Monday, February 8, 2016

チョコひつじ (Chocolate Lamb Ramen at MENSHO TOKYO)

MENSHO TOKYO

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It's only a few days until Valentines, and that means chocolate, chocolate, chocolate in Tokyo. For those who don't know what it is like in Japan, the girls buy chocolate for all the guys in their lives, from friends to colleagues to boyfriends. Something got a little lost in translation, and this holiday is all about marketing to the masses, as many holidays are. Regardless of how you feel about the day, it's a big deal to some.

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Ramen shops even get in on the fun. This year, at MENSHO TOKYO, they add dark chocolate to a spicy, peppery lamb soup. This is a limited bowl, only available until February 14th. Better act fast!

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The soup is inspired by Toyama Black, a style that uses black pepper and dark shoyu to give a noodle-staining color to the soup.

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Melt in some chocolate, and top with roasted Iberico pork for an intense dish.

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Surprisingly, this one was pretty good. The spices outweigh the chocolate, much the way Mexican mole does.

As always, noodles are way above average at any Mensho shop.

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Definitely not something I'd crush every day, but not something I wouldn't crush once in a while.

I'll have a video up on my YouTube channel soon. In the meantime, head over there and subscribe!

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Head to my original review of  MENSHO TOKYO for shop info.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Osaka Ramen Expo 2015

Osaka Ramen Expo 2015

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I seem to be visiting a lot of these expos lately, despite my general ambiguity to ramen events. It's cold out, this place is a 40 minute drive from central Osaka, and ramen served in a plastic bowl tends to add a lot of meh to an otherwise good bowl.

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But here I was. Actually, the organizers personally invited me when we met by chance at another ramen event, so I felt obliged.

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As usual, about 2/3 of the shops were from outside of Osaka; a chance to locals to try something from exotic Tokyo and beyond. The other shops were collaborations. Sign me up with the latter.

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The first collab I was into was betweem 縁乃助商店 and ラーメン小僧. Kozu, is an excellent shop serving mega-thick soup in Osaka. They share this love of noko soup with Ennosukeshoten. Both are run by young ramen masters. Blended with miso from Hokkaido, this one cut through the cold. A nice start.

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I was intrigued by the bowl at ラーメンこがね家, Koganeya, simply because they had won some TV competitions. I know, I know, this is a horrible way to judge a bowl. I feel like the only TV shows that aren't rigged are the ones that I personally appear on, and even those tend to make creative edits to achieve whatever the director thinks will make for good television.

Anyways, this one was lackluster.

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Insert your own caption.

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I inadvertently poured in a 神辛, god-level-spice amount of homemade chili oil in the collaboration bowl from Sapporo shop マルエス and local Strike-ken.

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But it wasn't as hot as I'd thought. Another decent miso bowl that was great on one of the first cold nights of the season.

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The event is long over, but keep an eye for some 2016 events in Osaka, there are many like this planned.

Official site here.



Banpaku Memorial Park
Closest station: Banpakukinenkoen

Monday, February 1, 2016

Praise for Simply Ramen, a Ramen Cookbook from Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Simply Ramen
A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home

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The landscape of ramen cookbooks (in English) is a rather barren field. Apart from Ivan Ramen, most tend to educate on how to take a cheap, store-bought package of instant noodles and reform them into something tasty. This is all well and good, but once the home cook learns what real ramen is, an intricate dish of layered flavors and ingredients, they are left with few options.

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Simply Ramen does a lot to remedy this situation. The book starts out with a dozen pages devoted to the basic soups - shio, shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu - and toppings. So far, so good. As all ramen educations should be, simple and to the point.

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The rest of the book gives inspired variations on a classic bowl, as well as some side dishes. From sukiyaki ramen to a green tea duck bowl, these are all interesting ideas that show ramen's potential. Really fun. There is a lot of creativity, just what you would expect from same cook who created the popular website Easy Peasy Japanesey.

