Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest Week 3

Week 3


気むずかし家 - Kimuzukashiya really brought it with this surprise winner. Beautiful fried chicken, made from local birds from the Shinshu region of Japan, were standard. They could easily have charged 300 yen for this exquisite topping. The soup was just light enough to balance with the tartar sauce and homemade pickles. And the noodles? Premium.


無心 - Muttepo was great as expected. The head shop is famous for the lack of smell, a common problem with straight tonkotsu soups. At the show, though, this bowl was stinky! Given the outdoor nature of the event, we can let this one slide. Hints of yuzu citrus were a bonus.


肉玉そばおとど - Otodo was the most normal of the bunch. A bit garlicky, this one left me smelling of the stinking rose for the next few hours.


IKEMEN HOLLYWOOD was actually kind of tasty. I would recommend it as a good option for a 2nd bowl. The deluxe topping set came with an onsen egg, extra pork, and a massive pile of freshly shaved bonito flakes. Not a bowl I'd eat often, but a perfect palate cleanser for a multi-bowl day.


頑者 - The biggest disappointment of the show so far was Ganja. They are known for really bringing it at these tsukemen events. Every year their bowl seemed to have a bigger impact, a bigger hit of gyokai flavors. This year, though, it was bland and boring. The spicy sauce was their draw, but it wasn't enough to bring this one up from the forgettable shops of the year.


五福星. And the worst was by far Ufushin. What the hell is going on here? The above is the regular tsukemen, a sakura shrimp infused, slightly spicy, utterly forgettable mess. The mega-topping set, for an extra 1000 yen included:

  • a massive peice of chashu bacon
  • an entire tonteki pork loin steak, fried in garlic and ginger sauce
  • garlic chips
  • garlic toast
  • soy-soaked eggs
This was simply grotesque. I felt sick after. And I only ate about a third of it. What were they thinking!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest Week 2


Here is the order I would rank the 2nd week's entries. I have to preface it, though, with the weather. The weather has been either frigid and rainy, or humid and warm these days. This plays a huge roll with the Grand Tsukemen Fest. The bowls are plastic, and you are sitting outdoors. Thus, on colder day, the soup is quick to mellow.


中華蕎麦 とみ田- Tomita, as expected, was the clear winner. Amazing noodles and a soup that is outstanding. This is the gold standard of tsukemen in Japan, and I won't be surprised if the 2012 champion is also the 2013 champion. On the rainy days, they were the only shop with a line.


麺屋 白神 - Hakushin was an unexpected surprise. The soup, a ginger and miso blend, when mixed with the fried ginger pork topping was a meal on its own.


竹本商店☆つけ麺開拓舎 - Takemoto Shoten decided to take the best of the north and make a bowl of it. Hinai chicken is considered one of the top three chickens in Japan, and this soup is full of it. Add in Akita pork, and plenty of dried sardines and roasted shrimp heads. Intense, warming, and not too thick.


博多一幸舎 - Ikosha, hailing from Hakata in the southern island of Kyushu, decided not to go with the standard Kyushu tonkotsu. Instead, they made more of a Tokyo-style tsukemen. It was ok, but I forgot the taste after an hour.


ラーメンJACKSON'S - I really wanted to love this one. Osaka is known for bucking the rules and making crazy decisions when it comes to food. This bowl was chock-full of blue crab and pork bones. But . . . in the middle of a cold autumn typhoon, the soup got cold too quickly and the taste plummeted. Good when piping hot, inedible when cold.


麺処蒼生 - If toppings were the only factor, Aoi would have been at the top! The slow business day meant that they were unloading extra free toppings on customers. Hence the six slices of slow cooked chicken, the two chicken meatballs, the two pork meatballs, and the egg hidden in the soup. Aoi is officially certified as a promoter of local Gunma products, so I feel a little bad putting them at the bottom of the list. Again, I had this on a cold, rainy day, and the taste reflected this. I'll make it to the original shop someday soon and give a proper review!

Like Milli Vanilli said, "Blame it on the rain!"

大つけ麺博の売切れ (Grand Tsukemen Fest . . . Sold Out!)

