Thursday, November 28, 2013

柳明館 (Ryumeikan in Urawa)



Route 17 stretches north, from Tokyo all the way up to Niigata.

National Route 17 shield

Historically an important route, it is now a traffic-packed 8-lane road that lets you know loud and clear that you probably should have spent the extra yen for the expressway.


But the slew of 2-ton trucks need places to stop, and hearty ramen is a popular option. The crowds here aren't drawn bu subtle kodawari taste, but by variety and calories.


Ryumeikan serves a dozen or so different bowls. The most popular?


Stamina ramen. I prefer the Ibaraki-style of stamina ramen, with liver and pumpkin being the stamina ingredients of choice. Here, in more of a Saitama-fashion, that extra boost of energy is coming from garlic, nira (garlic chives), more garlic, and some sliced chicken.

A piping hot bowl that will leave you reeking afterwords.


The miso ramen topped with spicy onion is another popular menu item.


Plenty of seats, even if one is reserved exclusively for the use of the Japanese national women's soccer team. Ganbatte Nadeshiko Japan!


Official Site Here

Saitama-ken, Toda-shi, Bijoji 7-1-4
Closest station: Nishi-Urawa

Open 11:00-24:00

Sunday, November 24, 2013

虎愼 (Koshin in Nishi-Shinjuku)

煮干しそば 虎愼


Another shop in my neck of the woods that I hadn't been to. Still recovering from my recent motorcycle crash, anything withing a one kilometer radius is a bonus.


This super simple bowl of niboshi ramen . . .


. . . delivers! A very local, comfortable feel. Nothing crazy, nothing really worth a long trek.


But this is definitely one that I'm happy to stop by now and again.


Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Yayoicho 3-17-2
Closest station: Nakanoshinbashi

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-22:00
Closed Wednesdays

Thursday, November 21, 2013

おとど (Otodo in Koenji)

肉玉そば おとど


For a recent TV shoot, we were asked to go to Otodo in Koenji. I'd never been there. While the original shop in Chiba commands long lines and respectable rankings, this one down the PAL arcade street in Koenji always looked rather chain-ish to me.


We were asked to actually recommend this one as our top pick for shops that were participating in the 2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest. I'm not a "TV talent", and I refuse to recommend bad ramen; both on this site and in the media. Luckily (for the crew of six) Otodo is decent enough to get a nod.


The concept is a little strange; tsukemen that matches with rice. Often, some white rice is dumped into a bowl after the noodles are done. At Otodo, though, you are meant to eat the rice and noodles together. Yeah, they suggest that you put noodles on the rice as a topping.

I have to say, this was dumb. The noodles are cooked softer than average to accommodate this . . . technique.

Look, the rice is free here, so give it a try if you want. Then get back to eating your tsukemen like a normal person.


The way that I do it is to dump that raw egg on the rice, top it with some of the fried pork, and go from there. Donburi-style, the garlic-heavy pork stir-fry is excellent. A word of warning, you will stink after this one.

Even though there is no connection to Tokushima-style ramen, this bowl is like a cross between that and some Chiba gatsuri. Heavy stuff for workin' dudes.


Did our TV recommendation drive any sales to Otodo?


3rd place at the festival! Way to go guys!

Official Site Here


東京都杉並区高円寺南4-25-4 第8東京ビル1F
Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Koenji-Minami 4-25-4
Closest station: Koenji

Open 11:00-1:00am

Monday, November 18, 2013

東京ラーメンショー (2013 Tokyo Ramen Show)



Time again for the annual Tokyo Ramen Show! I said I wouldn't go this year, but the nice weather meant that I should probably leave the house. 10am is a good time to show up, as the lines weren't too bad.


You can safely jump in the longest one at this time, and only have to endure about 30 minutes. Later in the day and you can expect hours.


This was a collaboration bowl from a top shop in Akita and a top shop in Miyagi. The Tokyo Ramen Show is all about collaborations. Once in a lifetime chances to try something unique. Famous shops teaming up, local cities putting their best bowl forward, and a lot of one-off experiments.


Last year, this ebisoba bowl was just awful.


The Nagoya crew's line was short, but their spirits were in full force.


The dude with the mohawk? He is the owner of Mohican Ramen in Kyushu.


Nakamoto, the mega-famous red-hot ramen shop, always teams up with someone for this event. Last year was with Ippudo, and this year was with Shinpu, another Kyushu tonkotsu joint.


90% Shinpu, 10% Nakamoto. I prefer that ratio, as Nakamoto's spice tends to be a bit much. Just a little kick for good measure here.


Mr. Ikuta, aka Mr. Nagi, helped with a group collaboration that did a different style every couple of days. How was their Onomichi style ramen?


Very nice!


Gari Gari Kun!


Free stickers.


The event has a whole row of extra stuff. Like this ramen quiz booth, set up by the Japan Ramen Association. Featuring Renge-chan (spoon girl).


I almost answered everything without having to look at the answers. The four questions on the questionnaire (win a button!) were:

Who was the first Japanese person to eat ramen?
When did Ogikubo's Harukiya first open?
Was is the full name of the Nisshin Corporation?
When did the Tokyo Ramen Show first start?