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Amy, the book's author, has been blogging recipes for quite some time. As I can attest to, it is every food blogger's dream to make a print book, something tangible that our fans can pick up. With ramen being all the rage these days, Amy's Japan-centric style was perfect for this kind of ramen education.

Amy visited Tokyo with her photographer Andi Hatch, to join me on a ramen tour, as well as head to the Osaka Ramen School. A lot of what she experienced in Japan made it into the book. Almost every recipe has a short explanation of its origin, whether it was from a ramen shop in Tokyo, food Amy ate as a child, or from a friend of a friend of a friend. I like the meaning behind each dish.

By the way, Ramen Adventures makes a few cameos in the book, and I wrote a small section about ramen life in Japan. You get a mini guide to some shops I love as well. Solid!

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You can find the book on Amazon. It comes out later in February, and pre-orders get a 25% discount. Let me know if you try some of the recipes, and how they come out.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

ぶらり (Burari in Nippori)

麺・酒処 ぶらり

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Burari is in the old part of northern Tokyo, just outside of Nippori Station, down a dark alley. The kind of place you would never know about, save for their recent mention in the 2016 Michelin Guide. Burari was given a nod in the Bib Gourmand section of the guide, a section devoted to cheap, yet high quality eats.

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Is this Michelin quality ramen? Sure, why not.

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Burari is a chicken ramen place, with simplicity being the key. The yellow row on the ticket machine is creamy soup, the green is clear soup.

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We tried one of each, and they were both quite nice. Very simple, without much of a deep impact. The kind of ramen that would exist down a little street in a less popular part of town. A place with happy regulars, and the occasional happy random customer.

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Official site here.

Map of 5 Chome-52-5 Higashinippori, Arakawa-ku, Tōkyō-to 116-0014

東京都荒川区東日暮里5-52-5
Tokyo, Arakawa-ku, Higashi Nippori 5-52-5
Closest station: Nippori

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:00-23:30
Saturday 11:30-22:00
Closed Mondays

Monday, January 25, 2016

麺や食堂 (Menyashokudo in Atsugi)

麺や食堂

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One of the best shio ramen shops in Japan is out in Atsugi. Honmarutei is a shop so good that I couldn't really recommend anything else in the area. But, if they are closed, Menyashokudo is a nearby choice.

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The shop is done up in 昭和レトロ style; Showa retro. Old signage, retro candy, cute festival masks. Definitely a fun place.

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And while the soup looks simple, it is rather deep.

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Their menu claims that their kodawari lies in three parts; noodles, soup, and heart. The soup was a highlight. Taking about 10 hours to make, it's rich and deep. The noodles are homemade with Hokkaido flour. And the heart? Just looking around at the families slurping away in this retro shop made it clear that, yes, that is as important as the taste.

The menu has many bowls, but the simple kakesoba let's you savor just the noodles and soup.

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Official site here.

Map of 9-6 Saiwaichō, Atsugi-shi, Kanagawa-ken 243-0012

神奈川県厚木市幸町9-6
Kanagawa-ken, Atsugi-shi, Saiwaicho 9-6
Closest station: Hon-Atsugi

Open 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Weekends 11:00-23:00

Thursday, January 21, 2016

飯田商店 (Ida Shoten in Yugawara)

らぁ麺屋 飯田商店

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Here it is. This is one of Kanto's most celebrated ramen shops. Some of Ida Shoten's accolades:
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Yes, the line here is long. On a warm Saturday in November, I waited over two hours. Be prepared.

I should also note that this shop, though technically in Kanagawa Prefecture, is very far from Tokyo. The fastest trip by train involves riding the Shinkansen bullet train, and takes about an hour and a half.

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The menu is simple. Top row is shoyu, followed by shio, with tsukemen just under that. What to eat, what to eat? One of each sounds good.

