Meet ramen master Hitoshi Hatanaka, of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

The founder of the restaurant group came to Boston to celebrate.

Founder of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka Hitoshi Hatanaka (left) and COO of Food Style USA Takahiro Igo (right). Photo courtesy of Chris Haynes

The secret to making a delicious bowl of ramen is all about balance. According to Hitoshi Hatanaka, founder of the international restaurant group Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, the kind of water that you use to make the soup depends on the broth that you want to create. 

Hatanaka came from Japan to visit Boston this past week to celebrate the upcoming opening of the newest Santouka restaurant in Allston, which will be his third location in the area. 

We caught up with Hatanaka to ask him about how Santouka first began in Japan, what the new restaurant will be like, and what it takes to make a good ramen dish. Scroll down to read the Q&A with him and learn about his experience as a chef.


This interview was conducted with the help of a translator. It has been lightly edited.

How did you decide to open another location in the Boston area?

Santouka is trying to spread around the world. Massachusetts has so many colleges and so many students, and we are very excited to have a third store in an area like this. There are so many students.

… We really want people to be exposed to true Japanese ramen, a true Japanese experience. When people are here, we want them to feel like they are in Japan. We’ve been focusing on colleges: Harvard Square for Harvard students, Newbury Street for Berklee and some others. The new location has Boston University. That made us decide to open.

Of course, there’s the authentic ramen taste. Then, the greeting atmosphere [the way the staff say “welcome”] is really Japanese. A lot of customers visited the original shop in Japan, in Hokkaido, and that made us really happy.

What is the story behind the opening of the original location?

My original ramen shop came about this way. I was watching the movie and really craved ramen. I went out to town to look for ramen. But that ramen was not the ramen I was hoping for. I declared to my son: “I’m going to make the best ramen by myself.” I made the soup in just two days. It was the original Santouka ramen. It was for my family.


I traveled all over Japan. In every town, I tasted the ramen. I checked the ingredients at the restaurants, and my own ramen came from those experiences. I had a clear image of what the ramen would taste like and what ingredients I would have to use. I didn’t have any tests for my family. … After I opened the ramen shop, I did do some experiments.

I’ve been cooking since childhood. Japanese New Year’s dishes, I’ve been making them since I was a child. I would check TV stations. Cooking was very close to my life.

What is the trick to making a delicious bowl of ramen?

I take the process of making a bowl of ramen seriously. Also, I have a kind of bird’s-eye view from above, and the people eating look very happy. That’s the image that I have.

The balance is very important. I use animal dashi and two kinds of dashi from the ocean. They have to match the water that you use. The balance is according to the water you use.

… You have to consider the quality of the water. For example, medium-hard water really makes a good bone broth. But not fish broth. We have to make fish broth and bone broth differently, with different water. You have to know the character of the water.

What was the first Santouka restaurant like?

We served only shio-based ramen, and we had only nine seats in the restaurant. There were only counter seats. It was 128 square feet. It was very quiet. It was not lively. I invited a lot of friends to look like the store had customers!


I wanted to make a soup that wouldn’t disguise the taste with anything, except salt. That’s why I chose shio-based ramen broth. It didn’t disguise the taste; it didn’t have other ingredients.

What will be on the menu at the new location?

We have pork-based ramen and shio-based. We have miso-based, soy sauce-based , and spicy miso-based. We have a lot of appetizers: chicken karaage, gyoza, and rice with pork.

[Also on the menu are fried octopus balls, edamame, tonkatsu, bento boxes, and desserts such as vanilla mille-crepes.]

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, 169 Brighton Ave., Allston