Don't worry, these shots are from the first week of the event. There are still plenty of opportunities to have some delicious tsukemen this year. This is what happens when you have great weekend weather and a lot of hungry people in Shinjuku!







売切れ - Urikire -  means sold out!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Ramen Adventures TV Spot! - せかいでニホンGO


Ramen - Ramen Adventures on NHK.MOV_snapshot_11.24_[2013.06.14_18.52.55].jpg

Definitely the strangest TV show I've been on. Sekai de Nihongo is a general show about how the world sees Japan. They sit around a digital koi pond and the fish swim to the people who are meant to comment. There is also a CG robot announcer with an annoying high pitch voice. Welcome to Japan.

Ramen - Ramen Adventures on NHK.MOV_snapshot_08.05_[2013.06.14_18.52.29].jpg

This time, they just filmed me sitting at my desk blogging and talking.

Actually, with NHK, they aren't allowed to promote any business, since it is a government sponsored channel. So the quotes about specific shops are a bit on the mysterious side. For the record, I spoke about:
Also, they didn't mention the actual name of my blog, which meant that very few people learned anything about finding great ramen from this show. Weak! I think the site stats showed about 1000 people hitting Ramen Adventures. In contrast, a prime-time show on another channel might give me 100,000 page views.

Monday, October 14, 2013

2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest Week 1


Here are the six bowls of tsukemen from the first week of the festival, in the order I would rank them. Enjoy!


麺屋あっ晴れ (Menya Appare) is a gritty, intense tonkotsu gyokai. The quail eggs are a nice touch. This bowl was worthy of the long line. Over an hour at times.


稲葉 (Inaba) is some of the thickest tori paitan I've had. It is almost like chicken gravy. The perfect bowl to balance out the rest of the menu at the Grand Tsukemen Fest.


吉田商店 (Yoshida Shoten) is a thinner tori paitan than Inaba. The extra-option-topping, duck chashu, should be ordered. I like all the extras going on here. Chicken meatballs, yuzu peel, and some spinach. Solid!


麺や而今 (Jikon) throws as much in the soup as they can; chicken, pork, beef, and seafood. The noodles, made with roasted wheat germ, were my favorite this week.


毘侍家 (Bija) from Kyushu stays as true to bowl from Kurume, in the southern island of Japan, can be if it had to be a bowl of tsukemen. You won't find much tsukemen culture in Kyushu. I longed for a kaedama of nice firm, thin noodles to dump in this soup.


風來堂 (Furaido) brings Sapporo miso to town. The chashu is fantastic, made by simmering pork cheek in only high quality soy sauce not once, but twice. The rest of the bowl, though, was kind of weak.

Lines can get long for the top shops, best to get here with time to spare!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

ソラノイロの秋限定 (Fall Limited at Soranoiro)



Another awesome limited bowl from Soranoiro. This one celebrates the coming of autumn. Some mushrooms, sure, but the highlight is the entire deep-fried sanma. People all over the country are eating oily sanma (Pacific Saury) to ring in the change in weather. Usually, you can find it grilled at your local izakaya.

I'd rather have it in a bowl of ramen any day.

Original post here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The 2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest is Here!


And this is what the entrance looks like.

Let me break it down.


Be sure you buy your ticket before lining up. One ticket works for any shop. You'll probably want the blue one. The pink is ladies size (smaller and ladies only), and the yellow one is for a 0% alcohol beer. There are plenty of nearby convenience stores if you want to bring in your own real beer.


If you love using your smartphone for everything, you can handle your tickets with the tixee app. It's in Japanese though. Acts like a fastpass for the long lines!


Then get in line! On the opening day, a Thursday afternoon, the lines weren't bad at all. The weekends should be a bit more. I can't make any predictions; maybe 30-40 minutes for a popular shop.


If you can read the Kanji characters, there are plenty of shop banners to lead you.


Or just go with the photo. Couldn't be easier!


When you get to the front of the line, you can order extra toppings for some extra yen. Most shops do something like this one; an egg for 100 yen and extra chashu pork for 200 yen. Some shops will have crazy topping choices, so save those coins.


