Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ラーメンあんど - Ramen Ando, Minowa

醤油つけ麺, Shouyu Tsukemen, ¥1000

     Having lived in Minowa for about 6 months I cannot for the life of me figure why I never at ate Ramen Ando. I was aware of it's existence and walked past quite often but, regrettably, never went inside. I can now say I have and, since it's pretty close to home, I might even go there again. It definitely looks a lot nicer than the other places in Minowa and I guess the prices reflect that - The shouyu tsukemen that I had was ¥1000 as was the other recommendation above the ticket machine- shouyu ramen.

    We were walking past just as it opened so we were the only customers at first but by the time we left there were only 2 or 3 empty seats, so turnover seems quite high. The restaurant is really clean inside and has a bright and friendly atmosphere (the tissue box for each seat on the shelf under the counter is a nice touch).

    The staff were quite friendly and chatty with some of the customers which seemed a little different to the regular eat-your-ramen-and-get-out attitude (which I also like).

    The tsukemen itself was really well-presented and for a little extra fun you get to put your chashu, egg, nori and vegetables into your soup when you felt like them. The chashu once in the soup broke up nicely and was a little surprise each time you dipped in your chopsticks for some more noodles. At one point my soup became curry flavoured thanks to the curry powder on the counter. 

    I would highly recommend this once you're about halfway through, but be sure not to make it too strong! Once you've finished the staff will ask if you'd like to put in some hot water to finish your soup which, as always, was a great way to finish the meal.

 I was pleasantly surprised with Ramen Ando and I think it's well worth a trip out to Minowa.   

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

天下一品 - Tenkaippin, Kawasaki

チャーシューメン, Chashumen ¥970

     Introducing another of the popular chains that can be found in and around Tokyo, Tenkaippin. The first time I found myself at a Tenkaippin was at the Shinjuku branch after a few drinks in Kabukicho. As I remember, Tenkaippin was good but not necessarily the kind of ramen you want to be eating after a few drinks. It's too rich...

     This store in Kawasaki is a little different to most places in that the kitchen is located in the back so you can't see what is going on in the kitchen, which is probably a good thing since the staff all seem to be in their late teens anyway. And rather than admire the amazing haircuts on display across the counter as in Kabukicho, you can appreciate the stunning interior.

    The ramen itself is quite good but, as I said earlier, a little rich and very, very thick. I would almost consider it a gravy rather than a soup. Did I mention that the was thick? 

     I ordered the chashumen and was pretty pleased with it, although I tend to prefer the eggs cooked a little less so that the yolk is still a little runny, and the chashu is a little greasy, however it is a good size and left me feeling quite content.

    Perhaps the "We're waiting for you again tomorrow" message inside the bowl is a little presumptuous, but I did manage to make it to the end. Though, you do have to wonder though how many days on end you could visit Tenkaippin before it all became too much.


Monday, March 21, 2011

にゃがにゃが亭 - Nyaga Nyaga Tei, Mikawashima

醤油つけ麺, Shouyu Tsukemen ¥750
     Nyaga Nyaga Tei is another place that is close to home that I do not remember seeing when I first moved to the area. I'm pretty sure it's quite new since it looks as though it's a renovated or new building and I'm sure I would have remembered seeing the line outside which is usually about 5 or 6 people deep on a Sunday afternoon around lunchtime. I had been wanting to try this place for a little while and my choice was made much easier by the fact that trains were disrupted due to the massive earthquake off the coast of Japan. Nyaga Nyaga was collecting donations.

     It was a windy Wednesday afternoon when I visited and I made the newbie error of forgetting my change in the ticket machine. Luckily enough one of the other customers told me about it, but I must admit I was a little surprised to have her speak English. The beauty of carrying a camera with you in to restaurants like this is that everybody assumes you're a non-Japanese speaking tourist. (Which is actually pretty close to the mark)

   I chose the tsukemen even though most people seemed to be eating the ramen... It was actually the first bowl I've had since writing this that had naruto in it. There is something about this that makes the bowl seem as though it has been prepared by your grandmother. Just has a very old-fashioned, home-cooked feeling...

    The tsukemen itself was pretty reasonable - I managed to finish it up pretty easily, but I'm a fan of soy sauce. The shouyu was a little too strong for my taste but there do seem to be plenty of people around who enjoy it. Not sure if I'd line up for it though...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

桃天花 - Toutenka, Mikawashima

坦々つけ麺, Tantan Tsukemen ¥750

    Having lived in the area for about 9 months I felt it was time have a look around the local area and perhaps scout for a regular place to eat when I get the urge for ramen at home. Until now I have been going to Ichiran in Ueno since it's only a short trip away, or just eating whenever I'm out and about. However, it is always nice to become a regular at a local, friendly establishment - especially if you can bring other foreign friends and give them some business.

    According to the maps, Toutenka was one of the closest so that is where we decided to go. It is quite close to Mikawashima station, but in an area that probably doesn't get any foot traffic beyond the local residents, which could explain the lack of many customers (that could also be explained by us entering about 15 minutes before closing time. Sorry!).  The exterior, from the 'Open' sign to the faded red banner above the door,  makes Toutenka look like an average ramen store owned by an old couple that only gets by on it's loyal locals. The interior also seems a little old (rather like most of the restaurants in the older shitamachi part of Tokyo). The bookshelf full of manga in the corner completes the picture.

    However it is the ramen that brings the people in. I ordered the tan tan tsukemen and I was not at all disappointed (well, perhaps a little since it only came with half an egg). The tan tan soup, despite looking like as though you will need to keep your glass of water nearby is mild and offers just the right amount of spice, while the meat is not very greasy and rather lean for the health-conscious.

