Friday, May 31, 2013

東京Mods (Tokyo Mods in Takadanobaba)

つけめん&らーめん 東京Mods


If you ever take one of Japan's cross-country buses from Shinjuku station to wherever, you'll probably pass by this shop. On my last trip out of town I just happened to be staring out the window and just happened to see ramen. Tokyo Mods immediately went on my ramen to-do list.


A funky spot for sure. The counter is practically on the street. A street you would expect to be filled with modified 1960s scooters. The more headlights, the better! Alas, the mod style of the Quadrophenia age is non-existent in Tokyo. You'll have to settle for a couple British flags as decoration.


And quirky warnings. No fencing!


But, thankfully, filming for TV was ok. This was the second shop of the day, after being rejected by the owner of a nearby tonkotsu shop. Who wouldn't want the free press?


Tokyo Mods is excellent. The soup is as thick as most tsukemen shops out there (tukemen is written on their awning, but we'll forgive the inconsistency). Mods uses an uncommon chicken-heavy soup. It immediately sets it apart from the norm.


Standard practice with tsukemen is for a ladle of soup owari to be added at the end. Often a simple dashi broth, this thins the sauce-like soup into something you can drink down. Trust me, you're going to want to savor every drop at some of these places.

Tokyo Mods, keeping with originality, provides a thick vegetable instead. Suddenly, you've got something like minestrone in front of you. The veggies change daily, by the way.


A great concept, it totally works.


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Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Takada 3-22-12
Closest station: Takadanobaba

Open 11:30-16:00
Closed Sundays

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

十二社 (Juniso in Shinjuku)

めん処 十二社


A few doors down from the coin laundry I use, on a side street next to the local Dominos Pizza delivery center, is Juniso.


This could be a possible contender for a consistent late-night bowl; if they were only open late.


Everything was solid, nothing stood out. The atmosphere was that of your average just-off-the-main-road ramen shop in Japan.


It is a funky spot, Nishi-Shinjuku-4-Chome. Technically, it is the closest residential hood to the famous skyscraper district (unless you count the massive homeless population in nearby Chuo Park). But despite what I imagine would be a flashy part of town, everything here is positively ancient. Crumbling old houses, 30 year old noodle shops, I even found a well for getting ground water.

Yep, this is my home.


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Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 4-16-3
Closest station: Nishishinjukugochome

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

豚のさんぽ (Butanosanpo in Nagano)



Talk about an adventure! I didn't even plan on eating ramen this day.


Even though Niigata has at least three magazines dedicated to local ramen, I was more interested in the seafood. Cruising along the coast, there are a handful of markets where the older moms and wives of the fishermen sell the daily catch.


Breakfast on the coast did not disappoint. An entire crab for less than 1000 yen. I guess she liked my enthusiasm, and the extra half was thrown in for free.

This is local food in Japan. Anyone who has toured by car, bike, or bicycle knows what I am talking about. Please try get off the beaten path.


So I was just riding the bike into the mountains, in search of some remote hot springs. Then . . . this!


End of the road. It was still about five kilometers to the destination, which obviously was not going to be the destination anymore. Then, a minute later, a group of skiers appear. How cool is that! Skiing down a snowed-in road!


Oh, this guy? He rounds the corner and says, in Japanese, "Are you that ramen guy?"

It was then and there I knew that I needed to go eat ramen.


Stopping for some free wi-fi and coffee in Hakuba.


I found the nearest acceptable spot.


Into the GPS it goes.



I had a veritable hero's welcome when I rolled the bike up in front of Butanosanpo. Yes, countryside Japan is still fascinated with us foreigners. The bike, a bright orange KTM, makes a bit of a statement, too.


This shop isn't just a ramen shop. The menu is full of pork options. The name of the shop is, anyways, buta no sanpo, meaning a pig's casual stroll. And though this spot is far enough in the countryside to mean that almost no one will take a casual stroll here, the point is taken.


Plates of pork curry, thick kakuni over rice, and all kinds of sides.


Two styles of ramen. The light gaku ramen, and the heavy jiro inspired style.

Eating jiro and riding the bike isn't an option, so the light one it had to be. Get the extra chashu. Thin and melts in your mouth. As expected from a place with buta, pork, in the name.