The next step . . . eat! You can sit anywhere you want. Because tsukemen noodles are served cold, you don't need to rush this one like you would with a bowl of ramen.


When you are ready to leave, take your tokens (you get one with each bowl) to the voting boxes.


And give the best bowl your votes. Who will win the 2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest?

Join me and find out? I'll be coming to the event off and on throughout the next month, but for sure I will be there every Sunday evening at 7pm. It is the official "Ramen Adventures オフ会 Offline Meeting!"

Nothing major, just a good time for English speakers, expats, locals, and travelers alike, to meet up and have a few bowls together. Feel free to join the Facebook events page and invite anyone you want.


7pm at the ticket machines. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

みそ味専門マタドール(Matador Miso in Kita-Senju)



Matador, the beef-only ramen out in East Tokyo's Kita-Senju district, is universally lauded as one of Tokyo's best bowls. No one else has succeeded so much with only beef bones. While other shops have tried, their soup ends up being too sweet, or too funky, or just plain bad.


So when the master decided to expand to a second shop, we were all a bit surprised at the choice. Instead of another beef-centric style, maybe a tsukemen or a mazesoba, he went with miso.

Miso! Miso is the one type that has more utter disappointments than successes in Japan. It is also the type that I hate reviewing the most. Why? Because most people love the average bowl. And when you criticize something people love, people stop inviting you out.


Obviously there were high expectations here.


And Matador's miso delivered. The secret blend of misos (shhhh, it is white miso from Kyoto and red miso from Nagano) are just the beginning. Of course, the eye immediately sees that meat; a massive piece of roasted beef rib chashu (aha! they did put some beef in this one). Underneath the beef is a silky chunk of prime fat. The master, Iwata-san, explained that you should immediately exhale after eating this piece. The creamy, fatty フーーーー of you breath is more sensation than taste.


But wait, there's more. Also on the menu is a shoyu-koji ramen. Koji had a bit of a boom last year, and was gone before you could wikipedia what it was. A fermented blend of rice and shoyu, it fits with the miso theme. The taste is almost miso-light.


Nice shop, too. A basement floor has enough seating to keep the lines shorter than they could be.


Check out the video I made!



Tokyo, Adachi-ku, Senjuashicho 43-13
Closest station: Kita-Senju

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-22:30
Sundays 11:30-16:00

Thursday, October 3, 2013

GACHI 油そば (GACHI Aburasoba in Akebonobashi)



I like when successful shops open another branch. I like it even more when each new branch is a totally different concept. Shono, an awesome tonkotsu place just east of Shinjuku, gave way to Gachi, a fried-chicken-tsukemen spot in the middle of Shinjuku's gay-bar neighborhood. Next came Gotsubo, a tiny shop serving vege-centric noodles, next to Shinjuku's famous park. The latest, Gachi Aburasoba, goes with nothing but soupless noodles. Yes, in Shinjuku.


I live in Shinjuku, which made the wheelchair commute less painful than it could have been.


The concept of aburasoba is simple. Just leave out the soup, add a little extra tare seasoning sauce, and make sure there is plenty of high quality abura, fat, to bring the dish together.


Aburasoba can be hit or miss. Without the soup, the noodles need to be extra special. The larger aburasoba chain shops in Tokyo source their noodles from a factory. Not good.

Gachi makes theirs in the back. The thick ones, futomen, are outstanding. The noodle chef bills them as nama-pasta-chuka; fresh pasta Chinese style. Some of the best I've had.


And the oils. 太白胡麻油, sesame oil, and 亜麻仁油, flax seed oil, are both healthy and delicate. Not something you see much at ramen shops.


Add on a dollop of homemade seabura, pork back fat, and mix away.


Also on hand was a thin noodle version. Not bad, but it paled in comparison with those thick ones. Some of the best in town.


They opened on October 1st, so check it out if you have time for lunch in Shinjuku.

Check out my video for GACHI Aburasoba!


Shinjuku, Sumiyoshicho 7-10
Closest station: Akebonobashi

Open 11:00-16:00