Sunday, October 28, 2012

華火 (Hanabi in Shinjuku)

辛麺 華火


Another late night in Kabukocho, Tokyo's entertainment (red light) district.  These nights often start with food at an izakaya or Chinese restaurant, move to a bar, and end with ramen.


Hanabi features a choice of either regular ol' chuka noodles or healthy konnyakumen, noodles made with konnyaku.  こんにゃく is translated as "solidified jelly made from the rhizome of devil's tongue."  No wonder it isn't so popular in America.  It's good stuff, though, and you'll find it in all sorts of Japanese dishes.


Another option is the spice level.  Enter at your own risk.  Spice is healthy . . . right?


It is a good combination, and a little different from the norm.  Recommended for the spice-lover.


The konnyakumen are good, but definitely a one-and-done thing. A bit like a thick version of Vietnamese rice noodles, they have a firm texture.  Dubbed as a healthier choice, I suppose you could add these to your dieting regimen .  What else can you add?


Hmm, maybe not.  But if you visit Hanabi, get the とろとろ豚ナンコツ, slow-roasted pieces of pork cartilage.  Even if it isn't good for your weight, the collagen is supposedly great for your skin.  Fat, happy guy with smooth skin?  Or skinny, sad dude covered with blemishes?

A no-brainer!


Official Site

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Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-3-16
Closest station: Shinjuku

Open 10:00pm-6:00am
Closed Sundays

Thursday, October 25, 2012

椿 (Tsubaki in Ikebukuro)

つけ麺 椿


Tsubaki is smack-dab in the middle of Ikebukuro's shady western district.  Shady?  Let's just say that a hearty bowl of tsukemen might be the perfect food after a visit to one of the many soaplands in the area.  And by area I mean within a stone's throw.


Tsubaki is a camelia, by the way.


The noodles here have been called タピオカ麺 - Tapioca noodles.  Chewy as it gets.


If the soup's taste feels like a repeat of a dozen other tonkotsu gyokai shops, you can spice it up with the shop's own olive flavored vinegar.  Never seen that before!


This could be Tokyo's only dirty martini bowl of tsukemen!


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Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro 2-48-4
Closest station: Ikebukuro

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-21:00
Closed Wednesdays

Monday, October 22, 2012

山橙 (Mikan in Otsuka)



Slim pickings in Otsuka for really good ramen.  At least that is what all the publications point to.  Well, the search continues, and Mikan was the only Otsuka shop with a page in the massive 2012 Ramen Walker magazine.


I should start using the acronym YATG - Yet another tonkotsu gyokai.  Mikan is YATG.


Not that there is anything wrong with that.  There is a reason that so many of these shops are successful.  Creamy pork broth blended with smoky, bitter fish is a winning combination.


YATG that doesn't really stand out.  The one thing I did like was the sudachi tinted vinegar.  The sour citrus goes great on the chashu.

By the way, there is a yakitori shop nearby, named Soten, that is the best in Tokyo.  A little pricey, but if you are a foodie it is a can't miss.


Official Site

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Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Minamiotsuka 3-49-10
Closest station: Otsuka

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

野郎 (Yaro in Akihabara)



I needed a switchable battery case that would allow me to wire three 1.5v batteries in series, a cheap soldering iron, and some flash memory. If eclectic electronic purchases are your task for the day, Akihabara is your destination.


I'm not a fan of this style, but the in-your-face facade drew me in. And the help staff, all cute college-age girls, didn't hurt!


If you aren't down with the intensity of Jiro-style ramen, go for the tsukemen. It is much easier to eat. Well, maybe not that much.


Nothing to comment on really. The chashu was awful; leathery bits that I could barely chew. The noodles and soup were standard for this type. If golden pork liquid is what you are after, better to check out Musashi in Akihabara.




Coming soon to Ramen Adventures . . .




Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Sotokanda 3-2-11
Closest station: Akihabara

Open 11:00-22:00

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

伊藤食堂 (Ito in Kitakata)



I was planning on only having three bowls in Kitakata. But on the walk back to my motorcycle, a little old lady, just shy of 85 years old, stopped me on the street.


She was telling random strangers that the best ramen shop in town was just down the little alley to her right.  Who can argue with little old ladies!


I wanted to continue hanging out, so I invited her along.  Together, we slowly walked the 10 meters in 10 minutes and entered Ito.


