Monday, September 21, 2009

さんぱち (Sanpachi in Monbetsu)



Ramen took a spot on the back burner as I worked on a dairy farm for a couple weeks. Actually, everything... including my sanity, took a spot on the back burner. But this is neither the time nor place.


Sanpachi was originally from Hokkaido. The owner wanted to bring good ramen to the good people, and this is the result. It's a pretty normal ramen story, unlike the crazy ones from Tokyo with their drama and eccentric ramen masters.

This chain of 69 shops (69!) was first opened 20 years ago. It's spread around Japan and even the world, with a few shops in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. Yeah, it's one of *those* types of shops.


The curry ramen was fine. Nothing amazing, but this is the middle of nowhere, you'd be lucky to find anything.

What a sad review for my last ramen in Hokkaido!

Shop info here

えきばしゃ (Ekibasha in Hokkaido)



Train station or ramen-ya? How about both!

This station had no attendant, no ticket gate, but it had a ramen shop in the old fashioned wood building. Awesome!


There were a few things on order. One, for 1500 yen, was a "fruits of the sea" ramen. I didn't get it, but want to go back someday and try it. It contained a giant shrimp, an entire crab claw, and scallops topped with salmon roe.


Directions: Take the super slow, 3 car train and hop off.


The shop staff recommended the salt ramen topped with onion. A clean bowl for sure.


The huge mound of shredded onions melts down into the hot soup.


Shop info here

屈斜路湖 ラーメン (Ramen at Lake Kussharo)



Sorry, no name of this spot, it was at an onsen beach on the shore of Lake Kussharo. What is this lake known for?

A 20 meter long creature named Kusshii. Where has he been? The last sighting was in the 70s...


Found 'im!

He was swimming in my miso ramen.


Actually, this was a tasty bowl! Not sure what old Kusshii was made of though...

天金 (Tenkin in Asahikawa)



One of Keizo's favorites, Tenkin was another must hit spot.


This is the truest Asahikawa style ramen there is.


The soup takes days to make, but it took me only a few minutes to slurp.


Tenkin and Hachiya seem to be in a battle for top spot in Asahikawa these days. I prefer Hachiya for its stronger soup. Be sure your try them both, and decide for yourself.

Shop info here.

ほしの希 (Hoshinoki in Furano)



Hoshi no ki? Star's hope? Would this random bowl in the middle of the countryside be just what I wished for? Star light, star bright, first bowl of miso ramen I wish tonight?


Not really a dream come true. Not a nightmare either, though the only other customer there smoked non-stop. Next.

青葉 (Aoba in Asahikawa)



Here it is, the oldest shop in Asahikawa. 3 generations of sons have worked here. I went in at the exact time it opened, so it was just me and the legends.


Keizo recommended this place. This strictly shoyu soup is made from vegetables and fish, and its great.


I made the faux pas of asking if this shop was related to the Aoba in Nakano. They told me no and the topic was changed. Later I found out that there was some sort of drama here, apparently. Such is life in the world of ramen.

The staff here is super nice, if its not too busy have a chat.


I dig the stamped nori seaweed.


Shop info here.

ラーメンの蜂屋 (Hachiya in Asahikawa)



Asahikawa style ramen. I was looking forward to this. Pork bones stewed in soy sauce are used to make the rich soup. Asahikawa has magical water too, apparently, adding to the allure.

I stopped at the tourist information shop, and sure enough, they have a ramen guide to the town. Keizo from Go Ramen! had been there earlier and I should have printed out where he went. But I didn't so I just asked the locals where the top shops were. The 3 I went to were 3 of the 4 that Keizo went to, life is funny that way.

First up was the top shop, Ramen no Hachiya. Lets see what I get.


I'd bill this as a must go spot in Asahikawa. The vibe is great, and the ramen amazing. It's almost like a layer of creamy tonkotsu pork soup under a layer of fishy shoyu soup. Everything about this bowl is good. Watch the video over at Go Ramen! to see what I mean.


Shop info here

And now I'm at 50% win-loss

ホルモンラーメン (Horumon Ramen in Hokkaido)



And thus began an incredible trip across Hokkaido. Let me start off by saying that ramen wasn't a priority on this trip. Ramen in Hokkaido, or anywhere in Japan for that matter, tends to be better in the big cities. I have a motorcycle and a tent... big cities were not on the agenda. I didn't even stop in Sapporo for the entire month. Don't worry, I did spend a couple days in the ramen mecca of Asahikawa. Stay tuned.

What is horumon? As it is written in katakana, you immediately assume that it's some kind of... hormones? The first time you eat it (horumon is common anywhere Osaka style fried stuff is served) you will only really know that it resembles meat. Well, horu is Kansai dialect for trash, and mon is used to mean things. So horumon is the bits that usually get thrown out. Lips and assholes. Nothing to do with hormones.

It ain't bad, as long as you don't think about it.


No, I didn't order the horumon ramen, which they did have. Just a standard shoyu. It was standard. I was hungry at the time so it was fine.

But the highlight was when I left. I was getting on my bike, and a kid across the rice paddy was waving furiously at me. So I waved back. We were just waving for like a minute. Then I stopped and he must have realized that he had to pee. So he just whipped it out and took a wiz, still staring at me, waving something different this time.

Yeah, this is the countryside.

And so far I'm 0 for 1 with noodles here...

