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BYH, some see the glass as half empty. I say just get a smaller glass and quit complaining....

Hana Cafe Ramen and More - not your every day Ramen

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Yaki Udon Noodle Bowl with chicken

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By Christina Ruotolo
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, March 17, 2019

During my college years and occasionally now, I partake in ramen noodle cups. Hardened noodles mixed with large amounts of sodium and spices is quick and easy for those on the run. Just add boiling hot water and in three minutes, you have dinner. Nothing to write home about, but when you are strapped for cash, or a college student in a hurry, ramen is the answer. Fast forward twenty plus years and I still crave ramen, but I want a more adult version with broth that has been cooking for ten hours and fresh ingredients with not a hard noodle in sight. If you want this and more delicious Japanese food creations, then head over the new Hana Cafe Ramen and More… located at 1904 W. Arlington Boulevard near the hospital in Greenville.

They have been open for just under two months and are spreading their wings one happy customer at a time. They have an open, yet cozy atmosphere with roomy booths and plenty of tables. Hana serves authentic Japanese fare and the menu consists of starters from spring rolls, chicken skewers to edamame and chilled tofu. There are salads including the grilled miso salmon, or maybe a cold noodle or chicken salad just to name a few. They also have noodle, rice and Yaki noodle bowls with various add-ons and of course the always popular hibachi meals. All their sauces are homemade and their vibrant culture comes through in every dish they serve.

The menu is super easy to read but is filled with authentic flavors and items you may not have heard of, but are worthy of your vote. For my food tour, I decided to try a few appetizers, a few bowls and a rice dish to make sure you get a feel for what they serve. They serve dishes from their home country, the foods that lined the streets of Japan. Managing partners are Janiffer Frazier, along with Chef Tiffany Cheong & Fengling. Janiffer was my Hot Dish food guide. She is warm and welcoming and excited that they are finally open. "There were no ramen noodle restaurants in this area, so we decided to open one up so Greenville can enjoy the popular and addictive ramen noodle bowls that we love so much," Frazier says. Today ramen is arguably one of Japan's most popular foods, with Tokyo alone containing upwards of 5,000 ramen shops, and more than 24,000 ramen shops across Japan, so it’s safe to say a ramen cafe is something Greenville should have.

I started my Japanese food journey with a unique drink, the Hana Thai iced tea. The traditional cold beverage is made with loose leaf Asian tea that is steeped/cooked for four hours. The long process allows the full body of the tea to come through, a deep amber color with rich and aromatic flavor. It is traditionally served with cream for a creamy cold spice filled drink, or for those that are not fond of cream in your cold tea, leave it out.

Now let’s talk about the food. I started with a few appetizers. First, there was the Gyo-Za, which are pan-fried dumplings that can be filled with meat or vegetables. I opted for pork dumplings, four fat dumplings with that beautiful pan-seared crispy mid-section with the soft outer shell and seasoned pork inside. They boil them first and then sear them so you get a super juicy bite every time. Dip it in the house-made mild and flavorful soy-based dumpling sauce. The dish was fresh and a great start to my tour. Now, we can move onto the vegetable tempura. Two big, crispy cakes fried to a golden color. They take potatoes, celery, carrots, onions, garlic and mix the vegetables in a panko flour batter, then flash fry them to a crispy finish. It tasted like an onion ring mixed with a hash brown mixed with roasted veggies but crispier. It was a super cool looking dish too and I love that the veggies were mixed in instead of dipped separate so you get surprise vegetable flavors in every bite, one bite you may taste celery, then a sweet onion, and then a mellow potato.

Moving on, I fell in love with Hana’s version of boneless chicken wings. It was called the Karaage chicken. They take big, fat pieces of thigh meat dipped in a crunchy breading and secret tangy seasonings. It gets fried and comes out a beautiful red/orange color. I love dark meat because it’s a better taste and much juicer. It was crazy good dipped into the teriyaki sauce mixed with lemon juice which brightens the dish. Winner, winner, chicken dinner for sure.

Next, I tried one of their traditional Ramen noodle bowls, the Tonkotsu Ramen bowl and I added in chicken. You can choose to keep it just veggies and broth, or add in chicken, pork, steak, or seafood. This large noodle bowl was overwhelming with its initial first glance. Start with a rich meat-based bone broth that is cooked for ten hours so the bone marrow seeps out and flavors the mixture to a beautiful brown, and then add a touch of heavy cream. Add in a heap of soft and delicate ramen noodles, then add in cooked chicken that is cut into thin & long, horizontal ribbons winding their way around and under the broth. A mound of fresh vegetables is added in including peppers, green beans, green onions, sprouts, and is topped with seaweed and a marinated hard-boiled egg. I love the layers of flavors the noodle bowls offer. Each layer adds more dimension to the dish and no ingredients overpower another and it ends with a tasty egg. It’s noodle magic.

If you don’t want a pork-based broth, you can choose other noodle bowls like the Hot Spicy ramen bowl with its deep tomato based broth and extra helping of veggies or the Miso or Shoyu ramen bowl. If you are not a noodle aficionado, go for a rice bowl with all the great flavors of the broth bowls, but no noodles and no broth.

They also serve Yaki Noodle bowls. Yaki Udon is a popular Japanese noodle stir-fry dish. “Yaki” means grilled, broiled, or pan-fried in Japanese. “Udon” is a thick and wide chewy noodle commonly used in Japanese culture. I tried a Yaki Udon noodle bowl with white meat chicken strips throughout. The base is the marinated and cooked noodles mixed with carrots, red pepper, green onions, and dusted with a handful of seaweed flakes and sesame seeds. This is a much more familiar dish but with added authentic Japanese flare with rich and vibrant flavors throughout.

So, as you can see, Hana Cafe has a wide variety of items you can try to see what you like and don’t like. Support locally owned and operated businesses, and welcome them to the neighborhood by having a great lunch or dinner. Hana Cafe is open Monday-Thursday 11am-3pm/4:30pm-9pm, Friday & Saturday 11am-3pm/4:30pm-9:30pm, and closed on Sunday. For more information visit their website www.hanacafegreenville.com or call 252-756-6708.

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