As local as it gets.  The place was old, dirty, and empty.  The menu? A stained piece of paper pinned up on the wall.


The tencho fit in perfectly.  Slightly egotistical, he proceeded to tell me which shops in town have horrible ramen, and which shops have horrible staff.  I won't share, but a couple dudes who run ramen shops in Kitakata are apparently すごくダメ.

"What makes your soup so special?" I asked.


It is the niboshi. The dried fish are common in Kitakata ramen, but not at this level. Cooking with niboshi is tough, but if done right it is great for an after-drinks meal.

According to the master, even the foreigners love his ramen.  A group of English teachers living in Shiokawa, the next town over, make a weekly trip to Kitakata for sushi, drinking, and Ito's ramen.


Yeah, this was perfect post-drink ramen.  I should also note that the place wasn't really up to code in cleanliness, and I found a little bug in my ramen.  Not a big deal for me, but I could see that being a big problem for someone used to the spotless, fashionable ramen shops of the big city.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakata, Yachita 7413
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 11:00am-3:00pm, 8:00pm-2:00am

Saturday, October 13, 2012

上海 (Shanhai in Kitakata)



Fellow ramen nut Hiroshi's hometown is actually Kitakata.  I asked for a list of recommendations, and Shanhai was up there.  It is down a small alley, sandwiched between a couple other recommended ramen shops, and very welcoming.


The all-old-lady staff seemed very happy that I could read the menu, which is quite extensive for a Kitakata ramen shop.  The summer limited ramen, a creamy sesame based chilled dish looked inviting, but I went with the standard.  The previous two bowls I had had in this town were just so-so.  So?


The best of the bunch.  By far.  Shanhai's soup is made with pork bones, which is standard here in town, with an added bonus of an overload of vegetables.  You can really taste it.  Refreshing.


This was the only bowl that I drank to the bottom.  The all-old-lady staff was pleased to say the least, and I could hear their giggles as I walked out into the summer heat.


This is my number one, though that is only out of a set of four.  Hiroshi's other recommended shops are:

Menya Gen
Asian Shokudo (next door to Shanhai)

Ask the map lady at the station, she can mark them all on a map for you.


Open early, this would be my breakfast if I lived here.  At least three times a week.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakatashi, Nichome 4650
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 9:30-16:30
Closed Thursday

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

うまか軒 (Umakaken Airport Ramen in Kumamoto)



The Kumamoto airport is a bad place to get a bowl of ramen.


Overcooked is a bad way to serve eggs.


Fried garlic can sometimes fix a bad bowl.


Sometimes not.  And the iPod camera is a bad way to document your ramen travels.


The flight from Kumamoto to Tokyo is awesome.  It follows the coast, from Hiroshima to Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo.

Don't eat ramen at an airport.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

坂内 (Bannai in Kitakata)



The nice lady at the Kitakata station tourist information desk said that no visit to this part of Japan is complete without a visit to a local sake brewery.  Fair, but I was on a motorcycle, so the sake sampling was out.  I went to the brewery anyways.


And our sake talks soon turned to ramen talks.  The sake master suggested Bannai.  I bought a bottle of karakuchi for later, and rode straight there straight away.


Definitely the longest line in town.  Thirty minutes on a weekday afternoon.


Something I've never seen, the staff was handing out sun umbrellas.  Kitakata is surprisingly hot, in the mid 30s, while the nearby mountains are about 10 degrees cooler.


I feel sorry for the neighbor shop.  Living in a shadow all these years.


The line continued inside.  At this point, I grabbed a pamphlet, and it all became clear.  This is the same Bannai that has locations all over Japan.

I never went, as they are strictly a chain operation here in Tokyo.  Not interested.  I might have skipped Bannai in Kitakata if I had realized it before I was already inside the shop.

Yes, it is a mass-produced, money-making operation.  But everything has a birthplace, and the honten here in Kitakata keeps it all original.  Locals assured me that the two are very different.


If you have walked by one of their many operations, you have seen this image.  Enough pork to cover everything.  At 900 yen (both the chain price and the original shop price) it is a steal for that much pork.


Notice I didn't say, "That much good pork."  This bowl was a complete let down.  No depth, just a basic bowl.  I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but left with a disappointing taste.


Looks like there is one a few minutes from my home in Tokyo.  I won't be going.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakatashi, Hosoda 7230
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 7:00-18:00
Closed Thursdays