Thursday, February 12, 2009

梅もと (Umemoto in Ikebukuro)

(kind of hard to find. Walk south from Ikebukuro station for about 10 minutes and make a left on a little alley way. 雑司ヶ谷3-7-10 is the address.)


A friend told me about some ramen which uses salt from her home town on a little island south of Tokyo. Recommendations are always taken into consideration. So I strolled down the back alleys of Ikebukuro, thinking of a nice salt ramen. Something light and refreshing. I was met with:


Let me explain. Ramen, especially tsukemen, usually has a size element to it. How many 玉, tama, do you want? On average, you get about 200 grams of noodles when you eat in Japan. The tama is how many servings. 1玉、2玉、even 3玉 is fairly standard. But we usually talk in terms of 盛り, mori, size. Generally, you have your normal serving, and your omori, which means big size. This is standard at ramen shops, beef bowl shops, curry shops, basically anyplace that caters to the salaryman. Cause salarymen love to eat big portions.


This is not omori. We are now well into the realm of competitive eating. But let's examine the size options at Umemoto a little closer.

The first 3 are smal, medium, and large.

Next, at 3玉 is 地球盛... earth size.
4玉 follows with 銀河盛... galaxy size.
5玉 is 宇宙盛... universe size.
Let's skip 6 and go to
7玉, Big Bang size.
10玉 is Black Hole size.
And at an insane
20玉 is 流星盛, meteor size.

Also if you don't finish eating what you order, you are assesed a penalty of 700 yen for sizes up to Black Hole, and 2000 yen if you can't finish the Meteor size noodles.


Always one to walk along the razor's edge, I went with the
地球盛, earth size. If any of the 450 grams of noodles were to be uneaten, there would be a price to pay! That price would be cash money. 700 yen.


The miso broth was creamy and had a lot of sesame on top. Potent, nothing close to a simple salt broth I was expecting on my walk here.


The noodles were thin and heavy. Really heavy. They began to sit like a half kilo of cement in my stomach. But that was my fault for ordering more then the standard size. Regardless, I was able to put away the triple serving without a hitch.


One thing I love and hate about Japan is their view towards food. This shop is plastered with famous people's photos. I use famous loosely here, because these people are only really famous because they go to restaurants and eat things out of the ordinary, like "black hole" tsukemen. By doing this enough, they become famous on TV. Sort of.


Hundreds of magazine articles about the sheer size of noodles one can buy are plastered on the wall. That's the claim to fame, the fact that you can buy extra noodles here.


But it takes on a sort of charm, this rather silly approach to eating.


One thing that struck me was the standoffish nature of the staff. I was the only person in the shop for a time, and I tried striking up a conversation. My questions were met with one word answers and no eye contact. When another customer came in, I was ignored all together. I think if your restaurant specializes in what boils down to, let's face it, a novelty meal, you should be jovial about it. Or maybe they are just dead serious, and had I left a noodle or two in my bowl the door would be blocked and police summoned until I forked out the required penalty fee.

Monday, February 2, 2009

蕪村 (Buson in Nagano)



After a so-so Nagano ramen experience, I wasn't in the mood for anymore. My last meal, after a day of skiing, was to be at a local Hawaiian burger place. But this was the day of rest for burgers, apparently, and I needed something quickly before the next bullet train back to Tokyo. Buson was recommended.


A few styles on the menu. First is a standard pork bone style. Next is a standard salt. 3rd was しじみ which is a type of tiny clam. It's often put into miso soup, but how would it taste in a ramen soup? You have questions? I have answers.


The answer is "I don't know, I didn't try it."

Their special was あご - ago - flying fish. I couldn't pass up something like this. A heavy pork soup flavored with flying fish. I've eaten plenty of とびこ, which is flying fish eggs, but rarely have I had any other flying fish related cuisine.


It really worked. Can't say I could tell you the difference between a soup flavored with flying fish and... any other fish, but it worked. Not too thick, the subtle fish aroma alongside the rich とんこつ soup was perfect for the cold night in the mountains. I think an interesting touch would be a small dollop of bright orange flying fish eggs on the top. Too artistic?


The salt ramen wasn't bad either, made with high quality salt. Also, it was served with a lemon wedge. I've never seen that before.


Some local spices added a nice touch.


So Nagano was cast in a bad light by the overly salty meal the day before, and redeemed by this smaller shop.

If you ever find your way to Nagano, enjoy.

よし家 (Yoshiya in Nagano)



Yokohama style ramen in Nagano. Yokohama style is a thick soy sauce tonkotsu soup. Really thick. Like, when you make homemade chicken soup, and then the next day it's turned into more of a chicken jelly than a soup.


We mobbed into this place with a group of about 8 people, all of us hung over from a night of drinking what may or may not have been beer from a local izakaya that plays old nationalist songs on the stereo.


Did I mention it was thick? Actually, you can order it 薄める - usumeru - thin. I recommend this path. The regular soup was just too salty for us. Many bowls remained half eaten.


Toppings are a plethora of green things. Cabbage, some seaweed, green onion, and what seemed like spinach.


I ordered it with extra fatty バラ pork. Fortunately, my stomach is used to this kind of abuse. Yours may not be so lucky.