Friday, September 28, 2012

秋限定 (Fall Limited Ramen)


Get them soon, because the ever-popular Aki Gentei - Autumn limited offerings - will only be here for a month or two.

Along with staff from Playboy, we checked out a handful for an upcoming magazine feature.  I would say the theme this year is creativity.  These are all top shops in town, and though I can't recommend the limited offerings over their standard bowls, these are a lot of fun.


Gamushara does a miso wonton with super-secret-spicy-punch sauce.  Intense!


Soranoiro makes a thick corn potage soup, topped with crab.  Do you like corn?  Japan is a little corn-crazy, throwing it in anything deemed Western.  Corn on your pizza, corn in your spaghetti, chocolate covered corn.  Personally, I don't enjoy the stuff in any form aside from tortillas.


Basanova brings a Tex-Mex inspired chili bean tsukemen to the table.  The chashu is smoked by a friend who runs a nearby barbecue spot.  Definitely the highlight; I would like to see more smoked meats used as toppings.


Shono goes nuts with their gentei.  Actually, Shono is know for their monthly gentei being a completely off the wall artistic experiment.  This month's has - deep breath - shioyaki sanma (a type of fish), fried yam chips, ginger mousse, plum mousse, and an egg drop soup with a piece of smoked sanma inside.


The mad scientist himself.


Saikoro draws inspiration from his wife.  Dubbed LiL Mama Ratatouille Curry Tsukemen, the ratatouille is created by Mrs. Soul Noodles, the curry soup my Mr. Soul Noodles.


Mutahiro serves up the most "normal" gentei.  The shio niboshi soup is crisp, the Autumn toppings simple.  And the staff?


Fun shop.

The Autumn gentei special will be in Weekly Playboy on October 8th, check it out wherever finer Japanese magazines are sold if you have a chance.  Actually, that will be my one year anniversary working with them.  よろしく!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

鶏そば 一瑳 (Torisoba Issa in Urawa)

鶏そば 一瑳


Urawa lies north of Tokyo. I met a friend for drinks, and the locals all pointed to Issa as the best ramen in town.


Homemade noodles and a choice of thin or thick chicken soups. The staff told me to go with the lighter soup for my first time.


Fantastic. I really like the way that the toppings are all cut into thin strips to match the thin noodles.


We were in quite a drunken state for this bowl, due to a nearby 300 yen nomihodai. Nomihodai is all you can drink, a common concept in Japan. And 300 yen is less than $4. I usually prefer a heavy soup as hangover prevention medicine, but this light soup did the trick.


Saitama-ken, Saitama-shi, Urawaku, Takasago 1-8-11
Closest station: Urawa

Open 11:00-15:00, 18:00-25:00

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Noodle World 2012

Noodle World 2012


The Inter-Food Noodle World is an annual industry food event, with a focus on noodles.

I managed to snag a pass, let's see what this is all about!


Anything noodle related, you can be sure it is represented here. There were half a dozen noodle manufacturers on site. Most ramen shops in Japan use noodles that were made at a factory. Don't let the word factory dissuade you; these are often very high quality. Back in the USA we have a few of these noodle factories, and if you have a bowl in a major coastal city the chances that you are eating Sun Noodles or Yamachan are very high.


Be careful at these industry events, or you will be loaded down with more samples than you can carry.


Variety is key in Japan. Often a shop's secret recipe isn't such a mystery, but the careful selection of ingredients is what make it stand out. Do you want niboshi from Chiba or niboshi from the Seto Sea?


Miso from Hokkaido.


Kitchen equipment. This pressure cooker lets you make a 12 hour stock in about two. You might need a second mortgage on your home to buy one though. Very cool technology. I had a chance to use this cooker in Osaka, which I will write about someday soon.


Ticket machines with digital touch screens. SUICA is charge card that is meant for use on the trains, but has since become a standard form of payment. Choose your ramen, then just wave your wallet in front of the machine. Slick!


This expo isn't just for ramen. And despite being called Noodle World, there are also sections for izakayas, hotel foods, and franchising.


I tried to talk to as many ramen-related exhibitors as I could before heading out to non-ramen sections. Can you guess why? These expos are an easy place to get very, very drunk.



Why buy US fries? According to the info-graphic . . . we're #1!


Whale anyone?


When you start to spend some time talking with the black sesame fountain guy, maybe it is time to go.


The next day, I made some nice mazemen with the noodle samples I got from Maru Yama Seimen.



大つけ麺博 (Tokyo Tsukemen Festival 2012)


It's time again for the annual Tsukemen Festival!

Every year, famous shops from around the greater Tokyo area get together to serve up some tasty limited edition tsukemen dishes in a festival atmosphere.  Each week, for three weeks, eight of them show up and battle it out for the top spot.  I went and actually worked at it with Ivan Ramen a few years back:

This year, the theme is a little different.  Instead of only popular shops from Kanto, they are bringing in people from all over the country.  Japan is known for regional flair in gastronomy, so this should be a tasty event indeed.  The participating shops all had to win their spots in a nation-wide vote.

