Tenkaippin – A Taste of Kyoto In the Heart of Waikiki

by World Wide Ed on Thursday, June 1, 2006

So there you are. Sitting in your teeny little 5′ x 5′ cubicle, with no money or vacation time, daydreaming of getting away to a far away land… Preferably someplace that involves an exciting nightlife and good eats for cheap. No?

Ok, so you’re not like me. Let me repaint the picture for you. There you are, loungin’ in your ergonomically-correct Lay-Z-Boy-like office chair in your colossal suite of an office, with wads of sweaty cash seeping out of your ears. Your administrative assistant meticulously plans the exotic destination of the month that your private jet will take you to. Better?

If this is the case, two things: 1) I hate you and 2) this column is not for you! :) Kidding of course, but this column is geared more for the common folk. You know, the everyday man or woman who likes a good deal and a fun time when he/she sees one. If this is you, come along with me to explore a place serving up a little bit of Kyoto, Japan right in the heart of Waikiki: Tenkaippin Hawaii.

A quick search on your favorite airline reservations web site will give you a round-trip ticket from Honolulu to Japan for anywhere from the upper $600-700s to over $2000! I even saw a ridiculously priced Air France option for a mere $7305! Merrrcy! And, unless you’re lucky enough to have friends or family who live there and are willing to put up with you for a week or two, let’s not forget to include the costs of hotel and daily expenditures. By the time you come back, you’ll be wishing you just went to see the Duke Kahanamoku statue and considered it a vacation.

Duke Kahanamoku statue, Waikiki
Duke Kahanamoku statue, Waikiki

So flying to Japan for 7,000 big ones is not your bag. That’s ok, I feel you. But what is one to do if one desires the pleasures of travel, but lacks the needed time and fundage? Well, your options are simple. Either find yourself a generous sugar momma or daddy or pay a visit to the streets of Waiks.

Ahhh, Waikiki. If you concentrate really really hard, you can almost trick yourself into thinking it’s a vacation in and of itself. The white sandy beaches, the melting pot of cultures and languages, and the multitude of shopping options and eating establishments. Taking a stroll down Kalakaua Avenue will give you a first person’s view of living the life as your typical tourist.

(! – If you’re from these parts pard’ner, I suggest you park your horse ride at one end and walk through Waikiki, rather than drive it. It gives you more of a touristy feel, helps you get circulation through your otherwise dormant legs, and allows you to notice a lot more than you probably would if driving.)

Among the myriad of eateries is an authentic, Japanese noodle-shop style restaurant called Tenkaippin (pronounced as two words, Tenka Ippin) on the more western end of Kalakaua. As part of a chain of restaurants in Japan carrying the same name (www.tenkaippin.co.jp), this little, unassuming shop carries a big chopstick when it comes to taste and popularity, and has been doing so for the last six years.

If you come at just the right time, the first thing you’ll notice is the bright, but welcoming red doors, signage and noren, or door curtains.

Front entrance of Tenkaippin Hawaii
Front entrance of Tenkaippin Hawaii

I say “right” time because this place is almost always crowded. If you come at the wrong time, all you’ll see is a large crowd outside and the sign-in board staring you in the face.

Sign-in board (waiting list) for Tenkaippin
Sign-in board (waiting list) for Tenkaippin

(! – If you can help it, get there early or at off-peak hours to avoid the crowds)

Once you enter, you’ll immediately notice the cleanliness and just-like-home atmosphere the place gives you. The effervescent aroma of the unique soup base also tickles your nasal cavities.

A view of the kitchen with President Scott Suzui hard at work
A view of the kitchen with President Scott Suzui hard at work

Rare open seating with unique condiments adorning the tables
Rare open seating with unique condiments adorning the tables.

Since much of their clientele are those from Japan, you’ll notice that, as you look around, a lot of the signage caters to the them.

Menu options in Japanese
Menu options in Japanese

Even the takoyaki specials are in Japanese!
Even the takoyaki specials are in Japanese!

Information on their specialty: the kotteri rahmen
Information on their specialty: the kotteri rahmen

No worries though, they’ve got an English menu for us gaijin (foreigners) too. And, if you think that that reading thing is overrated, you’re in luck. Just plop down in your seat and announce to the world kotteri onegaishimasu! You’ve just ordered yourself the specialty in which they’re known for, the kotteri rahmen.

The famous Tenkaippin kotteri rahmen
The famous Tenkaippin kotteri rahmen

“The kotteri rahmen is what we’re famous for,” says president Scott Suzui. “It has an unusual taste that’s almost addicting.”

The kotteri rahmen noodles swim in a soup that is very thick and rich. This thickness is accomplished by cooking chicken and assorted vegetables for over ten hours, bringing out the collagen, which Suzui points out is also good for healthy looking skin. Grindz that takes care of the tummy and the face? What more could you ask for!?

It all starts with the thick kotteri soup base
It all starts with the thick kotteri soup base

Amazingly, all of the soup ingredients are flown in directly from Japan. Now that deserves an exclamation point on the end of Authentic!

A couple of words of advice before embarking on your inaugural kotteri adventure:

The kotteri rahmen and soup base is an acquired taste. It’s not your run-of-the-mill, local saimin stand flavoring. If you’re used to eating “real” rahmen from Japan, then you’ll be ok here. If not, consider yourself warned.

Be prepared for some sore limbs, especially on the hand and nether regions! By my 4th bite, the ol’ money makers started to get really tired. The soup is so thick and the noodles are so heavy with the flavoring that it takes a good amount of effort to shovel this delicacy into your pie hole. You may want to consider doing finger bicep curls before trying your hand at this.

Taking a stab at the heavy kotteri noodles
Taking a stab at the heavy kotteri noodles

On your table, you’ll notice an assortment of condiments, some more recognizable than others. Scott recommended using the chili/garlic concoction with my kotteri to enhance the flavor. I’ve never had that before, but YUM! Strong garlic taste, with a hint of spice! And for those who can’t eat garlic (or are part vampire), he recommends using the chili/miso.

Chili/garlic concoction used to add flavor to your meal
Chili/garlic concoction used to add flavor to your meal

For those more in the mood of the mainstream stuff, Tenkaippin also serves up your traditional combo meals like the miso rahmen/fried rice combo below.

Tenkaippin's fried rice
Tenkaippin’s fried rice

Tenkaippin's miso rahmen
Tenkaippin’s miso rahmen

And what’s a virtual vacation to Japan without experiencing a little takoyaki (fried octopus dumpling) on the side?

Half dozen order of takoyaki please!
Half dozen order of takoyaki please!

So you see, going on vacation doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost very much for that matter. And let’s face it… Avoiding that 8 hour flight ain’t so bad either. Whether you’re daydreaming from a 5×5 or a Lay-Z-Boy, one thing’s for sure… you can find a bit of Kyoto right in the heart of Waikiki. Itadakimasu!

Scott Suzui and wife Mayumi in front of Tenkaippin Restaurant
Scott Suzui and wife Mayumi in front of Tenkaippin Restaurant

Tenkaippin Hawaii
617 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815 (map)
(808) 732-1211

2132 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815 (map)
(808) 926-1100
(808) 926-1103 – FAX

NOTE: Tenkaippin Has Moved!
New address above (on Kapahulu Avenue, next to Zippy’s and around the corner from Tokkuri-Tei and Dave’s Ice Cream).

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