Wednesday, May 25, 2011

つけ麺道 - Michi, Kameari

豚骨魚介つけ麺 - Tonkotsu Gyokai Tsukemen ¥750

   Kameari is in Tokyo. But only just, and out in here in the North-Eastern corner it happens to feel a lot more like Chiba than the bustling capital city that it is. On this particular Friday afternoon the streets were crowded and the largest concentration of people could be found just outside this little ramen shop, Tsukemen Michi. As is often the case there were more people waiting outside than those seated inside. And this certainly wasn't a rare case as on the opposite side of the street there were seats set up along with   a water dispenser to keep us cool from the hot sun.
    Eventually I made my way inside (they call you in in groups of 4) and was surprised to see how young the team there was. I am constantly taken aback when I see these young men in charge at popular ramen destinations.

    Nothing to worry about here though. We were to be served a tonkotsu gyokai soup that I have certainly become familiar with. Although the tray was a first...

     No directions on how to eat here. Just dip, slurp and repeat... I could have used them though as I wasn't exactly sure what the small dish with the salt and pepper was all about. I had my eye on the hanjuku egg so I wasn't bothered by it's presence.

     I can appreciate why people are willing to wait for some tsukemen at Michi. It strikes a perfect balance of the two blended soups with the rich tonkotsu providing most of the bite while the gyokai fills in the gaps.

    The noodles didn't get soggy towards the end. Did I really eat it that fast? Maybe, but it could have just been the bowl. Other tsukemen shops, take note...

Monday, May 16, 2011

麺処くるり - Kururi, Ichigaya

味噌玉子ラーメン - Miso Ramen with Egg ¥800

   Kururi is the highest rated ramen shop in Shinjuku ward although it isn't very close to Shinjuku itself and offers a very popular miso ramen that makes sure the 8 seats in the restaurant are always warm during business hours. The owners must have a pretty high opinion of the store, located just across from the outer moat of the Imperial Palace, as they don't feel it necessary to even have a sign on the door and there is just 2 plain black planks of wood above. This may add to the popularity and mystique of the store and it seems most people don't have any problems finding the store as there is often a line. Unfortunately, once you reach the pointy end of the line you have wait inside, crowding those who are trying to enjoy their ramen. I certainly felt as though I was hurrying them along. 

   This was the last interior photo I took as they have a no photograph policy, but here it is anyway. A little cramped and, on a Sunday evening no less, we were the oldest people inside. The university students certainly didn't feel as though we were pressuring them to eat quickly as they happily chatted away. With only two staff working to make sure your bowl is prepared once you sit down there is no other way to organise the line. I did eventually sit down though....

    The miso broth wasn't quite what I was expecting and didn't have a really strong miso flavour. In order to lessen the miso flavour the soup is stewed for a while with some other secret ingredients and then heated up along with some negi and moyashi and finally topped off with a sprinkling of chili sauce. The chashu and egg were just average - The egg probably a little overcooked however once they are out of the way, you can concentrate on the thick, robust soup.

   Easy! Nevertheless, I did feel a little pressure as I felt the line inside was creating a little pressure for me. Those chatty university students were getting a little loud too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ラーメン長山 - Nagayama, Uguisudani

豚骨ラーメン - Tonkotsu Ramen ¥650

  If you ever find yourself in need of a late night snack when you are wandering around the love hotels of Uguisudani, then Nagayama could be the place to fulfill your needs... It's just a short walk across the bridge from the south exit of the station and just to the left of the bottom of the stairs. And ten seconds from this sign...

    Don't be turned off by the fact that the place isn't much to look at. It is, after all, just a ramen store and chances are you won't be in there any longer than 20 minutes. Even if they do keep some the cooking equipment on the 1970s installed laminex counter. Understandably so since there are only 12 counter seats in this tiny space which is bundled in amongst many more shitamachi-style shops.

    It seems as though the 2 staff who were working on the balmy spring afternoon I attended either enjoy their job or were just appreciative of the lovely weather outside while they were holed-up in a hot kitchen. In any case, they were friendly and chatty and offered a few choice insights into modern Japanese culture which made the entire experience quite pleasurable.

    With my tickets for a beer and a piping hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen placed on the counter I had to decide which kind of noodles I wanted and whether to indulge in the omori service, free of charge. I declined the larger serving and selected the thinner noodles...

     Tonkotsu ramen is probably about as close to liquid gold as I can imagine and the soup at Nagayama was a excellent representation of it. The menma and spring onions were only sparing but that was more than made up for by the extra-greasy, silky smooth chashu.

   The regular size was a good choice and left me wanting perhaps just a little more. Maybe next time...

