Friday, October 28, 2011

MAZERU in Akihabara



Cue the latest AKB48 single, turn up the PA system, and press play. Welcome to Akihabara.


The day I go for 24 hours without seeing some sort of reference to AKB48, whether it is on the morning news, 30% of station advertisements, or being played on the supermarket's stereo is the day I quit eating ramen. There are many bowls ahead.


Akihabara has had some surprises in the realm of ramen, namely Matsukaze. What else is around, I wonder.


The bright yellow sign, and the unmistakable ニンニク入れます (ya want garlic in that?) is an homage to Ramen Jiro. I avoid Ramen Jiro like the plague.


Of the 2 menu items, mazesoba and mazesoba with extra meat, the shop recommends the bowl with extra meat. Sure, why not.


This is the bowl with all the toppings. You can get more of any topping (cheese, pork fat, garlic, spice, and vegetables) for no charge, just ask for it.


Well, it was as heavy as it looks. I wasn't really into this bowl. There was a lot of liquid in it, which isn't what I want in mazesoba. I think of mazesoba as more of just noodles in fat and salt and flavor. Soup just washes off the fat. We can't have that.

It might just be that Junk Garage ruined me toward all other mazesoba.

Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Kanda Sakumacho 1-14
Closest station: Akihabara

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:30-22:00
Closed Sundays and holidays

RonFan in Sakuradai

坦々麺専門店 RonFan


Sakuradai is a rarely visited station a few minutes out of Ikebukuro. Most people zoom by it on an express train to more lucrative eating grounds. But when a student of mine insisted that I try her favorite tantanmen shop in Tokyo, I know I had to be there. Since our lesson ends at 3pm, and this shop closes at 3pm, getting there for the 11am opening was the adventure of the day. Hey, Wednesday is my sleep-in day!


Tantanmen is all about layers of spice. It's simple to make something spicy. But to make that spice meld into newer, exciting flavors, therein lies the test.


Rustic tools to crush your own sesame seeds are a good sign.


As is an inventive bowl topped with ishinori, an uncommon topping for this type of ramen (or any type for that matter). Ron Fan delivered on the layers, and the initial spice kick was quickly subdued by the creamy soup. Soon the numbing pepper, wonderful 山椒, did it's thing. An excellent bowl.


Free rice at lunch would be worth the extra 100 yen at dinner. Rice really grabs the soup. By now the ishinori has all but dissolved, leaving its salty essence in the broth.


They also offer up black tantanmen and a super spicy version.

Tokyo, Nerima-ku, Sakuradai 1-6-7
Closest station: Sakuradai

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-1:00am
Sunday 11:00-22:00

Monday, October 24, 2011

一 (Ninomae in Kabukicho)



Here I am with my partner in プレイボーイ crime. Check us out weekly in the magazine.

This shop's name is 二の前. Get it?


Kabukicho is, as I mentioned before, the entertainment capital of Japan. It's actually not as shady as it used to be, as the sin is slowly rotating clockwise along the Yamanote line. My old district of residence, Sugamo and Otsuka, now that place is scummy.

But Kabukicho still retains all the elements of night-on-the-town fun. Ramen is a given, but after a crazy night, you should really be eating crazy ramen, no?


Yes! 挑戦者向き, chousenmuki. Challenger-style.


But before we could get to the crazy ramen, we had to get to the crazy order.


That's a lot to sort out. 5 bowls, a ton of toppings, snacks, and more drinks.


They made it easy by piling all the extra toppings into one bowl.


This is the 女性向き, ladies-style. I nice clear shoyu broth.




... is challenger-style. Not only was a large amount of pork fat added to the broth, it was actually fried in a wok to reduce the liquid. The result is what you see. If it wasn't a cultural no-no, I could stick a pair of chopsticks in vertically. Sludge might be a good way to describe this.


After what seemed like an hour, all challengers had been utterly defeated. Each bite took longer and longer, and by the end we had barely dropped below the rim. It wasn't bad, in the way that pure butter isn't bad.



Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-38-9
Closest station: Shinjuku

Open 24/7/365

Sunday, October 23, 2011

??? Bar in Kabukicho



Kabukicho. If you have ever given more than a passing glance to the famed entertainment capital of Japan, then you know. Hundreds of buildings housing hundreds of mysterious bars, hostess clubs, cabarets, and massage parlors. It's a maze of the unknown, especially if you are an underpaid teacher. Every experience I have had here, and by here I mean deep Kabukicho, has been at the introduction of a more savvy Japanese friend.


Who could possibly know that one of these tiny clubs actually has a kitchen where they serve homemade ramen.


We ordered a few drinks, and a couple bowls to share with the group. Enka was on the karaoke machine, and some chicken stock was being heated in the back.


The homemade liquor reeked of peat, but luckily we had already been out for a few hours before this, and alcohol of any grade had simply become more booze.


The soup was overly salty, just what one would expect at a bar. Apparently Leonardi Di Caprio came to this same spot. Not sure if he had the ramen.


