Monday, November 30, 2009

ロボットふぁーめん (Robot Ramen in Nagoya)



Riding Japan's amazing bullet train out of Tokyo is always a fun (and expensive) adventure. This time the destination was Nagoya.

The lively Akamon street in the Osu-Kannon area of Nagoya could be akin to Tokyo's Akihabara. This means nerdy. Toy shops, maid cafes, and robots. Is there any human task a robot can't do? Not in this country!


Yep, these are the infamous ramen robots. R2B1 is the manager, and R2B2 is the assistant manager. Working in harmony, they can get a bowl to you in less than 2 minutes. Together they make this:


It's a fairly normal tonkotsu pork soup. Nothing amazing, but you're not really here for an exceptional bowl of ramen, are you? On with the show!


Everything is automated, from placing the bowl, to pouring the soup, to shaking the noodles.


All to the whizz and whir or precision electronics.


During downtime they joke away with some typical manzai comedian jokes. Slapstick is essential. A quarrel over the fairer of the robot sexes leads to a knife battle.


Despite the huge number of people walking around this area, the shop was relatively quiet. No line, we walked right in and sat down.


It's only a couple stops from the central Nagoya station. But if you are in a rush, keep in mind that there is a ramen "street" right in the station for all your eating needs.


But when the robots attack (they eat old people's medicine for fuel), I'll feel good knowing I gave some love to the first robot ramen chefs on the planet.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

九十九 (Tsukumo in Ebisu)



We talked about taking a nice long adventure into the countryside (if you can call Saitama the countryside). But Keizo from and I both had long nights, and decided to take it easy on the traveling. Instead of an hour north, we met in Ebisu.


Tsukumo has been on the radar for a while now. The number one menu item is a cheese miso ramen. But unlike other places that just pile some cheese on top, Tsukumo blends it into the already rich soup.... and they pile it on top! They use what they call トムチーズ, which is some kind of sharp cheeese.


It's rich, creamy, and awesome.


Tsukumo provides you with a ton of free toppings. Adding a bit of spice was a good choice.


Once I sat down they gave me the English menu. I usually frown upon that, but this menu is so covered in Engrish that I'll overlook it this time.


On the back is a Korean menu. Any Korean speakers out there want to comment on their translation?


They have lunch time deals for those out during the daylight hours. The ramen came with your choice of free rice, nori seaweed, or egg. This 200 yen set looks nice, but I didn't feel the need.


This one had to be slurped down to the last drop. It was a little strong though, and my stomach had a little bit of a battle an hour later. But I'm happy to say that the body prevailed.


Also, there is a cool seat outside. Enjoy the weather and people watching if you get the chance.


Official Site

Supleks Database Info

Monday, November 23, 2009

海神 (Kaijin in Shinjuku)



Just outside Shinjuku Station's SE exit is a jumble of shops. Pachinko parlors, brand name clothing shops, massage parlors, and of course food. Usually, the only adventure here is finding your friends. When I first moved to Japan, 3 foreigners tried to meet for the first tiem in Shinjuku station. Agreeing to meet at the "Starbucks" is not a wise choice. Now I'm wiser, and chose the SE exit. I wandered around the block 3 times before finding this little 2nd floor shop with a name meaning Poseidon.


The god of the sea would approve, assuming he eats seafood. Does the great Neptune feast on the inhabitants of his realm?


This is the second time in a week that I've had a simple salt broth with some sort of unique topping. With a flavor and texture similar to something you'd find at a dim sum restaurant, these dumplings are made with a long list of fruits of the sea.


Anyone know what 日本のアラ, Japanese Ara, is?


I had the spicy soup. You can choose your level. Medium was fine.


Putting a fried rice ball in the soup seems to be the new trend with this type of light soup.


Kaijin is woman owned, and I caught a glimpse of the owner in the back, barking orders at a couple of young punks. Not a bad gig though, if you ask me.


All this light ramen lately! That's what I get for going to shops featured in a book called "Girl's Ramen Club". Well, I've got my eyes on something different soon, don't worry.

Ramen Supleks Database

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

極盛り (Extreme Size at Mitsuyado)


Ramen adventures come in all shapes and... sizes. After a couple of beers at my favorite beer pub in Nakameguro, nothing is better than some tsukemen from Mitsuyado.


