or texture. But this time the noodles had a bit of spring to them and had a bit more flavor. And maybe because of the early Web chatter that this is a pretty pricey bowl of ramen, I did feel there were a lot of noodles in my bowl.

The other components were interesting if a bit mixed in success. The pork belly was tasty but the fat-to-meat ratio seemed to lean more on the fatty side. Not being a fan of fat, this made me crave the tender slices of cha siu pork I’d find at traditional ramen shops. The seasonal use of delicata squash added a nice sweetness to the overall ramen, but I also found the broth to be less rich than in the past. The egg was cooked to a nice soft-boiled texture.

Overall, I enjoyed the ramen and it really hit the spot on a cold winter day. I think Hapa Ramen’s bowl of ramen has come a long way from those testing pop-up days. But I can also see how some may feel that the price is high compared to other solid bowls of ramen for equal or less price that actually come with a table and chair to sit down and eat. If Hapa Ramen wants to corner the high-end ramen market, it needs to deliver more unique toppings to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Hapa Ramen, every Tuesday and Thursday at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Cindy said...

Yum, that ramen looks perfect on a day like today!

jenn said...

I just discovered your blog today - what a fun read! I'm looking forward to reading more posts in the future!

Single Guy Ben said...

Welcome Jenn and Cindy! I love new readers in the new year!

Carolyn Jung said...

Mmm, this would be good on a cold day. And we've been having a lot of those lately. I like the idea of the squash in it, too. It's different and adds nice sweeetness and texture. I'll have to go stand in line for a bowl the next time I'm at the Ferry Building marketplace.

Kim said...

The price tag seems a bit high, no?

Single Guy Ben said...

Carolyn, let me know what you think.

Kim, I think the price is the biggest criticism facing Hapa Ramen as seen by the Yelp comments. But when you consider the other food items sold at the Ferry Building, then it's kind of in line with the others there. So it's more of a value if you're there and trying to decide what to eat. But I wouldn't drive to the Ferry Building just for the ramen considering there's other ramen places that are comparable for the price.

LC said...

The portions were a lot more generous when he first started (prior to current paper cups). The noodles are different because he stopped making them, now he buys them from a store. I really liked the pumpkin ramen he made during Thanksgiving (entire month of November). Note that u can ask for extra goodies when ordering (ie. extra egg, or chicken nuggets), usually for just $1 more each.

Single Guy Ben said...

LC, I didn't realize he doesn't make his own noodles any more. It's better, so I guess it was a smart move to give up making his own and going with what's available and focus on the toppings.