Yesterday, I had a chance to try this under-the-radar ramen shop near ABS-CBN in Quezon City. It is located inside the Jardin de Zenaida, along Sgt. Esguerra Ave, a minute away from ABS-CBN. It is called go-en, The Japanese Ramen Shoppe plus.
It is a small ramen restaurant that sells “real” Japanese ramen. Owners John and Marilyn are passionate about using only real Japanese ingredients and keeping the flavors as Japanese as possible. They have other interests in Japan and often make the trip from Japan to Manila, personally bringing a few of the ingredients that can only be bought in Japan.
Now, I have never been to Japan (yet), but based on what I see on TV and anime, this little restaurant kinda nails it! There are regular tables and there is also a high table in the center, and another high table facing the cooking area should you want to have a front row seat to kitchen. The chairs and tables are of varnished wood, and the whole ambience made me feel like I was transported to a little restaurant in Japan.
There is ample parking space:
The name go-en comes from the Japanese five yen coin, called “goen”. It is the only Japanese coin without Western numerals. It is considered a good luck piece as well. When put in the back of a cash register or in a wallet given as a gift, it means good luck with money. It can also be taken to mean good luck in relationships and is often exchanged between friends.
And of course, a Japanese place won’t be complete without the resident cat. This is Sylvester (from the Looney Tunes, get it? ) He lounges around outside to welcome customers.
One of the other cool things that you can do in go-en is play Kendama! I have seen kendama while watching anime, but didn’t really know it was a thing in Manila. Apparently there are kendama groups, contests and what not
Kendama is a Japanese toy that has been around for several centuries. It is a pretty simple toy, like a top or a yoyo. There is a ball on a string that you try to catch with the handle. You can have a fun time with family and friends trying to learn how to do it – it may seem very easy, and it actually is pretty simple, but can be harder than it looks!
Here’s a video of John showing us how it’s done:
I was able to do it 4 times after many, many tries
John wanted his customers to interact with each other – there were too many groups and families that were too glued to their gadgets to talk to each other. He thought that having them play kendama would get them to put down their gadgets and just enjoy the moment. You can play kendama for free (they lend you the toys), and you can even get discounts on the ramen if you can successfully do some kendama tricks (just ask the staff more about this). For example, if I remember correctly, if you catch the ball 10 times, you get a 20% discount.
You can also buy some kendama for your own use at home – the most affordable one starts at P550. It is a nice break to play for a few minutes if you are on the computer all day.
All the recipes are developed by Marilyn. Go-en doesn’t claim to be “authentic” Japanese, but they claim to be “real” Japanese food. Instead of adapting Japanese flavors to Filipino tastes, she tries to find Japanese flavors that fit Filipino tastes while staying true to their Japanese origins.
We started with the Tempura Platter (P380) – it has shrimp, chicken, fish and seasonal vegetables.
The highlights of our meal, were, of course, the ramen. We were served three kinds to try.
First, we had the Wonton Tomato (P380) – this is go-en’s own creation. If you are afraid it might taste Italian, it won’t. The flavor is more Latin American-inspired. This is light, but hearty. It has shrimp wontons and is topped with green onions (negi) and pepper threads. The tomato soup is fresh and light. This is different – not something you’d typically expect in a Japanese ramen place – but can be comforting if you grew up on some version of tomato almondigas soup.
Next, we were served Tantanmen (P380) – this has a slightly spicy, sesame-flavored broth, with a good amount of finely-ground pork. It uses hosomen instead of the usual ramen. It is served with ajitsuke tamago (Japanese-style soft-boiled egg), although personally, I prefer it a bit softer. Yes, I am one of those people who like runny yolks and silky egg whites
The last ramen we got to try was the Kara-age Kare (P350). The soup is a Japanese curry-based soup (this tastes different than an Indian curry) and the ramen is topped with two pieces of kara-age (fried chicken), Japanese egg, cabbage and wood ear mushroom. This is the most flavorful of the ramens we tried – the curry really smells spicy and enticing.
Of the three ramen flavors we tried, I think the Tantanmen is probably the one I like the most. The Kara-age Kare is bold and grabbed my attention – the smell of the curry will do that; add to that the fried chicken – those two things are hard to resist! But in the end, I felt like the more subtle flavors of the Tantanmen would be something I wouldn’t tire of so easily.
We also had the Kara-age (P250) – this was a crowd favorite 🙂 It’s a simple fried chicken, but the batter was crispy and the chicken was moist and juicy. A very generous mound of Japanese mayo and lemon is served on the side (we all loved a lot of Japanese mayo with the chicken).
Lastly, we had the Okonomiyaki (P350) – this was not bad. For me, it was just okay. I just prefer a softer, more takoyaki-like pancake and less cabbage. To be fair, it was generously filled with squid, shrimp, and other toppings.
For dessert, we had the Taiyaki (P80) and the Mochi Ice Cream (P80).
The Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste, adzuki) is actually the one I feel slightly addicted to! I know, right? But they make their Taiyaki to serve, and it is served fresh and warm from the mold!
From what I understand, taiyakis are supposed to look slightly golden, and this one was white, but I still tried it, of course The taiyaki is sticky, like mochi. I expected it to be something like a pancake, but it turned out to be something glutinous, like mochi. I asked what they used for the taiyaki and was told that they have a mix for the taiyaki. I suspect there might have been a slight mix-up, but oddly enough, the glutinous taiyaki turned out to be pretty addictive!
I normally don’t like red bean paste, but in this taiyaki, it contrasted really well with the toasty, chewy, glutinous layer.
The mochi ice cream is made by hand – they make their own ice cream (it’s quite creamy)! The mochi is flavored with sakura (cherry blossoms). This is simple and delicious! Eat it quick because it melts really fast!
Roasted barley tea is on the house, and the staff were really good at refilling our glasses, it was like magic – I just look away for a second and my glass is full again!
If you live near the area, go-en Ramen is a good place to get your ramen fix. It is a place where you can order Japanese food and expect to get something that a regular person in Japan might eat.
Go-en Ramen is a nice place to try for something different from the more traditional ramen places in Manila. The food is good and their offerings are more down to earth. They have Cheese Ramen, Ramen Burger, Gyoza! I wish we could have tried these, too! They have been featured on Japanese TV for their Ramen Burger.
Price-wise, it is comparable to other ramen chains, but can’t blame them knowing that almost all of their ingredients are from Japan. Also, menu prices are VAT-inclusive and there is no additional service charge.
This is also a cozy place to stay in if you want to interact with friends and family by playing kendama.
go-en Ramen – Japanese Ramen Shoppe Plus
Jardin de Zenaida, Unit B1, 34 Sgt. Esguerra Ave, Diliman, Quezon City, 1103 Metro Manila
Contact #: (02)-441-GOEN (4636) (02)-376-5761
Lunch/Lunch Specials: 12pm – 5pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5pm – 11pm (last order 10:30pm) ; Fri-Sun 5pm – 12am (last order 11:30pm)
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The Barat Queen
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