Friday, January 29, 2010

The New York Times


Welcome New York Times readers! Nope, that's not me in the above photo, but none other than the Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross. Matt emailed me sometime last year about lending him a hand with an article he was writing, and I jumped at the chance. If there's one thing I love as much as eating ramen, it's introducing people to great ramen shops in Tokyo.


Well, the article is out online, and in the upcoming January 31st print edition of the NY Times. I expect a bit more traffic here, so I'll drop a little Q&A. Photos are all from the time that Matt and photographer Basil Childers were out in Tokyo with me.


Why Ramen?
As an American who went to college, I ate my share of 10 for a dollar instant noodles. Not a pleasant memory. When I came to Japan almost 4 years ago, I had the real deal. Handmade noodles, broth that is simmered for days, secret ingredients; this is good stuff. Not only is it good food, but there is a whole "culture" behind it in Japan, with hour long lines, TV shows, and hype for days. I caught the bug, began eating at 3 or 4 new shops a week, and started this site.


What's up with this blog?
Eating ramen and taking photos are two passions of mine. Back in October of 2008 I started writing up each ramen shop I went to. I was unemployed at the time, and with tons of free time on my hands (and not a lot of cash for expensive meals) I started eating a lot of ramen. Ramen is actually considered a hobby by some people in Japan. I'm one of those people.


I'm coming to Tokyo, where should I eat ramen? What's the best shop?
That is the number one question I get. Matt and I went to most of my favorite shops, so you can refer to his NY Times article here. But honestly, just browse through some of my posts and look at the pictures. I'm no wordsmith, but luckily if ramen looks great, it usually tastes great. Some of my favorites at the moment are:

Ganko for the experience.
Gogyo for a fun, trendy experience.
Tetsu if you want to wait in a huge line that is totally worth it.
Ivan Ramen for the best noodles around.
is my favorite undiscovered spot... for now!

If you want some other perspectives, check out my buddies and fellow Tokyo ramen lovers Nate's site or Keizo's site at


Did you really lose weight eating ramen?
I've lost about 45kg while living in Japan. Yeah, I went from 260lbs to around 170lbs in a couple years. Seriously, cut out sugar, especially refined corn syrup, and you will be on your way to your goal. Just replace sweets with ramen!

Are you bald?
I have a healthy head of curly hair, thank you very much! I just keep it shaved so it doesn't fall into my bowls of noodles.


I want to come live / work / travel in Japan, help me!
Fell free to email me at macduckston at gmail dot com with any non-ramen related inquiries. I know a bit about teaching English and riding motorcycles.


Are you going to open a ramen shop or something?
For the time being I'm happy just eating. Check out Keizo's blog to see what life for a ramen shop worker is like. You never know though...


How can I help your ramen adventures (dot com)?
Suggest shops to me! Every shop that someone recommends gets marked in my Tokyo street atlas and visited at some point.

Have a bowl with me! If you're in Tokyo, I would love to get a bowl of ramen with you, as long as I can fit it into my crazy work schedule. You don't mind long lines, do you?

Comment with your own ramen adventures! Hanging with celebs at Ippudo in New York? Shoulder to shoulder with yakuza gangsters at some little shop in countryside Japan? Concocting your own ramen recipe? Let everyone know!

Thanks again for visiting. You can subscribe over on the left. Oh, Matt just posted the article to twitter, I'd better post this!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

田ぶし (Tabushi in Koenji)



The weekly ramen roundup (we don't have an official name) of fellow ramen nuts Nate, Keizo, and I was on as per usual. This time, though, everyone was a little busy so we just decided for something local. Koenji is a really cool part of town, close to everyone, and full of ramen.


The new Koenji Ramen Street is the talk of the town. 4 top shops competing for the longest line. Of course, Tetsu's is the longest. But don't worry, it's nothing like the 90 minute wait at the main shop.


We felt more like something new. Tabushi was near the station, and boasted some great looking "Black Tantanmen". You had me at spicy.


This was some great tantanmen. Just enough kick to be safe for anyone. The soup was thick and full of ground pork.


