Cooking, Diet, Japan, Silicon Valley

First Vegan Ramen at Ramen Begins “Hajime” Review

I have wanted to be a vegan. Seriously. I know it’s the right thing. But having to go to a lot of business dinners and having a young kid in my house are kind of preventing me from being it. I would like to enjoy normal dish with my family and give her good and nutritious food and preparing two different ones are unrealistic to ask my wife or cook by myself. But still, it is in my bucket list.

Another thing I concern about is doing diet takes time including monitoring my calorie intake and exercises. For example, I lost 10% of my body weight with very strict calorie monitoring, but it is not that fun to do and most of all, again, takes a lot of time.

I believe being vegan saves that kind of time and I can focus on more business and study, and I can save animal life.

If I should become a vegan, I miss two things: Japanese style BBQ “yakiniku” and ramen noodles. Yakiniku is relatively expensive and less frequent. Thus I could persist. But ramen is totally different thing for a Japanese. It is ingrained in our meal routine or even in our DNA!

So, I came to Ramen Begins “Hajime” again and resisted my formidable temptation to go for Syoyu/Soy Sauce ramen and ordered “Kiwami Vegan” ramen. It was not my first time to get vegetable ramen but was mine with vegan ramen. A bit concerned about some stale soup and toppings, to be honest.

First of all, I was having a very pleasant conversation with a mentor of business while I was having a couple of first bites, so I was totally forgetting it was vegan. It is not stale at all, very close to the usual ramen!

Second of all, as I realized I ordered vegan one, I was enjoying the delicate soup so much. I could feel soy milk, very mild, but not too milky to make you feel like drinking “salty milk”. It harbors the richness of usual ramen soup. How? One of secrets seemed spice in it. But this is easier said than done – when you eat plant-based meat, some says, like my daughter always complains, that it contains too much spice in it. This is to erase the smell of “beanmess” and they have to put them a lot. But again, this ramen house has a magic wand to find and accomplish the perfect balance.
Nevertheless, it is not just mildness balance, it gives you a tempo in your mouth with the nuts you can see in the picture and some kick too with minced garlic. I couldn’t stop smiling while savoring the soup.

Moving on to noodle. Amazing! As a home bread maker, I could tell they are using good quality flour. And these noodle used for vegan soup is totally different from ones for shoyu ramen! How they can make several types of in-house noodles, I don’t know. Probably they are coming from professional integrity and if so, I as a business person would like to give them great credit for that. Very smooth, appropriately thick. I really enjoyed chewing them for a while with the soup.

But chashu/BBQ meat on top it?? For a couple of seconds I had them in my mouth, I sought for the rationale but figured out they are made of plant too. It has a good feel and chewiness and no too much spiciness, and all in all, nothing but amazing.

If my daughter leaves my house to go to college, it would be seven years to go. I have to beg my wife first, but I might be a vegan and cook some veggie menu. I have to be a bit careful in cooking some not to make it salty with my tear without my daughter.

Cooking, Japan, Silicon Valley

Ramen Begins “Hajime” Review

In my 40s, it’s getting tougher to experience something “best in my life” stuff such as “This is the best non-fiction movie I’ve ever watched” or “OMG, this is the best deal I’ve done in this firm”, but now I can clearly say “This is the BEST soy sauce ramen I’ve ever had in my whole life”. And sure, this is the best ramen you can have in Bay Area, too.

I was fortunate to be invited to a pre-opening tasting of Ramen Begins “Hajime” in Sunnyvale. I somehow looked like a “most gourmet person” in Facebook friends to a gentleman who called upon me since I sometimes upload pictures of homebaked bread, dishes and so on. Lucky me!

Ramen Begins “Hajime”

Living in Los Altos, the restaurant was pretty accessible due to its location near 280 and Lawrence Expressway. If you are dwelling in Los Altos, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Cupertino, San Jose, this place is easy to visit, let alone from Sunnyvale where the shop is located.

Having finished several Zoom calls in the morning and skipped lunch, I was pretty hungry in the afternoon for sure, but couldn’t wait to try the bowl of shoyu/soy sauce-based ramen right after I smelled the fragrant shoyu and a bit of dried fish.

And finally! Here it comes.

Shoyu Ramen
  • The shoyu broth is very rich with the shining oil it contains in the soup. You can definitely feel the mild and pleasant sweetness of the oil.
  • The chef/owner Hajime Kitayama san slowly and patiently simmers the dried fish for loooooooong hours so that the broth can encompass the most extract out of it, but not to the extent it gets clouded. This stock coming from fish is never fishy but gives the soup depth and “spaciousness” in your mouth and it is gently sweet.
  • Having said that, shoyu itself is powerful enough that it encompasses those flavor and gives you a heavenly good aftertaste.

At this point, you may want to slurp up the whole bowl of the shoyu soup, but you don’t know the whole picture yet.

  • The noodles are homemade (which I as a bread-maker assume can be very tough labor), thus they are a bit curly and wavy. And they are thick, which is distinctive from general shoyu ramen.
  • On the surface, they are smooth so that you can slurp easily.
  • But, that waviness entangles and literally scoops the aforementioned rich soup. You feel like drinking soup and eating noodles at the same time.
  • And as you chew those thick noodles, you can enjoy the flavor of the flour. Although they are thick, it was perfect al dente to savor the richness of the grain. As a home breadmaker, I could tell they are using good quality flour.

As long as the noodles and soup are fine, I am satisfied for a ramen. That’s the bottom line. This time, the level of them were legendary. I reckoned they were best in my life. Getting stuck in home for long time, and I just got an invitation message out of blue, then I am experiencing “best in my life” stuff in a pre-opening restaurant. What a life.
However, it was not the end of the story.

  • There were delicately thinly cut chashu pork on the noodles. Half of them contained visible streaks of fat as usual ones, and others are rather lean.
  • I tried from the one with fat. It melted in my mouth.
  • Next, I picked the lean one. Again, it melted in my mouth!
  • Especially, the second one was surprising because the meat looked lean. But yet, due to it’s thinness and balance of red meat and small fat that you can’t even see, it was melting right after I put it in my mouth.
  • And again this was my first time to eat “melting chashu” with ramen because in Japan it is regarded that the thicker a chashu is cut, the more gorgeous it is.
  • But I would call this ”the first and BEST taste of chashu on ramen in my life”

The only concern for me (as a sogo shosha guy) is the pricing. This quality ramen, price starting from $8.95 is something never seen in this area. Sogo shosha guy is destined to make money (or get my butt kicked by a boss), but this shop is focusing on delivering the delight and first time experience to customers. I simply esteem this type of work ethic. Really.

I always tell my daughter that “as long as you repeat ‘first time in my life’ experiences, you can keep on learning and growing throughout your life which is the most important thing in it”.
This is true for even my 40s. I truly appreciate the experience this time and the great aftertaste of the bowl.

Ramen Begins “Hajime”
5229 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara, California 95051, US
(408) 899-6254