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This shoyu is on another level. Master Ida-san trained at famed Shinasobaya, and it shows. A deep shoyu sits underneath that golden layer of aromatic chicken oil. On many levels, this could be considered a perfect bowl of ramen; every detail is accounted for. Thick-cut menma along side thick-cut chashu. The special version also came with slow-cooked chicken slices and shrimp wontons.

Despite the distance from central Tokyo, this one is a must-hit for ramen lovers.

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The shio is up there as well. Notice how he uses slightly different toppings? While the robust shoyu has thick cut menma bamboo shoots, the lighter shio uses a thinner, more delicate one. Also, the bowls are different shapes, meant to affect the aroma and slurpability. This is where my fellow ramen nerds and I geek out.

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Oh, they were having a limited bowl of duck shoyu, so we tried that as well. I've had a few bowls of duck shoyu recently, and when done right, it's fantastic. This might have been a reason for the huge line that day.

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The tsukemen is a different beast all together. If it looks complicated, well, it is. So complex, in fact, that you need a nine step instruction manual to do it right.

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  1. Sprinkle some salt on the noodles.
  2. Eat the noodles a la carte. The noodles are sitting in a light konbu dashi that deserves to be tasted alone.
  3. Taste just the soup. Rich, isn't it?
  4. Eat the tsukemen like a normal person normally would.
  5. These toppings are amazing!
  6. Now dip the noodles in the shoyu soup, then sprinkle with salt.
  7. Eat it! Finish it!
  8. Pour the remaining soups together and drink it down.
  9. Tell a friend! 行くべ!
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But, to be honest, I didn't like this one at all!

The konbu dashi that the noodles sit in was so rich that it became slimy. The word slimy sounds bad in English, while the Japanese onomatopoeia for the word ネバネバ, neba neba, is used to describe many tasty foods. I'm not a huge fan, an aspect I blame on being raised in a Western household where slippery, slimy foods were never on the menu. I'll eat the stuff, but I'm not going out of my way for the likes of natto, okra, or grated yam (tororo).

I've been told by EVERY other ramen nerd that this tsukemen is one of the best in Japan. That overabundance of konbu means and overabundance of umami. Even though I don't recommend it, I kind of recommend it.

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You could easily make a day out in Yugawara. There are plenty of onsen, natural hot springs, in the area. Dopponoyu, Japan's largest foot bath, isn't far from Ida Shoten. And in nearby Atami is one of my favorite art museums in Japan, the MOA. Sounds like a perfect day to me!

Map of 2 Chome-12-14 Doi, Yugawara-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa-ken 259-0303

神奈川県足柄下郡湯河原町土肥2-12-14
Kanagawa-ken, Ashigarashimagun, Yagawaramachi, Doi 2-12-14
Closest station: Yugawara

Open 11:00-15:00
Closed Mondays

Monday, January 18, 2016

鳳凛 (Horin in Fukuoka)

らーめん屋 鳳凛 春吉店

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I love a good bowl in Fukuoka. Rich tonkotsu soup, thin, firm (katame) noodles, and just a touch of toppings. But I'm not afraid to admit that my palate is unaccustomed to this style. I've had some very good bowls before, and a lot of decent bowls. In the realm of decent, all these Hakata-style bowls are a blur.

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Horin is strictly decent. I had a busy day of work the next morning, and this was the closest shop with a high rating near the hotel. I wanted to visit the famed yatai of the area, portable food carts serving ramen and drinks, but those are more of a late night thing.

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Horin was just what I needed before bed.

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I know this review isn't of much use, but like I said, it's a sea of decentness.

I would love some recommendations for shops in Fukuoka. I'm usually a bit busy with work when I am in town, but can make the trek for an exceptional bowl.

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Official site here.

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Map of 3 Chome-21-15 Haruyoshi, Chūō-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken 810-0003

福岡県福岡市中央区春吉3-21-15
Fukuoka-ken, Fukuoka-shin, Chuo-ku, Haruyoshi 3-21-15
Closest station: Tenjin

Open 11:30-5:00am
Weekends until 6:00am