To make it even more tasty, I will be working there again (hooray!) on Sunday, September 30th.  Hasegawa - はせ川 - comes to you from Kitakata, a Fukushima town famous for simple, refreshing ramen.

How does it look?

食堂はせ川 メニュー写真

Please come on down this coming Sunday to say hello and grab some good food.  Of course, try the ramen from Hasegawa, but feel free to stick around for another two, three, or seven bowls!

Just go to Daimon Station and go out exit B4.  B4 you know it, you will be enjoying a wonderful bowl!

More info at their official site here.

The festival runs from Thursday the 27th to Wednesday the 17th of October.  If you can't make it to my day, don't worry, there are plenty of tsukemen slurping chances ahead.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

真空 (Shinku in Machida)

辛麺 真空


I was in town, and thought I would stop by that Rock n' Roll 69 shop in Machida. You know, the one where you aren't allowed to speak in the shop. I really want to hate that place, due to the stupid rules, but their ramen was fantastic.


Anyways, out of soup as usual.


A nearby back-alley had a rather spicy looking shop. Shinku's motto is, "Spicy . . . but good."


Sure, it was ok. Just enough spice to kick up the oily, cheesy blob of noodles.


The shop is known, I gathered, for their limited menu items. Doing a monthly, or even bi-monthly gentei ramen is an easy way for a local shop to stay relevant.


They've been in all the local magazines, though a lot of these are as useful as a phone book for finding choice ramen.


Tokyo, Machida-shi, Haramachida 4-1-5
Closest station: Machida

Open 11:30-22:30

Monday, September 17, 2012

龍天門 (Ryutenmon in Ebisu)



Michelin one-star ramen? Sort of.


Definitely a Michelin one-star price! That 3400 yen comes to about $40 for this limited summer dish. Lunchtime only. At dinner, Ryutenmon is typical of ultra-gourmet Chinese restaurants; I'll have to get back to you about the $700 a person chef's course.

If the limited hiyashichuka, cold noodles often eaten in summer, is any indicator, that course is going to be a random spattering of exotic ingredients.


Fried ginko root, unagi, jellyfish, and a few kinds of baby tomatos.


Edamame beans, stewed apricot, sliced ark shell, and choice beef flank. All in a black vinegar sauce. Very sweet and sour.


I won't say it was worth it, because that is a lot of cash to drop on some noodles. But it was definitely something special. The noodles are handmade, of course, by Chef Chin.


Tantanmen is available year round. The limited hiyashichuka is not. I've seen these summer noodle specials at a few high-end hotel restaurants, and they usually last only the months of July and August. See you next year!


Friday, September 14, 2012

ジャジャンハウス (Jyajyan House in Okubo)



Korean-style Chinese food in Japan. That sums up Jyajyan House in Okubo.


Okubo is Tokyo's Korea-town, for those out of the loop. But like the Yokohama China-town, it has taken on an uber-touristy feel. With the boom of K-pop fandom in Japan (I'm looking at you mid 30s to 50s Japanese housewives!) the place is a bit of a madhouse these days. I'm talking fleets of tour buses at noon on a weekday.

There are plenty of Korean staples. Yakiniku, bibimbap, and chijimi shops along the whole block. There are even a few places to get ramyeon, that Korean cousin of ramen.

Most Korean noodle spots here use instant noodles. Not interested.


Apart from the kimchi, this isn't very Korean***. True to the sign on the shop's door, this is Chinese with a Korean twist. The noodles are hand made on site, lamein style.

***I shouldn't make assumptions about Korea, since I know very little about noodle culture there. According to a reader's comment, this combo is quite common in Korea, and is maybe the quintessential Korean-Chinese noodle dish.


Probably the number one item on the menu is the double plate of jyajyamen and champon. The champon is chock full of strange seafood bits. Strange by a Western standard. But, remember, this is Korean-style Chinese food in Japan. That's a lot of east.


And, they deliver.


Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-32-17
Closest station: Shin-Okubo

Open 11:00-3:00am

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hachi in Shinjuku



Hachi was a recommendation from a friend who says she knows the owner. Maybe I heard the shop's name wrong, or maybe she doesn't know which shop is which, but the tencho here was confused as all when I tried talking to him about our mutual friend.


Regardless, Hachi is in all the magazines, so I guess it is worth a try.


It was a bit underwhelming. Not a lot going on.


Counter-top condiments to the rescue. The shop has not one, but two secret blends for your seasoning needs. The dry mix looks to have half a dozen or so spices to grind into your soup. And the ceramic jar, it is a fishy tare sauce that adds some much needed depth to the ramen.

I usually don't flavor my ramen too much, but here I doused it. It made it better.


Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 7-18-7
Closest station: Shinjuku

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-23:00
Closed on the 4th Sunday of the month