If you can eat a quadruple-sized serving in less than 20 minutes, you eat for free.


Next time!


Official Site Here

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Nagano-ken, Omachi-shi, Nishinamachi 3168-8
Closest station: Shinanoomachi

Open 11:30-14:00, 17:00-22:00
Friday and Saturday until 24:00

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ramen Riders! 門前の湯ホテル



A beautiful spring day! The perfect day for a ride.

twisty 1.jpg

We set out, about 10 of us, to travel from coast to coast. Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan without touching an expressway. Twenty four mountain passes was the goal. It was epic.


This annual ride always ends at the Monzen Hotel in Niigata. Less than 5000 yen for a night, plus a hot spring and restaurant. These kinds of places are commonplace in Japan, and simply searching for "Business Hotel" instead of your standard Hiltons and Hyatts can save you a fortune on your travels.


What's this? Homemade shoyu ramen? While I was content on fried octopus and beer, I couldn't pass this one up. An inquiry revealed that the soup is made in house.


What followed was shocking. The soup? Perhaps homemade, but it tasted like something out of a can of concentrate that had been diluted too much. And that wasn't even the worst part!


Noodles shouldn't do this. A massive brick of noodles, some mushy, some barely cooked.

The Ride

The ride? I just joined the Day 1, while my friends went off to see other parts of Japan. Looks fun, sorry I couldn't go.

Twistybutt is named after the Iron Butt, an internationally recognized ride of 1000 miles in one day.


That's 1600km for you people on the other system of measurement.

I did an Iron Butt ride once. Never again.


Very few photos from this day of riding. The coast to coast ride goes from 4am until about 9pm, with very few chances to stop and take photos.

Stay tuned for the return trip!


Ummmmm . . .

twisty 3.jpg

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The address and hours are irrelevant. Please don't go here for ramen!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

杉もと (Sugimoto in Koenji)

鶏味噌らーめん 杉もと


Miso plus creamy tori paitan. A recipe for success?


The folks at the Setagaya ramen conglomerate think so. There are quite a few shops and quite a few styles under the Setagaya banner, and this is the newest.


The soup and noodles; decent. A little forgettable, but that just might be me.

The memory here is with the toppings. Chicken offal. Yep, chicken guts, hearts, cartilage, and skin, oh my.


This is Japan . . . this sort of thing isn't rare. But as a ramen topping, this is a first. And a last for me.

These kinds of eats have their place; at your local yakitori spot. Roaster skewers of everything-inside-a-bird. Places where my friends can order the chicken intestine, and I can stick with some run-of-the-mill breast.


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Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 2-16-2
Closet station: Shin-Koenji

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

IKEMEN at the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum



Straight from Japan to America, and back to Japan. IKEMEN Hollywood is the most buzz-worthy thing in ramen in Japan at the moment.


The story started with Nakamuraya being recognized as one of the stellar bowls in Japan. Years later, and Nakamura-san himself made the move to America. Southern California.


What followed is a confusing account of failed ventures ranging from a ramen food truck to a molecular gastronomy ramen shop to who knows what else.

I've heard that Nakamura-san is out in New York now, running some sort of noodle factory. He left in his LA-wake IKEMEN, a shop that I visited sometime last year. I wasn't impressed.

But, to my surprise, Japan wanted to see what was up with this spot, minus the 11 hour flight. There is now a temporary IKEMEN at the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.


Let's get right to the weird menu item. The Ghost Buster Dip has a roasted marshmallow thrown into the soup. The entire shop smells faintly of burnt s'mores. The taste is what you would expect from melting marshmallows into your soup. Whether that is good or bad is up to you.


I will just leave it at that.


The fiery Backdraft Dip is topped with an entire dried chile! Kind of waste of a chile, but it looks good in photos.

Anyways, about these bowls, they are much better than the Hollywood versions. The reason? It is the noodles. These are sourced from Mikawaya Seimen, the local king of locally produced noodles. A big improvement.


The winner here was the ramen. The mushroom ramen uses a ton of quality bonito for a rich, smoky taste. You can even order an extra serving of the flakes, freshly shaved. Combined with the mushrooms, it is an umami explosion.


I don't think many people will go for the ramen, though, when the tsukemen has names like Johnny Dip, Ghostbuster Dip, and Backdraft Dip!


Official Site Here