The owner, as is customary, saw us off to the elevator. The hostess with the 2 hour hair and sulky disposition didn't play into the equation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

神名備 (Kamunabi in Nishi-Nippori)



I can say that, as of this writing, that I have been to Kamunabi with the intent of eating ramen 6 times. I can also say that I have only eaten there once. Even this time, a hand scrawled sign apologized, "We will be opening 15 minutes late today."

Needless to say I waited the extra time.


The vibe here is very friendly. When I ordered the shoyu ramen with extra pork, she asked me if I would rather have shio, as it is a little easier to eat. I shrugged it off and stuck with the shoyu. By the way, the ramen with extra pork is pricey, at 1200 yen. A regular bowl comes in at 800 yen.


Don't touch!


Here is what came out. Honestly, I was a bit worried at all that pork. And it looks a little dry, don't you think? Eating a mass of dried out chashu is not a fun task.


That ends the negative speculation of this bowl. Turns out the dry appearance was because this flavorful meat is almost like a sponge, soaking up the dark amber soup. It's really good. Suddenly I could understand why this shop consistently runs out before the day is through. The first taste of soup is remarkably refreshing and light. Vegetable flavors come through in abundance. Then you go onto the meat, tender and juicy if you have pushed it into the broth. And by the time you are at the end, that light taste is back.


Other homemade menu items, like the seasonal onigiri (matsutake mushroom for October) and a couple kinds of puddings were enticing, but the 1200 yen is a bit dear. If you are a fan of chashu in your ramen, live a little, this place is up there.

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Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Sendagi 4-21-3
Closest station: Nishi-Nippori

Open 11:30-15:30
Weekends 12:00-15:00, 18:00-21:00
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Monday, October 17, 2011

蘭鋳 (Ranchu in Honancho)

中華蕎麦 蘭鋳


"Best of" lists are commonplace on the Japanese ramen scene. The grand daddy of all ramen sites, the Supleks Database, has dozens of ways to sort through the best three of any category. Their's is based on scientific formulas; statistics gathered from hundreds of reviews. Mine is a bit less formal. Word of mouth, most of the time. Which is why I had to make it to Ranchu.


I have often said that Shichisai, in the northwestern burb of Nerima, has the absolute best chashu in the city. A few friends, independent of each other, both told me that Shichisai should come in with a respectable silver. The gold going to Ranchu.

Without a doubt I ordered the nikusoba.


Before we get to the pork, the rest of this bowl is spectacular. Most people ordered it with an extra helping of menma, as theirs is great. Something about this bowl felt... special. Maybe it was the suburban location, maybe it was the odd hours that are kept. A must-eat for anyone out on the west side.


And the pork. From the picture, you can judge how rich and meaty it was. Definitely on the podium, but I still like Shichisai's a bit more. They are a bit more delicate and tender. Ranchu is more robust, and a lot larger.


Why not try them both? If you are on a bicycle, you could ride between the two in less than a half hour.

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Horinouchi 2-13-13
Closest station: Honancho

Open 12:00-14:00, 18:00-21:00
Saturdays 12:00-15:00
Closed Sundays and holidays

Cique in Asagaya

Ramen Cique


My list of shops I want to eat at has been growing shorter, albeit slowly. A few of these shops keep strange business hours, and this was actually the 3rd or 4th time I had been by Cique. The other times were either an unannounced holiday or the soup had run out. Popular shops tend to do that. It's all part of the adventure.


Shio is the most popular of 2 choices here, though I went with the shoyu. In keeping with the strange business hours, the shop serves only shio on Tuesdays, and only at night. Take note.


The roasted tomato topping is an excellent choice, and almost every customer ordered it. A drizzle of pan drippings gives the soup a smoky, fruity flavor that intensifies as you reach the bottom. Refined, cafe style ramen.


The interior is classy, with mood music and a dedicated monitor showing beautiful scenes of nature.


Another hit on the west side.


Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Asagayaminami 3-10-8
CLosest station: Asagaya

Open Tuesday 18:00-22:00 (only shio)
W, Th, F 11:30-14:00, 18:00-20:00
Weekends 11:30-17:00
Closed Mondays

Sunday, October 16, 2011

頭 (Kashira in Shimokitazawa)

らーめん 頭


Even though we had just spent time eating and drinking at a 2-hour all-you-can-drink Okinawan place, then another few hours cracking macadamias (and drinking) at a Hawaiian spot, we went for ramen. This is a typical Tuesday in Tokyo.


Where is everyone? What time is it?


Ah, almost 2am, that would explain it. In America, the bars close at 2, and there is a vibrant food culture at that hour. In Japan, the bars stay open until whenever, but the trains stop at around midnight. So the drunken eats are usually done closer to home, further from the place of alcohol. Shimo is close enough for me to call home, so a bowl was in order.


Kashira is your normal bowl of Kyushu tonkotsu (if I remember). The kakuni topping was great (if I remember).


The shoyu version was heavy on the garlic (if I remember).


I don't always bring my camera when I go out late. I will try to remember it more in the future. Because a lot of bowls simply get forgotten in the wee hours.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-16-6
Closest station: Shimo-Kitazawa

Open 11:00-4:00am