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Vol 19, no. 6
December 2016/ January 2017


The Twenty-five-hour Soup 
Story By: Noel Nicholas
Photo By: Elyse Butler

A bowl of noodles can’t be that involved, right? Wrong. Take AGU Ramen’s signature kotteri tonkotsu: Each ladle of broth represents the culmination of a twenty-five-hour-long traditional Japanese ramen-making process that’s rare to find on O‘ahu. “We make all of our broths from scratch, taking no shortcuts,” says owner Hisashi Uehara. Ramen connoisseurs in Hawai‘i “will appreciate the difference.”

Tonkotsu is a pork-based broth known for being labor-intensive, which is why traditional ramen shops in Japan are often tiny and usually close once the stockpots are empty. To produce one batch of broth for all five AGU Ramen locations, it takes three shifts of labor. The process begins a day and a half before the broth reaches the bowl. At AGU’s central kitchen in Kalihi, 1,500 pounds of pork bones are boiled for three hours in eighty-gallon stockpots—just to clean them. “Cleaning the bones is crucial to a good broth,” Uehara says. “Without boiling away all the impurities, you end up with a darker broth and unclean taste.” The bones then simmer for twenty-two more hours until they’ve released every bit of marrow, collagen and protein, resulting in a savory, almost buttery broth. After cooling, the broth makes its way to the restaurants, where it’s flavored with black garlic-infused oil and spices.

Prior to opening AGU (which means “fellowship” in the Miyako dialect of Okinawa) Uehara managed izakaya-style Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas while pursuing his hobby: seeking out the best bowls of ramen across Japan and the United States. He figures he’s eaten at roughly six hundred ramen shops over the past thirty years, visiting some as many as six or seven times. “I was taking notes and photos and memorizing flavors long before I had any idea I would open a ramen restaurant of my own,” he says. After moving back to O‘ahu in 2010, Uehara decided to turn his obsession into a career. Even now, after three and half years in business and with five locations, chances are that during peak lunch and dinner hours at AGU you’re still in for a wait. “My family worries about me picking such an extreme food business,” Uehara says, “But I’m not stressed! This is my biggest passion. If I couldn’t do this anymore—now that would be stressful.”