巧家 - Takumiya, Minowa

醤油ラーメン - Shoyu Ramen ¥750

     My first bowl of ramen since living in Japan came at Takumiya so I do have a soft spot for it even though I have since discovered it doesn't really match the quality of other ramen stores in Japan. When walking by on a cold winter's day, Takumiya draws you in with the strong smell of ramen emanating from the vents, and the foggy glass door gives you a warm, cozy feeling.
    Takumiya doesn't appear to specialise in one particular ramen and offers shoyu, miso and shio varieties. I opted for the shoyu on the slightly different ticket machine which which allows you to punch in your order on a small electronic keypad which corresponds to the numbered menu to the left. However, once I had ordered, I noticed that the tsukemen appeared to be the most popular amongst the clientele. I had already opted for the shouyu ramen since it appeared at the top of the list so I assumed it would be the stores recommendation, although I cannot confirm this.

    The shoyu was pretty reasonable. The chashu was pretty standard - nothing to write about, yet here I am writing about it - but I feel that one slice probably isn't enough to justify the ¥750 price tag.  Back in the days of this being my regular haunt after a long day at work, the chef would often add a second slice, but I don't think he remembered me this time. The noodles were thin, (not as thin as Hakata ramen) and at one point were tangled which left the centre area of the knot a little undercooked. I didn't drink all of the soup which was a little bitter and I had to leave some room to finish my bottle of beer.
    If you're in the area on a cold winter's night in need of some warming up Takumiya will definitely fulfil your needs,  however Minowa is not the most convenient place and it probably isn't worth a trip out there just for this place.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

豚風 - Tonpooh, Chichibu

白味噌つけ麺 - White Miso Tsukemen ¥880

     It looks as though there could be an interesting rivalry between the interestingly-named Tonpooh and it's next door neighbour which also just happens to be a ramen shop. Tonpooh is on the right and was open during Golden Week which made the choice a little easier. Since we were in the countryside a little Japanese tradition remained and we were seated on a tatami floor.

    And joined by a friendly toothpick holder...

    With another customer throwing a tantrum since someone else on her table had mistakenly started eating her bowl before his had arrived, I decided to study how to eat the tsukemen in case there were any secret tips or tricks.

   Here you squeeze the lemon into your soup rather than your noodles. It always confuses me which they recommended for us (and how much of a difference it makes. Speaking of which they pointed out that the soup was very thick and advised to get the assari (less oily) but we went for the futsu (regular) anyway.

    It was as thick and gritty as it looks. But I really enjoyed it. I should mention that miso ramen was a conscious decision as the local delicacy in Chichibu seems to miso potato which is a very representative name. (How this hasn't caught on in other parts of Japan, I don't know.)

   The chashu resembled a flame-grilled hamburger and managed to hit the spot.

    When it was time to finish the soup there was no way we were going to be able to stomach the sauce-like broth so it was time to call for soup wari. When our bowls returned we got a little shio ume smeared onto the inside to mix in with the broth. A little surprise.


     And then onto the business of why we came to Chichibu in the first place - to see the shiba zakura.

   And have some of that miso potato.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

五行 - Gogyo, Ginza

焦がし味噌ラーメン - Kogashi Miso Ramen, ¥900

    Gogyo is a pretty interesting ramen shop to visit in that I don't feel I can use the term shop as the reality is it's a restaurant that happens to have a unique and very enjoyable ramen as the most popular dish on the menu. Rather than dip into the communal for your disposable chopsticks, there are chopsticks waiting you along with a warm oshibori and even a coaster for your drink.

    The restaurant itself is dimly lit and rather fashionable - not quite what we've come to expect from a ramen shop but in the competitive ramen business, shop owners have to use their nous to create sonmething that stands out from the crowd. That said, it fits right in in Ginza and the other restuarants on the 7th floor of the Velvia building.

  The restaurant floor frequently lights up when there is a bit of commotion in the kitchen...

    These little spot fires are quite common as they are necessary to complete the kogashi (to burn) part of the dish. Both the shouyu and miso ramen are seared like this before they are brought out to you. We ordered each and the shouyu arrived first.

     I only tried a little of the soup and it tasted a little like yakitori. At this point I was almost regretting my decision and wanted to dive into this bowl. Then mine arrived...

    It's always great to try something for the first time as you can't imagine just what it is your about to get yourself into. With ramen, some bowls are rather forgettable and there are others where you wish you could try for the first time again without any expectations. Kogashi miso ramen falls firmly into the latter. It's not much to look at but it certainly hits the spot and has a sophisticated ginger-y flavour that clashes with the overall charcoalness (I'm well aware that's not a real word!) of the soup . 

    Since Gogyo has a bar, it was only natural that we would order a drink that wasn't beer. (I'm pretty sure I've never seen anything else at a ramen store). I got a Gin and Tonic!