Monday, December 29, 2014

塩川屋 (Shiogawaya in Kitakata, Fukushima)



Shiogawaya is a recently opened Kitakata ramen shop. As expected from a shop with shio in the name, shio is the ramen of choice.


Sorry, Sio.


Shiogawaya's master set out to use not only local Fukushima ingredients, but ingredients from friends and family. The pork is a specialty breed that is raised on a diet of エゴマ, a kind of wild sesame that is meant to give a nice flavor to the meat.


The tare is made by a high school friend of a friend.


And the noodles, of course, are made just down the road.

The pork was oddly lean compared with what you might find at other shops. I usually prefer a bit more marbled fat, but this was a nice change from the many, many bowls I've had in Kitakata. The recommended addition of wasabi was also a nice touch.


The same pork is used to make some fried メンチ - deep fried minced pork cutlets.

Kitakata is famous for the old buildings, and this shop is housed in a 100 year old warehouse. Great care was kept to keep it as original as possible. A beautiful shop, indeed.


Official Site Here


Fukushima-ken, Kitakata-shi, 1-4545
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 11:00-14:00, 18:00-22:00
Closed Mondays

Thursday, December 25, 2014

喜一 (Kiichi in Kitakata, Fukushima)

喜多方ラーメン 喜一


The staff at my favorite Kitakata-style shop in Tokyo, Shichisai, said I should try Kiichi. Thanks for the recommendation!


A beautiful, new shop. Everything is bleached wood and subtle Japanese touches. A bright red maple tree was in full autumn foliage outside the front door.


Plenty to choose from, but the most popular is by far the Shio. Sorry, the Sio.


Simple. To be honest, I wasn't feeling this bowl as much as the others in Kitakata. Maybe it had to do with the fact that this was another 7am bowl, and the previous night had been fueled by Kitakata's other claim to fame, Japanese sake. In addition, this was my fourth bowl, having crushed three the day before. While some raota (ramen otaku) love competing in a Pokemon-esque contest to slurp-em-all, I'm content with one or two bowls a day at max.

This is probably the shop I will return to to sample again. Presentation was beautiful, and the ingredients were all top notch.


The shop has some local history.


And plenty of gifts to take home. Almost all Kitakata shops have take home sets. In a pinch, you could bypass the lines and grab a box or two to prepare at home.



Fukushima-ken, Kitakata-shi, Kamitakahitai, Sekishibamachi, Sakaida 635-7
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 7:00-19:00
Closed Fridays

Monday, December 22, 2014

はせ川 (Hasegawa in Kitakata, Fukushima)



I had the luck of getting to work for Hasegawa back in 2012 at the Grand Tsukemen Festival. The tsukemen was good, but Kitakata isn't known for tsukemen. Time to try the ramen at the head shop.


Hasegawa-san runs one of Kitakata's more successful shops. Open for a mere four hours a day, they command a line on all but the rainiest days. A sunny weekend in the autumn? Forty minutes wait.


We sampled everything. The miso.


The standard shoyu, par for Kitakata-style ramen.


The shio, using a light tare.


The spicy miso.


Great egg! Great chashu. Be sure you order extra.


Although they have options, I say go with the shoyu. While most shops are on the lighter side, Hasegawa is a bit more in-your-face. The chashu is amazing.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakata-shi, Matsuyamamachi, Oizaka, Oarai 6
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 11:00-15:00
Closed Thursdays and some Wednesdays

Thursday, December 18, 2014

あじ庵食堂 (Asian Shokudo in Kitakata, Fukushima)



It has been a while since we'd all eaten in the same place at the same time. Abram and I had spoken about a trip to Hiroshi's hometown for years. Kitakata is a mecca for ramen lovers.  I've been to a few shops on my own over the past few years, always as some sort of side mission on a motorcycle trip. In no particular order:

Bannai Honten
Shanghai Shokudo

Time to add six more to that list. Kitakata, according to local officials, has 122 different shops serving ramen. Yes, this town probably has the largest shop per person ratio in the country.


Kitakata is known for great bowls of asara - morning ramen. Quite a few of the city's 122 shops open for an early service around 7am. Not a bad way to start the day.


Asian Shokudo offers three choices for their soup; Golden-kei, Chacha-kei, and Gattsu-kei. As it was first thing in the morning, the lighter golden broth was the way to go.


Golden, indeed! A great morning bowl. Light, with just enough flavor to let you know that you are in one of Japan's most famous ramen towns. Excellent chashu pork that melts in your mouth.


Asian is right next door to another popular shop called Shanghai Shokudo. Which one should you choose? Why not have breakfast at Asian, walk around for a few hours, and have lunch at Shanghai? Sounds good to me!


The shop is a family affair, with husband and wife manning the kitchen. Even their young daughter helps out with dish washing (and slurping!)


Having slurped at 11 of Kitakata's 122 ramen shops, I can safely put Asian in the top five.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakata-shi, Nichome 4650-29
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 7:00-19:00
Closed Wednesdays

Monday, December 15, 2014

無極 (Mukyoku in Nogata)

無鉄砲 つけ麺 無極


Muteppo in Nogata (about 15 minutes from Shinjuku) is by far one of the best intensely thick bowls of ramen in Japan. The soup, 100% pork bones, is cooked for a day at high heat, resulting in a sludge that is pure pork heaven.


I finally made it to their tsukemen shop, located just a couple blocks away. Same deal, more-or-less, but this time the noodles are thicker.


Like the original, good stuff.


"Hey ladies! The collagen from pork bones is super healthy for you!"


Though Mukyoku is good, the original ramen shop is far above it. One reason is that the soup is all made over at the ramen shop. Watching them slosh around the giant vats of bones is an experience.


Mukyoku is a little closer to the station, if that is what you look for in ramen.


Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Maruyama 2-1-1
Closest station: Nogata

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-22:30
Weekends 11:00-22:30
Closed Mondays

Thursday, December 11, 2014

くじら食堂 (Kujira Shokudo in Higashi-Koganei)



Kujira Shokudo has been open about a year now, and I finally made the trek. Not much of a trek, Higashi-Koganei is only about 20 minutes from Shinjuku, but a trek none-the-less.


In the year since opening, Kujira has been lauded by everyone. The recently released 2014 version of TRY (Tokyo Ramen of the Year) magazine puts them at the #2 overall best new shop. Not a bad way to start your shop's career.




The master, Shimomura-san, trained at one of my favorite shops, Shichisai, and serves up a very similar bowl. He even does a little 手もみ, hand massaging the noodles before cooking to give them a unique texture. This ten second smoosh cuts cooking time in half, and you'll be treated to a much chewier noodle.


A near perfect bowl of shoyu ramen.


When I take people to their first bowls of Japanese ramen, I usually start with this style. The flavors are familiar, but everything is elevated. Every bite is pure comfort, and drinking this bowl dry is no problem.


Many people live on the Chuo Line, the train line heading directly west out of Shinjuku, in more affordable neighborhoods. Not open for lunch, this is probably your best bet for an evening bowl.


Tokyo, Koganei-shi, Kajinocho 5-1-19
Closest station: Higashikoganei

Open 18:00-1:00am
Closed Sundays