asian-inspired soul food


Tomukun is loved among locals. Writing a testimony to its quality would not be a revelation to Ann Arborites. Smack-dab in the center of downtown, the restaurant is ideal for a date night dinner before a movie at the Michigan Theatre. Odds are if you haven’t already enjoyed a meal there you know someone who has.

The restaurant has split personalities ready to cater to your culinary craving. It took me awhile to comprehend this, but Tomukun is actually the umbrella name for two separate restaurant entities, with two very distinct menu options. On one side, a Korean BBQ equipped with a tabletop grill. Once the a la carte style assortment of meats and vegetable are ordered you take on the task of cooking them to perfection, or if preferred, passing the tongs (and responsibility) to a fellow diner. On the other side lies a noodle bar loaded with a medley of Asian-inspired comfort foods, ranging from Japanese tako-yaki to Vietnamese pho. At the noodle bar is where Tomukun stole my heart. 

For those still testing the waters with this style of cuisine, a familiar dish may stick out among the rest: ramen. When the Millennial generation entered college the craze of keeping a stocked cupboard of these dried blocks of noodles peaked. They were cheap and delicious. Shrimp flavor could be enjoyed with a Franzia Pinot Grigio, and your stash would last for weeks without the worry of spoiling (our young “immortal” bodies did not yet prioritize health).

As we've aged, survived the great recession, and eventually managed to earn a few bucks, we've kept our adoration for the dish, however, our tastes may have matured. We no longer settle for mediocre ramen. We want a broth that simmers for hours, bean sprout shoots delicately placed on top, and pork sliced so thin it melts in your mouth. For that, we go to Tomukun.

Ramen is not exclusive to here. There are certainly other restaurants that serve an excellent version, but personally, I feel Tomukun has one of the best. The steaming bowl of umami deliciousness is a cure for any ailment a stressful day can bring. However, there’s another option on the menu that makes me giddier than a Michigan fan after an Ohio State win. Scroll your eyes to the appetizer section and you will find okonomiyaki.

Okonomi translates “how you like,” making any ingredient fair game. Bluntly put, it is everything but the kitchen sink thrown over a grill. The base is a nagaimo pancake with egg, and standard ingredients include shredded cabbage, green onion, pork belly, and a special sauce topping. It’s sloppy, crispy, gooey, savory, sweet, umami….it’s bliss.

I first encountered okonomiyaki on a getaway to Osaka, Japan. My boyfriend, Bryan, and I signed up for a bike tour of the city. After miles of dodging locals and taking in the sights, lunchtime was approaching and our guide could sense hungry tourists. He parked his bike near an open-aired food stand no larger than my childhood bedroom. The chef was working at a furious pace, pouring pancake-like batter on the grill, loading on toppings, and flipping until grilled to perfection. I opted for the squid topping, took a hardy bite with as much as my chopsticks could grab, and entered food nirvana.

Since that fateful day I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything close to those flavors, until of course, I walked into Tomukun. Admittedly, the chefs have taken a few liberties. You won’t find American-style bacon or cheese on the original, but nonetheless, it’s mouthwatering. If you’re like me, you’ll forego a real entrée and just order the okonomiyaki. Sharing would be noble of you, but like all things, in can be done it moderation.

Tomukun is on my list of recommendations for anyone passing through the city. For me, it’s perfect for kindling a feeling of nostalgia and providing a unique meal I’ll think about for days.