Thursday, February 27, 2014

桂花 (Keika in Kumamoto)

桂花 本店


Everything in Kumamoto closes early! My list of shops to go to included 黒亭 and 火の国, both of which were closed when I finally checked into my hotel. Luckily, for hungry travelers, everything around the Shimotori shopping arcade is open late.


Kumamon is here to welcome you.


Very cool town. There were a ton of fancy dessert cafes. What's that all about? Anyways, back to the ramen.


This is Keika. It is a bit of a mini-chain, so I never gave it much thought. But 本店 means head shop, so this is a once in a blue moon chance to eat at a famous-around-Japan shop's original branch. And with a kiddy-sized option for only 480 yen, the ramen adventure could continue afterwords.


Nice, but nothing special. The soup; creamy and wonderful, topped with that signature burnt garlic oil that makes Kumamoto ramen famous. The pork; rich and decadent. The egg; a horrid mess. Two out of three ain't bad.


There are a few of these in the Tokyo area, so I might try it someday for comparison. Or maybe not.

Official Site Here

熊本県熊本市中央区花畑町11-9 K-1ビル1F
Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Chuo-ku, Hanabatacho 11-9
Closest station: Hanabatacho

Open 11:00-23:45
Friday and Saturday until 1:45am
Sunday 11:00-20:00

Monday, February 24, 2014

とん太 (Tonta in Oita)



Ramen in Oita?!?! Not really. But with Hakata just a few hours drive away, there is bound to be something pork-heavy to eat.


The taxi driver, a sweet old lady of 75, was raving about the new shop that had just opened near the station. It turned out to be a chain shop. Never judging a book by it's cover, I tried Tonta with an open mind.


Hey, not bad. The soup was rich and creamy. Other aspects of the bowl, like the noodles and toppings, fell flat. Chain-style.


I found out later that there are quite a few of these Tontas, many of them around the Tokyo area. Even a few at highway service areas.


If I had eaten this at a highway service area, I would probably say this was the best highway service area ramen I've had.



Official Site Here

Oita-ken, Oita-shi, Omichimachi 1-2200-1
Closest station: Oita

Open 11:00-2:00am

Thursday, February 20, 2014

じゃぐら (Jagura in Koenji)

豚骨ラーメン じゃぐら 高円寺店


Another local hit on the west side of Tokyo. Jagura is thick!


Anytime a shop names something "special", I usually go for it. One Jagura-Supesharu, please!


Intense. Two different kinds of pork toppings, eggs, extra nori seaweed; and you can't even see the soup. Jagura thickens that soup, a heavy pork broth, with miso.


The staff said that, since the rice is free at lunch, you should make your left over soup into curry rice with their counter-top curry powder.




Official Site Here

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Koenjiminami 2-21-7
Closest station: Koenji

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:30-21:30
Weekends from 11:30 until the soup runs out

Monday, February 17, 2014

参壱 (Sanichi in Setagaya)

麺屋 参壱


I decided to hit up any ramen shop I could find on the 45 minute bicycle ride between my apartment and somewhere in Setagaya. And Sanichi had an air around it that beckoned to be sampled.


Spicy miso ramen? Sure, why not.


A tasty gyoza-set to go with it? Sure, why not.




Also garlicky. Apologies for my fuzzy memory, but this place didn't really register.


Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kamikitazawa 4-30-8
Closest station: Kamikitazawa

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-25:00

Thursday, February 13, 2014

めんこい (Menkoi in Sapporo)



I mailed some ramen nerds with their recommendations in Sapporo. The mail came back with:


I checked, and Okami Soup was open for another 30 minutes!


The taxi driver was insane, drifting around corners and overtaking slower drivers in the snow. A 15 minute drive took about five.


Aaaahhhhh! Disappointment. I paid the driver and decided to walk back to the station, head held low. Would my ramen adventure in Sapporo be a bust?


Apparently not. Menkoi had the look of a winner.


And though they are rather low on the rankings for the Japanese sites I use, they are one of the best for 食べログ.


The house specialty, shio butter ramen, blew away my expectations of what Hokkaido ramen means. All I hear is miso, miso, miso. And though miso ramen is good, it is often the buttery aspect of it that people rave about. Take away the miso, keep the excellent local butter, and we have a winner.

Does Hokkaido equal miso? Well, probably yes. But it doesn't mean that every bowl needs fermented bean paste.


Leaving the store, the master handed me an orange. Awesome.


Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Minami 8, Jonishi 2-2-52
Closest station: Susukino

Open 11:30-14:00, 19:00-3:00am
No lunch on Sundays

Monday, February 10, 2014

熊吉 (Kumakichi in Sapporo)

札幌ラーメン 熊吉 横丁本店


Maybe I never gave an explanation about my job in Japan and the relation to all these seemingly random non-Tokyo ramen adventures. The quick run-down is that I perform in children's shows that visit a different city each weekend. One weekend Nagoya, one weekend Aomori. The performance halls are everywhere, from Abashiri to Okinawa. Nice gig!

But the downside is that free time on a free trip is limited. Often we will fly up Saturday morning, perform, hop a train to the next city, and check into the hotel after 9pm. Sundays are almost always work, work, work, so my only chance to get out and eat is Saturday night.


So that's how I ended up at Sapporo's Raumen Yokocho (ramen alley) on one of the coldest weekends in January.


The ramen alley is described as either a great place for a bowl, or a tourist trap. Regardless, it is super convenient, and the shops are open late.


Or so I thought. I really wanted to go to Karyu, the only shop in the alley with a line, but they were closed for what looked like a family event. Too bad. Hey, that famous guy from TV went here!

The second choice was based purely on the kawaii factor; a cute piece of nori.


Yep, my performance partner and I ducked into Kumakichi because they bothered to print something on their seaweed.


If this bowl is any indication, the ramen alley is a tourist trap. A cheap bowl that did the trick (of making me less hungry), but that failed to impress.


Looks like the local idol group enjoyed their bowls, though.


北海道札幌市中央区南五条西3-8 元祖
Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Minami 5 Jonishi 3-8
Closest station: Sapporo

Open 12:00-2:00

Thursday, February 6, 2014

燈郎 (Toro in Shin Koiwa)



Ah . . . Jiro-kei. I'm sorry, this is actually Jiro-insupaia-kei. I don't understand the details of the difference, but apparently there is one between Jiro-style and Jiro inspired-style.


Regardless of nomenclature, this is a mega-popular shop. The second brand of nearby Itto, Toro (燈郎) is a play on the Japanese characters from Itto (一燈) and Jiro (二郎). Get what they did there?


The relatively new shop has been accepted by just about everyone in the know.


I'm admittedly not a fan of Jiro, or Jiro-kei, or Jiro-insupai-kei, but this one worked for me, thanks to some of the best pork east of the Tama river. Completely infused with whatever soy sauce mixture they cooked it in, this chashu falls apart with the slightest touch of your chopsticks.


But wait, there's more. The shop is known for another meat topping; steak! For a few hundred yen more, you can get an entire steak to go with your ramen. Arteries be damned!


Another plus here at Toro is that you can get a mini size bowl. 150g of noodles is hardly mini, but considering most Jiro, Jiro-kei, and Jiro-insupai-kei give you at least 300g, this is a big point for those with normal size appetites.


I've eaten a lot of Jiro style, and I always say that I don't like it, but then recommend the shop anyways. Just realize that this is an intense style of ramen that would probably be a huge hit in any college town in America, if it weren't for all the health code violations.


Official Site Here

Tokyo, Katsushikaku, Higashishinkoiwa
Closest station: Shinkoiwa

Open 11:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Closed Tuesdays