Saturday, February 25, 2012

紬麦 (Tsumugi in Akihabara)



What happened to Akihabara? A veritable wasteland for ramen in the past, suddenly it seems like every shop I hit there is a winner. The otaku, with their voracious appetite for cute girls in high school uniforms (2-D of course), as well as an equal appetite for grease and carbs . . . could they be developing a taste for variety?


Finding Tsumugi was tough. Be sure to go out the Showa-dori exit (昭和通り口) and you will be headed in the right direction. Akihabara is shiny and confusing. I spent a few minutes on the wrong side, until a nice girl in a maid outfit pointed me in the right direction.


The shop is in a basement of a bank building, by the way.


Tsumugi's best point are the noodles.


さぬきの夢, the dream of Sanuki, can be seen throughout the shop. Turns out that those excellent noodles are 100% Sanuki flour.


Sanuki, referring to the old name of Kagawa Prefecture, is home to some of the best wheat in Japan. The relatively mild climate along the Seto inland sea is ideal for the production, and the local cuisine reflects this. Of course, 99.9% of Sanuki flour goes into making Sanuki udon.

If you have never had really good udon from Shikoku, you are missing out.


The rest of the bowl works for me. You have 3 choices, the shoyu, the shio, and the tsumugi. The tsumugi is a bit on the sweet and spicy side. Sweet from the abundance of sliced spring onion, and spicy from the addition of both spicy rayu and flavorful sesame oil. Needless to say, there are a lot of flavors for the noodles to grab on to.



東京都千代田区神田平河町1番地 第三東ビル地下1F
Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Kanda Hirakawacho 1, Mitsui Bank Building Basement
Closest station: Akihabara

Open 11:30-14:15, 18:00-20:00
Saturday 11:30-16:00
Closed Sundays and on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month

Friday, February 24, 2012

紅 (KURENAI in Chofu)

麺創研かなで 紅


Yes, this ramen shop is hot. Hot in the spicy sense, and hot in the good-and-popular sense.


The gorgeous wood paneling is a bit out of place in the not-so-gorgeous alley. You'll likely pass a few other ramen shops on the way; dingy places that match better with the surroundings. Kurenai is open late, so you really have no excuse to visit the others.


Three types of miso ramen are on the menu. The standard is a 3-star red bowl. Drop down to the 1-star if you fear heat. Jump up to 5 if you love it. Apparently I love it.


You might think that something is wrong with your noodles. Big ones mixed with thin ones. Mixed with even bigger ones. And smaller ones. It's downright confusing.


The homemade noodles come in 7 sizes. In what would often be considered a noodle no-no, all these sizes are thrown together in the pot. The result is a bit firm and a bit soft with every bite.


The heat of the 鬼紅, devil red, was intense. As expected, I received a warning when handing in the ticket. I also received some laughs as I drank 2 pitchers of water throughout the meal. But I finished every last noodle, every last bit of meat, every last vegetable.


Of which there was a lot. Kurenai prides itself on a massive volume of meat and vegetables (cabbage mostly). A menu option of double meat and double vegetables will yield a bowl with over half a kilo of toppings.


As an afterthought, the devil red was a bit much for me. The spices are choice, high-quality peppers, and the simple red, sans the devil, would be just enough to enjoy the balance. Go for the double meat and vegetables as well, you only live once.


Tokyo, Fuchu-shi, Miyacho 1-12-9
Closest station: Fuchu

Open 11:30-25:00

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

さいころ (Saikoro in Nakano)

肉煮干し中華そば さいころ


The dice in the windows are a sure bet that you're at Saikoro, a short walk from Nakano station.


But the massive neon reads Jiraigen. What's up with that? I remember a trip a few years ago to Jiraigen, a solid shoyu with too much chicken oil in the soup for my tastes.


Turns out they closed up shop, moved a mile away, and extended their hours. Saikoro is Jiraigen, down to the rich broth and chicken oil.


The atmosphere is great. Dubbed Japanese "soul" noodles, reminiscent of a 50's diner, playing loud hip-hop on the stereo, and featuring lock-haired young locals, this is a nabe pot full of modern culture. With excellent noodles.


If I didn't dislike chicken oil, I would be a regular here. That stuff just seems to coat my stomach. Two out of three people would disagree with me on this point. That's why I can reluctantly add this to my ever-growing list of recommendations.


Two out of three ramen fans would drink the bowl dry of soup. Maybe more like nine out of ten.


Check out my video review!


Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Nakano 2-28-8
Closest station: Nakano

Open 11:00-23:00

Monday, February 20, 2012

金字塔 (Kinjito in Akabane)

焙煎汐蕎麦処 金字塔


Kinjito is in every magazine. Kinjito has been visited by all the food-related TV shows. Kinjito has been slurped by an A-list of famous ramen celebrities. Kinjito is, as expected, amazing.


Learn the kanji characters, 自家製, jikasei, as you will see it a lot here. It means homemade, and the number 1 selling bowl (tokusen shiosoba) is full of homemade goodies.


The toppings are a sight. A crispy cracker of puffed rice. Cherry-wood-smoked bacon, homemade. A bright-yellow egg. A chicken meatball, crunchy and rough with cartilage.


The first whiff is accented by white truffle oil. I would be happy stopping there; a simple shio with a little something extra. But 2 kinds of jikasei oil are a draw here.


When the bowl is halfway down, go ahead and add some coffee oil for even more flavors. It's so random, but it works.


When a shop uses a simple shio as a palette for unique tastes, then that shop has often done something right.


Open late.


Tokyo, Kita-ku, Akabane 1-62-5
Closest station: Akabane

Open 11:30-1:00am

Saturday, February 18, 2012

てっぺん (Teppen in Mabashi)



What a day. I set out to try an extremely famous shop on the outskirts of East Tokyo; a shop that took a good 30 minutes to walk to from the station.


Fail! Closed until March 2nd. Tanakashoten, I'll be back. This shop was just a stone's throw from 環七道, the massive loop road that encircles the capital. Expect a minor Ramen Riders event in the coming days.


Fail! I haven't actually tried any of the MacDonald Big American series #4 burgers, but they seem like a fail. Grand Canyon burger, Las Vegas burger, Broadway burger, Beverley Hills burger . . . would you?


This is more like it! After the hour and a half spent riding obscure trains, asking for directions, and walking, I just grabbed a local Chiba ramen magazine and picked the one that was near the station. Teppen turned out to be a winner.

A typical tonkotsu gyokai soup, thick with umami, and piled high with grated onion. Grated thin, the bits of raw vegetable simply melted into the soup. Apologies to the children's English class I had soon after. I hope my breath mints did the trick.


Mt. Fuji may erupt anytime soon, better eat as many gooey eggs as possible before the impending doom.



Chiba-ken, Matsudo-shi, Mabashi 117
Closest station: Mabashi

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:00-24:00
Closed Tuesday

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

一二三 (Hifumi in Kichijoji)



One Two Three, if you look at the Chinese characters for the name of this shop, 一二三, is in every magazine for the past couple of years. Why?


Even though this shop has been popular with print media for quite a while, it strikes me as a bit of a gimmick. One Two Three makes a ramen that is more like a soba. Or maybe a soba that is more like a ramen.


The noodles are mixed with buckwheat flour, and the soup is a simple 和風 style meant to resemble the stuff you get out in a countryside sobaya. Those countryside sobayas, little family run shops that have been grinding buckwheat for centuries, are, dare I say, a more important part of Japanese culinary history than ramen.

But ramen is welcoming. In its world, there is room for everyone. Pizza ramen, come on in. Pineapple, still going strong well after the initial rush has worn away. But soba-ramen? Sorry, there are just too many soba shops out there to make this one worth it.


Tokyo, Musashino-shi, Kichijojikitamachi 1-10-22
Closest station: Kichijoji

Open 12:00-15:00, 17:00-21:00
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, February 13, 2012

GOODMEN in Kashiwa



I had a full day planned in Hibarigaoka. Work, book-ended by ramen. Lucky for me, Hibarigaoka is just a short bicycle ride away. Or so I thought.


Turns out that this Hibarigaoka is an hour away, in Chiba of all places. Chiba is hot on the ramen scene, but low on my radar. A quick search showed a ton of places near Kashiwa station. Rather than read reviews, I went for the the one with the name.


The logo may have played a part in the decision as well.


GOODMEN is your typical, run-of-the-mill tonkotsu gyokai place. As I read the ticket machine, I could hear the staff debating what English phrase they could use to help me, the confused foreigner, come to a decision. Give me a minute, this is one of the most intense topping menus I have seen!


The prices for toppings are so cheap, feel free to go crazy.


Wontons, egg, kikurage, and spicy red peppers.


More-or-less a normal bowl, but the choose-your-own adventure style topping list makes this spot.


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Chiba-ken, Kashiwa-shi, Choucho 5-14
Closest station: Kashiwa

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-23:30
Closed Sundays and on the 3rd Monday of the month