One of the first things that Ady Tirthdas remembers as a kid was eating his lola’s special jamon.
It was salt-cured, not unlike the ones in Spain that pork connoisseurs devour. Nope, not the kind sold by Pinoy commercial brands that reek of cloying syrup and caramelized pork fat.
“We are a big family, and I have a lot of cousins so gatherings are frequent — and we get to eat lola’s ham,” Ady tells DNX.
Lola is Stella Gamboa Tirthdas whom Ady remembers for her culinary magic — no small feat given that her skills were often put to good use every time there’s a family affair, which would happen every three months.
Ady remembers those events too well (“I love eating,” he confesses), especially that jamon.
In fact, that food memory has somehow been seared into his brain and impressed him so much that he decided to pay tribute to his grandma when the right moment came.
And that came when he opened his own street-side casual dining restaurant, Ichiraku Ramen-nan in Basel Street, Helvetia Heights.
Ichiraku is, as described by the chef himself “not authentic” Japanese; it is rather a combination of a Filipino-Japanese eatery, a ramen house with a Pinoy twist, a Negrense flavor.
Chef Ady admits that he opened Ichiraku to give himself and others a cheaper ramen alternative, with a flavor that is as close to the original as possible.
“I wanted to give myself — and others — a cheaper alternative since a bowl of authentic ramen is expensive,” he says.
One controversial choice he did was substituting the noodles for pasta which could earn gripes from purists.
But for a bowlful of goodies within the P138 to P159 range, Ichiraku Ramen is a hit among those looking to unwind in an unpretentious environment (ambience is the street itself, with overhanging branches and the occasional whirr of the car engines being tinkered in a nearby talyer).
Never mind the pasta substituting for ramen noodles. The key is in the ingredients – locally-sourced, quality products that high-end restaurants are using: from the eggs, to the soy sauce, to the bread crumbs, and meats. Ichiraku does not scrimp.
And then there’s the technique.
Chef Ady grew up in a household where food prep and technique is key, and where enticing smells of meats smoking or curing would invariably waft from his lola’s kitchen. That – plus his considerable background in the culinary arts first as student of the hotel and restaurant management of La Consolacion College, and then as alum of the Institute of Culinary Arts of the University of St. La Salle – has inspired him to pay tribute to Lola Stella’s cooking, and including lola’s classic bacon belly.
“My version is smoked, so there’s less salt flavor because I tweaked (my recipe) to fit the Negrense palate. But everything else – like the measurements of the ingredients – it’s all tribute to my lola because I grew up enjoying her cooking,” Chef Ady says.
SELLING LIKE PANCAKES
As the DNX team is hunkered down (or more like comfortably seated) by the roadside diner, a large stainless stock pot is emanating the unmistakable smells of chicken broth, the base of the two ramen options offered by Ichiraku: Karaage Tori Shio Ramen (P138), and Sumōku pōku Shio Ramen (P159). Then, Chef Ady’s partner, Brian opened a plastic bin where a big slab of pork is (sumoko poku, a large hit, we later learn) and started slicing the slab into manageable bits.
Behind us, customers were already queueing (this was a full 30 minutes before opening time, mind). This is par for the course, we learned, as the sheer number of people lining up for a bowlful of Ichiraku Ramen never seems to wane.
And it looks like the trend is not likely to change.
“We can dispose of a high of 160 bowls of ramen a day, or a low of 130,” he says. During worse days, say, when there is inclement weather – like unrelenting rains for days – Ichiraku sells “only” 90 bowls.
Service is naturally slow when there’s that flock of people waiting for their bowl of ramen. So much that Chef Ady recommends coming to Ichiraku at 9 p.m. onwards “to avoid the rush”.
Chef Ady also does not believe in short cuts, and the amount of prep time that goes to his dine-and-go venture could compete with any high-end resto.
Service time starts at 5 p.m., but the prep time for the operations start a full 12 hours before that (the chicken stock that serves as base is already prepared 12 hours ahead, while the karaage tori is cooked fresh everyday).
Appreciative customers keep coming back for a bowl of noodles (plus a side order of extra chicken or pork, whatever catches their fancy at the moment).
GIVING A LEG UP
Chef Ady’s wildly popular business venture did not exactly start that way. Like most young entrepreneurs, his ventures were often a hit-and-miss affair.
Ichiraku is not exactly an overnight sensation, although it might seem like that in the outset.
Rather, it was one of the concepts of Chef Ady’s Philippine Culinary Operations Consultancy, a start-up and turnaround consultancy firm for aspiring food entrepreneurs, or for those whose business is on the brink of insolvency.
“We give ideas and concepts, and time and motion studies for start-ups,” he tells DNX.
It is a way, he says, of giving back since he knows how it was to fail.
The chef excuses himself. At this point, more people have lined up for Ichiraku’s version of the Japanese ramen.
As we pack up, the smells in the kitchen have brought the boys to the yard.
Chef Ady’s day is about to start.
Ichiraku Ramen-nan is located at 1360 Basel Street, Helvetia Heights, barangay Villamonte. It opens from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.