Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tomita at Narita Airport

日本の中華そば 富田 成田空港第一ターミナル店


Tomita is one of Japan's most famous tsukemen shops. The recent Ramen Heads movie means that many people around the world know about the shop.


And while the shop in Matsuda is the real deal, they recently opened a branch at Narita Airport. Convenient!



Keep in mind, this is not a carbon copy clone of the original shop. Part of what makes Tomita so great is that the master, Osama Tomita, is always there making sure every detail is perfect. This is what the Japanese call a shokunin (職人) or craftsman. People will wait up to four hours at the head shop for what is arguably the number one shop in all of Japan.


Tomita at the airport, on the other hand, uses an off-site industrial kitchen. The whole thing was overseen by Tomita-san, but the experience is nonetheless different.


That aside, this is one amazing bowl. I've had airport ramen from Sapporo to Kyushu, and this one is legit.


Thick tonkotsu gyokai soup, heavy on the dried fish flavors. Underlying umami is intense on this one.


Great egg!


Great soup, great noodles, and great toppings. Tonkotsu gyokai tsukemen is on most people's hit list in Japan. Rokurinsha is the shop that most foreigners know about, mostly due to the hype from an American TV show that aired around 10 years ago. That overseas hype will probably be taken over by Tomita, but then lost. Most people are unwilling to wait the required time at the head shop. Who knows, a very famous YouTuber made a video there, so that might drive things a bit.

I'm ranting a bit. If you've met me in person, you know that I really dislike the way ramen becomes famous in the West (and China) versus how a shop becomes famous in Japan.



I'd say this is a must hit on your way out of Japan, if you are traveling from Narita Airport. By the way, Haneda Airport, despite the lack of a Tomita branch, is the one you should use. Narita is 90 minutes to three hours from Tokyo. Haneda is a quick 20-minute monorail ride. Just FYI.



Friday, March 8, 2019

Tabelog Awards Six Ramen Shops with Coveted Bronze Award

Tabelog Awards 2019

Tabelog is Japan's internet portal to the vast number of restaurants across the country. The site serves up general information, like addresses and hours, but the most popular feature of the site is the user reviews. Shops are given a ranking, with five being the highest. Shops with a ranking above four are generally considered excellent. Most of these are in the realm of fine dining. Among the over 50,000 ramen shops on the site, only five have scored above four. To put this in perspective, sushi has 90 shops with a ranking above four.



For a ramen shop to be put alongside great kaiseki or French cooking is a huge honor.



In 2016, Tabelog began the Tabelog Awards to honor the most revered shops.

https://award.tabelog.com/en?lang=en

It's the Grammys of Japanese cuisine and the 30 restaurants in the gold category are coveted by food lovers from around the world.



Although no ramen shops were given gold or silver, six were awarded bronze awards.

Muginae



Muginae in Tokyo is known for a refined shoyu ramen using high-quality ingredients. They open for a few hours at lunch, and if you aren't lined up for dinner at 6:00 pm, you probably won't get in. Their ramen uses specialty chickens from Yamagata and a soy sauce blend from Hyogo and Nagano.

Idashoten



Idashoten is in Yugawara, a town in the far reaches of Kanagawa Prefecture. Another refined style, they often run out of their timed tickets by 8:00 am in the morning. They are particularly famous for their tsukemen, which uses thin noodles in konbu-sui, a kind of viscous kelp broth high in umami.

Itto



Itto's thick tsukemen is very popular with Japanese and foreigners alike. The lines tend to be long, but not outrageous. Their success has led to a few shops within their group, including an Itto branch in Bangkok, Thailand.

Nagomi



Nagomi, on the east side of Hyogo Prefecture, is the newcomer to the list. Creamy chicken soup is topped with two kinds of chicken chashu as well as some roasted pork. The shop isn't too far from Osaka or Kobe by train.

Seino



Seino is about an hour south of Wakayama City in Wakayama Prefecture. Their popular Wakayama-style bowl uses intense local soy sauce. Due to their location in the countryside, the lines are irregular.

Tomita



Tomita has been one of Japan's most celebrated shops for over a decade, and with the release of Ramen Heads, a documentary film about the ramen scene in Japan that focuses on Tomita, they are becoming even more popular with overseas guests. To get a bowl of the intense tonkotsu-gyokai tsukemen, you should line up in the morning for a timed ticket. This new system was put in place to alleviate the four-hour lines that were the norm at the shop.

The Tabelog awards have given bronze to ramen shops in the past. A year ago, the same shops won apart from Nagomi. In 2016, the list was Ibuki, Ichikawa, Itto, Seino, and Tomita. Before that, in 2015, ramen was given a best 50, which is cataloged over at the best-of-ramen site:

http://bestoframen.com/lists/best-of-tabelog-2015/

Tabelog continues to be one of the most popular food portals in Japan, though their English language version isn't as robust as their Japanese version, meaning overseas sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and even Google reviews still have a huge following with foreign tourists.

While the gold, silver, and bronze categories focus on fine-dining, Tabelog has also created best-100 lists in casual categories. Pizza, curry, even bread gets a category here.



Due to the sheer popularity of ramen across Japan, they split the ramen category into three; East, West, and Tokyo.



With 300 shops to try, even the most well-traveled ramen lover has their work cut out for themselves.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

人類みな麺類 (Jinrui in Osaka)

人類みな麺類


I missed my train back to Tokyo for this one. Ramen over reserved seating on the bullet train any day.



The line on a Sunday evening was about an hour. Normal for famous shops.


原点 (genten), micro, and macro. All are 800 yen. The genten is their original recipe, shoyu a little on the sweet side made with dried bonito fish. Micro is a straight soy version. Macro uses shellfish to add deeper flavors.


I had to try the genten. It's the one that made them famous.

Both the pork and the menma are bonkers here. Thick cut (both). Homemade (both). Incredible (both).


I'm always surprised at how amazing ramen in Osaka is. Sure, they don't have the sheer number of shops that Tokyo has, but the stellar shops really shine.


That pork. Worth the wait for this alone.


Human beings everybody noodles.

This shop is part of the UNCHI group, who run seven shops, all with equally mysterious English names. A couple winners:
  • The old man's best swing - くそオヤジ最後のひとふり
  • The most deserted ramen bar in the world - 世界一暇なラーメン屋
  • The soul of Japan - 担担麺の掟を破る者
  • Ramen and Beer
Definitely on the list.

And a random note about train tickets in Japan. If you have reserved seats, but miss your train, you can still ride in the unreserved car on another train later in the day. So though I missed my window seat back to Tokyo, getting home was no problem. Actually, I miss a lot of trains due to ramen.