Nate, who doesn't eat pork (in solid meat form), always gives me his slice. But he mistook his pile of menma for grilled, chopped chashu. It was really good, sorry Nate!


Keizo added the gyoza, solid.


This shop is a winner. Good for anytime eating, but this would be the ultimate hangover food. Fortunately, I hadn't been drinking the night before (can't speak for my friends though!)


I took a photo of this young mom with a baby strapped to her back, and grandma gave me a crazy stare-down. Sorry! I think a back pack baby in a ramen shop is fair game for photos though.

Official Site Here

More Shop Info Here

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ramen Gift Packs

The 海老名 (Ebina) expressway rest area, or any expressway rest area for that matter, will be overflowing with boxes of omiyage for you to take home. Giving a gift from your recent trip is standard custom in Japan. Why not make it a cook-at-home box of ramen from a top shop in Tokyo?


Sorry, no room on my motorcycle for anything.


みそや林檎堂 (Ringodo in Nakano)



A ranking of #1 miso in Tokyo in the popular 噂 (Uwasa) ramen guidebook deserves a visit. This shop has 2 faces, a miso ramen shop by day, and a tsukemen shop by night. Both fall under some sort of "apple" moniker. Though on the radar, "Apple Temple" was kicked up by a recommendation from Nate. So while he was off in Korea, Keizo and I did the lunch bowl.


A tasty egg is nothing new, but Ringodo boasts the "number 1 egg in Japan". At about double the price of an egg at other ramen shops, this better be good!


I went with the B set, a bowl of miso ramen and a bowl of rice with a raw "number 1" egg thrown on top. Very "Japanese" indeed.


In Japan, the fear of eggs is non-existent. Eggs are sold unrefrigerated in the supermarket, and served raw on any dish you could think of. Don't be surprised if that pizza you just ordered has a big raw egg in the middle.


This is definitely nouveaux miso ramen. Forget your powerful Sapporo style, Ringodo serves up a more refined taste. A bit sweet, maybe there are actual apples in the soup. One thing that could either be a plus or a minus was the thickness. This soup is really really thick.


Can anyone decipher the store's shirt (available for 3000 yen... no thanks). Higashinakano is the station. I got that. But, Underground Too Mach. If you can somehow relate that sentence to apples and miso, I'll buy you a 200 yen egg! Bonus points if you reference the Mach 5.


More shop info here

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

西尾中華そば (Nishio in Bunkyo)



Just a few minutes from my place in Bunkyo (kind of a trend with my ramen adventures lately) is a winner. Ramen Walker magazine gave it the bronze in their ranking of new 2009 shops. Anything in the top 3, or top 30 for that matter, is in my sights.


So I headed over for a bowl of their shoyu ramen. I've been on a shoyu spree lately, hitting up Tsukishima Rock and Kokaibo in the last week. How does Nishio stack up?


They should have taken the gold. This is good eats. The secret lies in the double soup. A chicken soup paired with a fish soup. In fact, the logo shows a chicken, fish, and... corn? What's that about?


The noodles are made in the same plant that cranks out corn tortillas for the taco industry. If you live in Tokyo, you probably have come across tacos zero times, give or take once. Regardless, why not throw a little of that maize flour in with the noodles. Seems logical.


Mr. Nishio, the chef behind the counter, did his training with Nagi. Nagi's approach to ramen is to open completely different shops, like the Shibuya, Tachikawa, and Shinjuku shops.


If you ever need a hint what to order, look for the osusume, recommendations.


Nishio-san recommends a bowl of the standard ramen, toss in the egg, a bowl of buta meshi (that's some fried pork on rice), and a cold beer. That combo deal will run you less than $15.


The beer is proper Brau Meister, Kirin's answer to real beer (dont get me started on the widely available Japanese beer), and only 350 yen. If I didn't have to teach an English lesson an hour later I would have been all over it. But at least I can try the rice bowl.