Thank you Osaki-san for being the man behind this event. Please put more chairs out next time! When the boss has to sit on a flower planter, you know the place is packed.


The event will go until November 24th. Check it out if you have the time. As always, nothing was stellar (eating out of plastic bowls outside isn't ideal ramen conditions), but the event is a fun, random food experience. If you want my ranking of the bowls I tried, here you go:

  1. The Akita x Miyagi collab. Great chicken flavor with a kick of seafood.
  2. Tomita x Daruma. Creamy Hakata tonkotsu with the roughness of Tomita's signature soup.
  3. Nakamoto x Shinpu. My favorite Hakata spot with a spicy kick.
  4. Onomichi-style. A bunch of Ramen Association dudes mucking around making good ramen.
  5. Hakodate "ocean" ramen. Shio ramen with tons of seafood flavors.

I'd suggest getting a bowl at a spot with a short line, then eating that bowl while you wait in a longer line. Hours waiting on an empty stomach is bad for your health!

Official Site for the Event

Ramen Adventures TV Spot! - Zoom In Super!

Zoom In Super!

Zoomin Super.avi_snapshot_07.19_[2013.06.14_18.44.54].jpg

This was the first TV spot I did in Japan, back in 2010. Zoom In Super! is now off the air, but my memories will remain forever. やっぱりうまい!

A very weird experience. The production staff set up a tiny camera in front of me, then left the shop so I could eat with no one around. They wanted reactions, but who over-reacts to food when they are alone. Strange indeed!

Zoomin Super.avi_snapshot_08.17_[2013.06.14_18.46.25].jpg

We went to three of my favorite shops at the time.
  1. Basanova
  2. Fuunji
  3. Nagi Shibuya
Hey, these are still three of my favorite shops!


I still have that jacket!

I still have a camera that only focuses in my own hands!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

しゃもじ (Shamoji in Hamamatsu)



Hamamatsu, located midway between Tokyo and Nagoya, is an interesting city. To quote my 7th grade French teacher, who also taught us international manners, "If you don't have anything good to say about something, say it is interesting."


Food-wise, ramen is at the bottom of the list of Hamamatsu food. Number one is surely unagi, eel from nearby Lake Hamaman. There are quality shops on every block, as long as you have the money to spend. Number two is gyoza. For some reason the per-capita of pot sticker shops is one of the highest in the nation. From just walking around a bit, I'd say that trendy trattorias are number three. I didn't walk around for long.


But what about ramen? Well, one of the highest ranked spots on tabelog (Japans answer to Yelp!) was Shamoji. The shop doesn't even register on any of the ramen ranking sites.

Rankings are a relative thing outside of the big cities.


Despite having some tasty chicken meatballs, this bowl was just another weak shio ramen. Shop signs boasted that it is all local chicken, but the only time I get excited about toppings is when they accentuate an awesome bowl. A boring bowl with some tasty つくね? Put that stuff on a skewer for the yakitori shop down the road from me!


Shizuoka-ken, Hamamatsu-shi, Naka-ku. Shinmeicho 218-16
Closest station: Hamamatsu

Open 18:00-28:00

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest Week 4

Well, the 2013 Grand Tsukemen Fest is finally over this week (November 6th, 2013). Twenty-four shops made the trek out to cook, serve, and compete in the all-tsukemen fun. My ranking for the fourth week is as follows:


錦本店 - Nishiki, from up north in Akita Prefecture, brought an awesome bowl of thick niboshi tori paitain. Made with primo chickens (Akita is famous for their Hinai poultry) and primo niboshi (Akita is also famous for their seafood), this was probably the best local-flavor bowl of the show.


六厘舎 - Yes, Rokurinsha came with the same thing you can get 15 minutes away at their brick-and-mortar shop. But there is a reason Rokurinsha has been such a dominant force on the tsukemen scene; it is the perfect blend of thick pork and smoky fish. Homemade noodles put this one over the top. The plastic bowl knocked it down a notch.


中華蕎麦サンジ - Almost everything about Sanji's bowl was perfect. From the homemade noodles to the rich soup with just a touch of beef bones. Everything except the salsa. Who is that for?


ラーメン人生JET - Jet was super simple. Nothing but chicken went into that soup. Muslims and Jews rejoice, this simple bowl from Osaka is just what you need.


支那そばや - Shinasobaya's master, Sano-san, is a legend in the ramen world. So much so that he can kind of do whatever he wants at an event like this. This year, he chose ingredients from all over Japan; Shinshu pork, Usura salmon roe, and Kujo leek. The bowl didn't impress, though. The ikura fell off the noodles, and their flavor got washed away.

I feel bad giving this a low ranking, because Sano-san himself gave me a cell phone accessory strap when I met him.


麺屋 卓朗商店 - Takuro Shoten comes in unlucky last this week. Shio as a broth was way to thin, and lacking of much flavor. Yes, that is a syringe of basil puree in the middle. Yes, it was a goofy gimmick that ended up squirting all over the place. Good pork though.

Who will come out on top? Stay tuned!