The double cheese tsukemen is a crowd pleaser. When I explained the size options to my friend J, I explained about nami (normal), chu (medium), and omori (big). But there are other options present. Tokumori I've seen before. It translates to special size. Then there was a new one... kiwamori... extreme size. Keep in mind that 250 grams of noodles is standard. A hungry appetite should go for the big size. But at a whopping 1500 grams, kiwamori is for special occasions.


Like today. My buddy ain't from around here. Both the waiter and I double checked his want for over 3 pounds of noodles. His logic, beautifully stated, "It's only an extra 400 yen... and I'm hungry!"


Word from the staff is that 2 or 3 people order this a day.


2 hours later, and he's still alive. Let's see if he makes it through the night.

久しぶりラーメン (Revisiting some old spots)

After a 90 minute bicycle ride adventure:


Rakuraku in Kichijoji.

After a couple English lessons, a 45 minute bicycle ride, and a Guiness:


Botan in Takadanobaba.

The thing is, I really enjoyed both of these the first time around. Really really liked em. But this time, they were both lackluster. This happens a lot I've found. A shop is great in round one, but round two is a let down. Any theories?

A few shops have been stellar every time. Ones that come to mind are Ippudo, Ivan, and Bankara.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

鮎ラーメン (Ayu Ramen in Futakotamagawa)



Every Tuesday night I find myself in Futakotamagawa, a station about 20 minutes west of Shibuya. The key here is in the station, as I teach a private English lesson at a cafe inside the station gates. After the hour, I hop back on the train, and since I never technically left the station, I save big on the train fare. But today I left the gates, paying the $4 fare, in search of an adventure in a new part of town and some noodles.


Futakotamagawa is amazingly upscale. Name brand goods only. The streets are cobblestone. The restaurants are... fancy. That goes for ramen too.


Ayu ramen is exactly what it's name suggests, ramen with ayu. Ayu is the name of the Japanese Sweetfish. If you've ever been in the countryside near a river, you'll see it being grilled in abundance, and eaten from a skewer. It's so delicate, that you can eat the whole thing, bones and all, without issue. Be warned, though, that it's often cooked with the innards still inside. You probably don't want to bite into that!


Here, it's been de-gutted. The ayu is given a quick char.


The noodles are given a quick boil.


And the finished product.


The soup is a very simple broth, with almost no flavor, just warmth. The reason is obvious, to bring out the ayu. A strong soup would simply overpower the light fish taste.


I found this shop in my "Girl's Ramen Club" book. Totally a relaxing place.


You can order a fried rice ball to toss in the left over soup, as the chef recommended.



At the end, he brought me a glass of house blended jasmine tea.

I asked the staff what shop they recommended I go to next, and not surprisingly they said MIST. I say not surprising, because Ayu and MIST are two of the most expensive shops in my guidebook. Not crazy expensive, just about double what you'd pay at a more run of the mill place.


Official site here

Shop info here

Friday, November 13, 2009

大山 (Taizan in Kanda)



Down a busy pedestrian street in the Kanda area of Tokyo, you can expect to find a lot of food. Kanda lies at the edge of the Marounochi area, which means business. Businessmen, offices, and of course food. Simply choosing what to eat after a 14 hour work day can be an adventure. Lucky for me, I've got guidebooks.


Yeah, that sign says they are open from 8 in the morning. It's true, ramen for breakfast is totally cool if you are in a suit. Despite it's location and obvious clientele, Taizan came recommended in my latest ramen guidebook, titled 女子ラーメン... ramen for chicks.


The top billed item is a salt broth topped with fried sakura ebi, cherry blossom shrimp. I've had sakura ebi on a few occasions, and they are wonderful. If you are squemish about eating the whole shrimp, stay away. These guys are so small that there is no other way.


But first, take in the atmosphere. Old baseball memoribilia on all 4 walls.


Here it is. The fried shrimp is excellent. Fried food often tops thicker udon noodle dishes, but seldom ramen. It's good, real good. It adds a very fried flavor to the soup, which I could see being a problem with some people.

Not with me though.


The dark mass on the left is their spice blend. A mix of tumeric, coriander, and garam masala. It's awesome, but a little on the light side. I could have gone with about 3 times the amount to give more of a kick.


Noodles done, you'll be left with a mushy combination of fried batter, tiny shrimps, and soup.


Add rice.


Remember, adding rice once the noodles are gone turns one meal into two.


The place was virtually empty except for Nate and I, and our visitors. Before we left, a lone host, looking fashionable and hungry, slumped into a corner with his cell phone, texting away to god knows who.


And I checked another off my list.

Shop info here