Authentic ramen experiences aren’t exactly common in Anchorage, but that’s what inspired Chiiwen Choo, owner, to open Kami, a pop-up ramen restaurant in West Anchorage that specializes in authentic-style ramen.
Kami is currently located at Roti, a Malaysian restaurant on Arctic Boulevard. While the pop-up has seven different ramen bowls to choose from, it also offers items such as chicken karaage, or Japanese fried chicken, and chicken katsu curry bowls.
Its most popular item on the menu is “Hakata Style Tonkotsu Ramen.” Its Tonkotsu (pork bone broth), along with all of their other broths, are made in-house via a 20-hour process that involves cleaning and boiling the bones. The noodles, chashu pork and other toppings are made in-house, as well — making for a bowl that stands toe-to-toe with ramen bowls from world-famous Japanese ramen shops like Ichiran and Ippudo, which Choo said he drew inspiration from.
I opted for the Hakata Tonkotsu ramen, as per Choo’s recommendation, and one can taste the time and love poured into their broth, making for a sinfully rich experience. The broth is laden with rich, velvety pork flavor while delicately balancing umami with saltiness. The noodles were perfectly bouncy and stretchy, as ramen noodles should be, and the toppings were standard issue ramen toppings often found in Japan’s top ramen shops, such as onsen tamago, or soft boiled eggs.
Everything about Kami’s ramen bowls has been meticulously thought out by Choo, even down the quality of bones they use.
“We have to clean the bones [to make the broth]. If you get a good supply of the bones, you don’t have to clean that badly. But if your supplier doesn’t give you good bones, then you have to clean it [more] to get a good broth, otherwise, it won’t be that creamy or white in color,” Choo said.
Choo, who is from Malaysia, has always had an interest in food. When Choo found out his friend, the owner of Roti, was going on vacation, Choo found the perfect opportunity to do something he has always wanted to do — open a ramen restaurant.
“First of all, we don’t get fancy, good ramen up here [in Alaska] so, at home, I always try cooking ramen for myself and my friends. So I was like, ‘oh, yeah, I should [open a ramen restaurant],’” Choo said.
Along with being a ramen fanatic, Choo has plenty of food industry experience under his belt at only 30 years old. He has worked in kitchens at Yellowstone National Park and South Carolina, eventually leading him to the Singapore branch of Yamato Ramen School, a Japan-based ramen school where he learned the ins and outs of how to make ramen last year.
In the weeks prior to opening Kami, Choo advertised the restaurant on various “free and for sale” Facebook groups and was welcomed with plenty of shares, comments and likes. Since opening Kami on Jan. 22, the pop-up has seen success thanks to word of mouth and social media spreading the word like wildfire — so much so that Kami sold out of all its ramen on opening day.
“People really like [Kami] so far. Sometimes, if I make a mistake with the sauce being a little too salty, I take [customers’] feedback and try to make it better,” Choo said.
Amidst all of the good feedback, Choo has plans to pursue Kami further than its current status as a pop-up, but it all “depends on the chances we get in the restaurant industry [here in Anchorage],” he said.
For now, Kami and its ramen can be enjoyed until Feb. 15 at 5011 Arctic Blvd. For more updates from Kami, check out their Facebook page.