Official Blog Here
More Shop Info Here

Saturday, January 16, 2010

月島ロック (Tsukishima Rock in Tsukishima)



Just around the corner from Tsukishima's Monja Street, where you have your choice of around 50 monja shops, is some ramen. This is Tokyo though, and just around the corner from anything is a ramen shop.

I forewent the monja for the first time in 3 weeks (I am here weekly for an English lesson) and had a bowl of this superb shoyu soup.


But getting there was 90% of this adventure.

Things started out at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo near Kiyosumi station. Nice place, but skip the overpriced exhibitions and just check out the permanent collection.


Checking page 99 of my handy Tokyo Street Atlas, I noticed I had marked a spot not to far away. Menya Kisso.


Which is only open for lunch. And closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Remember that!

It's always acceptable practice to dip into the nearest convenience store to look at their ramen magazines.


And tie over the hunger with a Pac-Man streamed bun.


Mmmmm. Like a Pac-Man who just ate the big dot, I was headed straight for my destination. Tsukishima is only 2 stops away.


And here's Tsukishima Rock. This shop is related to the popular 69 'N Roll One out in Machida. (6 = Ro and 9=Ku... Roku) Without knowing that info though, you might think this place is some sort of music venue / bar / hip noodle joint.


Exhibit A, booze. Exhibit B,


Rock records and guitars hanging on the walls. There was some Beatles and Floyd playing at medium volume on the stereo. Turn it up guys!


You've got a couple choices here. I went with the standard shoyu. Made with some ginger, it's a simple taste that smells superb. That's hardly surprising. 69 'N Roll One is very well known for their simple shoyu perfection.


My friend P had the more complex 8/6, hachirocku. A lot of different fruits of the sea go into this one.


Both are great with the yuzu tinted shichimi from Nagano.


Even though the decor was fresh, the music bumping, and the ramen rad, this place was dead! And almost every seat was filled. Everyone was doing the ramen-stare, just waiting quietly until their food came.

Which is too bad, because that's obviously not what they are going for. Besides the ramen, there are some upscale snacks available, like Italian salami slices and a seasonal cheese plate. And enough bottles to concoct any cocktail you could think of. If it had been a little noisier, a little more upbeat, I could easily have bought the 1600 yen mixed appetizer platter and a couple beers.

Then again, maybe it was my timing. It was around 6 in the evening, in no way party time.

Since it's next to my weekly English lesson, I'll stop by a little later next time. Cheers!

Official Site Here

More Shop Info Here

Thursday, January 14, 2010

こうかいぼう (Kokaibo in Kiyosumi)



Finding a great shop can be an adventure, or a complete cinch. The easiest way to eat good is to simply look at a reputable magazine or website's ranking, and pick a top shop. This time it was the #4 ramen from ultra database Not to be confused with Bret Hart's signature suplex finishing move.


The rankings can be misleading though, especially in Japan. I'm not sure about the supleks ranking logistics, but if a shop is mentioned by someone famous on TV, it will suddenly be everyone's favorite. If a member of AKB48 says she likes even the worst of ramen shops, you can bet the next day every otaku in town will be there.


All that said, I'm a sucker for rankings. I read them all, and make notes in my Tokyo street atlas. That's how I got to Kokaibo, which is near a lesson I teach.


Made from pork, chicken, konbu, fish, and many many vegetables. That may sound like the recipe at 90% of shops, but it's the proportions that count. I love that they list this stuff out for me. They even mention that the water is from a Seagull IV, which sounds horrible, but is just a type of water purification system.


The set comes with a small rice and raw egg. There was also a set with a bowl of fried pork rice, which looked really good.


The ramen was a simple thing, reminding me a lot of Ikaruga. I had my first taste.


Perfect. Some sweetness to it. Then... something was different. Not wrong, but different.


The soup has almost no aftertaste. I've never, in all my bowls, been left with the taste of... water. My bowl of similar looking ramen the day before lingered for hours. This one had been suplexed, and was down for the count.


The whole lack of aftertaste thing works great here. You really taste the noodles. And the subtle initial flavors aren't crushed by a garlicky power. Ramen rankers of Supleks, well ranked.

More Shop Info Here