北海道の食べないラーメン (Hokkaido! Bowls I didn't eat)

The next few posts will be from Hokkaido, where I spent the entire month of August, touring around on my motorcycle, camping, and working on a dairy farm. Hit up my other site for that nonsense.

But first, a couple bowls I didn't eat.


Maguro (tuna) ramen. It's just got some vacuum packed tuna thrown in the pack of dried instant noodles.


Kuma ramen. Want some ramen with bear meat in it?


Morioka style ramen gift packs on an expressway rest area. I've got a big problem with expressway ramen, or the lack of it. All the good looking stuff was in convenient gift packs. No shops serving fresh bowls. And no room on my bike for a box of prepare-at-home stuff.

I never eat when I'm not hungry. As a ramen maniac, this can be hard, as I want to write about some weird place that I'll never have the chance to go to again. But hey, at least enjoy the photos, and if you are ever at the tip of the Shiretoko peninsula, you can tell me how the bear meat is.

じげん (Jigen in Takadanobaba)



I think I told Nate I wanted something heavy, but not too heavy. So we picked something that had the largest possibility of being too heavy, a fish based soup at Jigen. Let's roll the dice!


Natural 20! (Yes, Nate, I can make D&D references too.)


Freshly grilled chashu pork, huge hunks of menma, and a soup that was perfect. Even the powdered fish mound included in this type of ramen was juuuuust right.

Actually, I shouldn't say freshly grilled chashu, because the chef whipped out a blow torch to get the char on this pork. Fire made it good!

The 1 block radius of this shop is completely ramen right. You could spend a couple weeks eating at a different shop every day and never be disappointed.


Shop info here.

石釜 (Ishigama in Omotesando)



Miso ramen served in an iron pot? That's what you can get at Ishigama, located smack dab on Omotesando Street. Omotesando is an area of Tokyo known more for high fashion than cheap noodles. There are a ton of kick ass cafes in the area. Not so many ramen shops.

The menu is in multiple languages. Yes, this is a shop that caters to tourists. It's next to the massive Kiddie Land store, with 8 stories of Japanese character goods like Hello Kitty, Mameshiba, and of course Rilakuma. But that's for another blog. Let's eat some ramen!


I can't recommend this spot.

It's standard stuff, but the thing that I think is whack is exactly what draws people here, the iron pot. The soup is served in a red hot stone bowl, much like Korean bibinba. The hot pot should keep the soup hot and tasty till the last drop. But...

This totally threw off my ramen "pacing". As ramen slowly cools, my bites become quicker, my slurps lenghtier, the silence in conversations longer. But the hot bowl, coupled with a decrease in liquid has the opposite effect, and the soup gets hotter as it gets smaller. That, and the taste was just so-so.


Shop info here.

ばくだん (Bakudan in Shinjuku)



Hiroshima style tsukemen. Say what?


I wasn't really in the mood for tsukemen that day. Tsukemen is 99% of the time heavy and rich. Heavy and rich has its place, don't get me wrong. But I wanted refreshing with a kick. Healthy with an explosion. ばくだん means explosion, it must be meant to be.




Bla-dow! The noodles and toppings were like a fresh salad. I could see a yoga instructor eating a plate of this with a light sesame dressing before a lesson. But I ain't no yoga instructor!


Pow! Here it is. The soup here is spiced up with plenty of chili and sesame. It's as good as it looks.


Smack! For an extra buck you get your egg and a side. I went for the rice ball, which was simple and a nice snack between spicy bites.

You can get anywhere from 0 to 20 spice level. Above 16 is "Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!" I went with a 5 I think, which wasn't more than a slight tang.


The shop is eclectic and anyone who has lived in Hiroshima (me!) will get a kick out of all the random stuff in there. One note though, they don't have the owari soup that you can use to mix in the dipping sauce, which is too bad I think.

Nate went here too.

Shop info here.

白山ラーメン (Hakusan Ramen in Hakusan)



Ramen has many facets in Japan. Of course there is the food itself, but I think the atmosphere plays a huge roll. A beautifully reconstructed old Japanese warehouse converted into a ramen shop, a steamy shop filled with salarymen, an hour long line for a little hole in the wall... these things make it magic.


Enter Hakusan ramen. My photos, I realize, don't portray what I want to. Let me explain, and offer a promise to revisit in the near future.


The shop opens at 9pm. It closes at something like 4am. This is a spot for the night crowd. But Hakusan isn't near any sort of night life. You could walk here in about 20 minutes from Tokyo Dome after seeing a ball game... I guess. You could take the train way out of your way... I guess. Or you could drive up, order some ramen, and eat in your car. Or sit on the curb. Or stand. There are only 2 chairs available for the 30 or so people there.


This is the reality of the place, everyone orders their ramen, either with or without egg as there are only 2 menu items, waits 20 minutes, then just sits on the curb to eat. The curb of a semi-busy Tokyo road. The crowd is a mix of college students (big surprise), drunk salarymen, and a host or two. It's completely rad. And only a 2 minute bicycle ride from my apartment.


So I really really really wanted to love this ramen. Yeah, I'm saying the first bowl did disappoint. It was way greasy, even the bottom of the bowl had grease on it, and the chashu pork was like eating concentrated soy sauce.

Maybe I jinxed it, as I had planned on going here with fellow ramen blogger Nate, but jumped the gun when a friend was visiting from out of town. I also had high hopes, as this place is loved over at Yo! Japan.

So I'll play a little game of "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" and head back here soon.


Shop info here