    There weren't a great deal of vegetables in the soup but the spinach was a nice touch. The chef's recommendation is that you finish your soup with some rice but since we arrived late that wasn't an option available to us.... Next time. Maybe with the curry tsukemen.

    I left feeling content (in my belly, and) that my first attempt to find a local shop was successful, and I truly felt for the disappointed couple who walked down the dark street up to Toutenka at about 5 past 9 because they really missed out.

カレー坦々麺, Curry Tantanmen ¥750

     As I said, Toutenka has taken the title as my local ramen shop so it would only seem natural that I would try lots of different things on the menu. So, curry ramen it is...

    It was actually a mistake ordering the ramen and not the tsukemen but that didn't really matter and was a good mistake to make. It is actually a real curry rather than just curry powder added to it and you can taste the difference. It is great and was the first time I had had potato in my ramen which was interesting, but their tan tan tsukemen is the business here. 

    Actually, the only we mistake we made was getting the extra rice to finish off our soup. It was way too much. But I did my best...

     I know this place is a little off the beaten path, and it could be a little bias since it's only 5 minutes away, but Toutenka is well worth a visit...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

やすべえ - Yasubee, Nerima

つけ麺, Tsukemen ¥720

    I didn't really know about Yasubee until I actually went there but according to their website they have a handful of shops around Tokyo so, as I was joining a friend for lunch who also has a penchant for tsukemen there, I made my way out to Nerima which must have one the higher ramen shop per-person ratios in Tokyo.

    Quite spacious inside, Yasubee didn't have too many customers around lunchtime which added to the scarcity, and we were joined by one of the rarest sights of all in a ramen shop.... A child... Perhaps children are the target audience since this is all we were given to sit on.

     Not a complaint, just an observation....

As for the ramen, it was pretty good. I've found that tsukemen places don't seem to offer up the low quality ramen that attracts those who might be missing a few teeth and we tend to pay a little more for it too... The assymetrical plate was pretty cool.

    I opted for the regular tonkotsu shouyu tsukemen, while my companion got the same with some extra chashu...

   The noodles were quite firm and the meat was delicious (It was nice to have enough that was safely covered by the soup), however the soup was probably a little too sweet to finish.

Monday, March 14, 2011

すがもラーメン - Sugamo Ramen

とん塩ラーメン - Ton Shio Ramen ¥700

    I spent a good 15 months living in Sugamo so I would say I know the area reasonably well, but that didn't really stop me from frequenting the ramen shop that was closest to the station which is clearly not a seedy part of town at all.


      Sugamo Ramen is a little unique among ramen stores in that it is definitely in the 21st century and follows the eco-friendly trend that has been popular in recent years. The ticket machine dispenses reusable plastic tickets rather than anitquated paper ones which you then place in a small plastic container on the counter (unfortunately, the staff usually ask for mine before I have a chance to follow this procedure...) Actually, now that I think of it, I see no reason why paper tickets can't also be re-used. And much like the subway system, everything is conveniently colour-coded.

    Surprisingly for this area of town I didn't see any old ladies (Sugamo is known as "おばあちゃんの原宿" or "Harajuku for old Ladies") inside, but just a couple of younger ones who were chatting away in much the same vein, but they seemed harmless enough. I was more worried about my ramen since I was lucky enough to be seated at the dreaded number 13!

    I opted for the tonkotsu shio ramen which was not the bowl that I tended to get when I was a regular customer but I though it sounded pretty tasty anyway. In retrospect, the tonkotsu shouyu is much better, but this wasn't the first time I had made the same mistake.

   Sugamo Ramen does seem to have a lot going for it. It's close to the station, it has a cool ticket machine, an easy name to remember and amazing looking ramen, but it's good, not great. 

   I asked for just the regular amount of fat (油) but, by looking at the bowl, I was sure they'd given me a really fatty bowl. In the end I just couldn't finish the soup. Maybe next time. 

Ramen Database

Google Maps

Sugamo Ramen Homepage

Thursday, March 10, 2011

九州じゃんがら - Kyushu Jangara, Ginza

ぼんしゃん (豚骨ラーメン), Bonshan (Tonkotsu Ramen) ¥700

    Strangely,  ramen shops in Japan generally haven't used the marketing technique which is so popular in Japan - that of using a mascot to promote your product. Generally the rustic environment is the preferred setting. However, Jangara ramen is one such place where the tried and true method of having a cute little animal or character represent your store is in full swing... And we're all the better for it. 

    There are a few Jangara stores in Tokyo, and they seem to be around most of the major hubs (Harajuku, Ginza, Akihabara, etc) so they are pretty easy to find. The interior somewhat matches the vibe from the outside with lots of bright colours being used and it could be mistaken for a family restaurant except for the fact that people are more often than not eating alone even though they are sharing a table with strangers. (I was lucky enough to have 3 strangers join me on my table of 4!) This also made life a little difficult when trying to stealth a few photographs.

    I went to the Ginza store which seems to be the least popular of the ones I'm aware of and turnover was quite high as people were, more or less,  in-and-out in less than 15 minutes. One reason for this is that the time spent waiting for your ramen is quite short (just 2 or 3 minutes) and the bowls are actually quite small. Most of us in the store looked a little like this guy once we had started our ramen.

     The Kyushu Jangara bowl is the most popular, but I opted for the #2 Bonshan, which is a little less oily and greasy,  although they are both variations of tonkotsu ramen. I must admit that the Bonshan is pretty solid, but for some reason it reminds a little of "Chicken Noodle Soup"- an instant soup back home in Australia.  I enjoyed the soup a lot more once I had helped myself to some of the crushed garlic on the table.

    Jangara seems to be a pretty popular store amongst Japanese and foreigners alike (Liam Gallagher supposedly dines at the Harajuku branch- Keep an eye out when Beady Eye tour in May) and definitely delivers with a unique atmosphere and a unique taste.