Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vegan Ramen at Soranoiro



Here it is folks. Vegan, gluten-free ramen. In Tokyo.

Well, it comes as no surprise. With the global ramen trend showing no signs of stopping, the general global food trends are sure to interfere. And after Soranoiro's master Miyajima-san was invited to Paris Ramen Week, he caved!


I shouldn't be so harsh, as the vegan option is simply an addition to Soranoiro's excellent menu.


Let's get the criticism out of the way first. The noodles.


Ramen, by definition, is made using wheat noodles. Last I checked, wheat was not gluten free. But rice noodles are. So this dish makes use of pho noodles.

You're actually given a choice. If you can deal with gluten, the shop's standard paprika-enhanced noodles are used.


And now for the positive; the soup. The soup is a simple puree of carrots and cabbage, topped with fresh vegetables. As far as vegetable soups go, this one is a winner. Sure, the shop's Veggie Soba is better, using a tare rich with the umami flavors of clams and dried mackerel, but if those things are off your list, the simple shio tare in the vegan bowl isn't much of a compromise.


Japan is very tough to live as a vegan. Many chefs don't understand what vegan is, and you can expect to find fish, definitely eggs and dairy, in many dishes considered meat-free.

I'd be very curious to hear from some of my meat-free readers (do you even exist?) about this bowl. How does it look?

Original Review Here

Monday, May 26, 2014

日清亭 (Nishintei in Hakone)

湯本ハイカラ中華 日清亭本店


High collar Chinese food? What does that even mean? ハイカラ - Haikara - is a phonetic word meaning stylish, in a Western sense.


I've seen this label applied to ramen in the past, but still don't really understand the meaning.


Maybe it means that the shop is a notch above the rest of the Chinese restaurants that dot every city in Japan. The noodles are all made by hand using the old "bamboo" method, where the noodle master basically jumps up and down on a bamboo pole to knead the dough.

They weren't making noodles at the time I went, unfortunately.


These were good noodle for sure.


Coupled with some of the shops limited kakuni - stewed pork - this was one of the most epic post-motorcycle ride bowl I've had.


Hit the spot is an understatement. Tender and sweet, I could snack on this stuff all day. And it sure beats the convenience store food that we tend to eat too much of on our rides.


I'd never been to this station before, but it is packed. Turns out anyone going to touristy Hakone passes through here. Good to know.

Official Site Here


Kanagawa-ken, Ashigarashimogun, Kakone-machi, Yumoto 703
Closest station: Hakoneyumoto

Open 11:00-22:00
Closed Tuesdays

Thursday, May 22, 2014

もり家 (Moriya in Takamatsu)



Udon?!?! But this is a ramen blog! What gives?


In the epic battle for noodle supremacy, ramen and udon are neck and neck, trading blows and refusing to allow a victor.

Not really.

But this is Kagawa Prefecture, home of Sanuki Udon, and Ramen Adventures is now Noodle Adventures, for a day at least.


Takamatsu city is a truly excellent place for bicycles. The sidewalks are relatively wide enough for riding, and the city-wide rental system is fantastic. Grab a bike from any of the dozen or so lots, pay 100 yen (about a buck), and return said bicycle anywhere.


Why am I even mentioning this bit of random travel info? Well, the noodle adventure was big this time around.

I inquired with those in the know about the best place for udon in Takamatsu. This is the biggest city in Kagawa Prefectures, a part of Japan also known as Sanuki. And if that name sounds familiar, it is because Sanuki is synonymous with the tasty wheat and clean spring water used in udon noodles. No one holds even a close second to the thick cut local udon of Sanuki.

Moriya was the number one choice from both a couple Tokyo based foodies and some local SHikoku fishcake makers.

Taxi drivers were also big fans, and will happily drive you to the shop; to the tune of about $50. Yeah, this udon shop is over half an hour drive from the station.

To make a long story short, I rented one of those 100 yen basket-bikes and rode for an hour and a half, up into the hills of Sanuki, for the best udon in Kagawa. And since the udon is Kagawa is the best in Japan, Moriya could be argued to be the best udon shop in the world.


Epic. This was, unfortunately, a national holiday. Over 100 people waiting in line meant a two hour wait.


A wait well into the evening.


Mention Moriya to a native and they will probably remark about the kakiage udon. Kakiage is a tempura fritter made of skinny slices of vegetables, shrimp, and whatever the shop feels will match well.


Moriya's kakiage is full of shrimp and Japanese pumpkin. Many people (myself included) find kakiage to be heavy on the onions, but Moriya struck a perfect balance.


And the noodles. Of course, these were the main draw. Hand-cut from the dough a few minutes before being cooked means a lot of bite, and a chewiness that makes udon feel more like a protein than a carb.

I regret not getting another bowl.


Ninety minutes there, the same back, and about two hours waiting. Was this bowl of noodles worth a five hour adventure? You bet it was.

I love Shikoku, but I'm probably never coming here without my motorcycle again!


Official Site Here


Kagawa-ken, Takamatsu-shi, Kagawacho, Kawanaihara 1575-1
Closest station: Kind of close to the airport, 30 minute drive from Takamatsu

Open 10:30-8:00
Closed Thursdays

Monday, May 19, 2014

瓢太 (Hyota in Matsuyama)



To recommend or not to recommend a ramen shop is a question I often ask myself. Well, if this was just a bowl of ramen, just some food in any-ville, Japan, I would probably say no.

But I digress. This is an awesome shop.


The overhang outside boasts chukasoba, oden, deep fried skewers, and chicken feet, and lists three kinds of shochu alcohol by name. Not your typical ramen shop.


Sure enough, this is a grimy place that locals come to drink and snack on the cheap.


The non-ramen menu is huge. Tempura, homemade croquettes, kimchi-pork stir-fries. The list goes on. Outside the shop, today's specials featured whale sashimi and a raw horse platter.


Oden in droves. All of it was excellent. Keep in mind that this place is a serious dive. You'll be sandwiched in with the locals, and the amount of cigarette smoke was high.


And the ramen. This ramen is, well, interesting. Very sweet, to the point that it wouldn't stand on its own. After a few plates of oden, and a few glasses of local spirits, though, this bowl works. Almost a desert ramen, if such a thing exists.


By the way, they offer a mini-size bowl. Go for that one.


Put this on your list of Shikoku ramen shops, if you haven't already.


Ehime-ken, Matsuyama-shi, Sanbancho 6-1-10
Closest station: Minamihoribata

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:00-23:00
Closed Sundays

Thursday, May 15, 2014

周平 (Shuhei in Matsuyama)

麺鮮醤油房 周平


According to the internet, Shuhei is one of the best ramen shops in Ehime Prefecture's capital city of Matsuyama. And for the lucky traveler with a Toyoko Inn point card (Japan's premier budget hotel chain), this shop is just a minute away.


Homemade noodles in a fragrant shoyu soup are the draw here. The shop uses a super high quality soy sauce from local Kajita Shoten brewery, and you'll be hit with that impact on the first sip.


Decent bowl, open late, what's not to love in this quiet corner of Japan?


Official Site Here


Ehime-ken, Matsuyama-shi, Ichibancho 2-4-11
Closest station: Okaido

Open 11:30-14:30, 17:30-2:00am
Closed Sundays

Monday, May 12, 2014

ハーフ ムーン クラブ (Half Moon Club at the Hattagaya 1-Coin Festival)

ハーフ ムーン クラブ


Ah, Hatagaya. I love this part of town. I live near, so I guess you could say that this is my local burb. Bars, small izakayas, $5 pizza joints; hanging out in Hatagaya always feels right.

And to add to the general awesomeness of the area, they have a food event every month!


A one coin festival. The concept is simple; about 40 local shops offer a drink and snack for 500 yen. Just grab a map at any of the participating shops (or check the website) and go. You can easily spend the entire day bouncing around, drinking and eating and discovering the town.


Of course, there is a point card as well.

On this day, the Half Moon Club, what I always thought was a normal bar, had ramen on the menu. 500 yen for ramen? Definitely.


What a shop! Model guns and erotic art.


Some sort of theme? Not as far as I can tell.


Well, the ramen wasn't the best in town, but it was certainly a nice buffer between other shops on our 1-coin adventure.


Deep-fried skewers and a beer? 500 yen.


Sparkling rose and a fancy salad? 500 yen.


Not pictured: wagyu skewers, Thai curry, fried chicken, and sashimi.

See you next month!

Tokyo, Shibuya, Hatagaya, 2−8−15
Closest station: Hatagaya

Open 7:00pm - 3:00am
Closed Sundays