Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hulu-lu in Ikebukuro



Hawaiian-themed ramen in Ikebukuro? I'll admit, I was skeptical of this one!


The default ramen-like noodle dish in Hawaii is called saimin. I had some once and it wasn't something I would be rushing to do again anytime soon. Soggy noodles, strange toppings, and a weak soup. I expected Hulu-lu to either be some sort of saimin thing, or I expected spam. Or pineapples.


What you get is a solid shoyu in the new style. Bits of fried onion highlight a mellow soup. Everything about this bowl is subtle and relaxing. How Hawaiian of them!


I have to mention the noodles. Made in the back by the master, they are firm and chewy. I was taken aback by how good they were. Siamin noodles are horribly soggy, so to have some perfectly cooked noodles was a surprise indeed.


Ikebukuro tends to be a bit rough around the edges, so this little oasis is a welcome addition to my recommended ramen list. Be warned, though, they run out of soup at times.


The spam. Yes, in Hawaiian fashion, there is spam. But not as a topping or ingredient in the soup. If you purchase the spam set (you should), you get a wonderful spam rice ball. Filled with konbu seaweed and a shiso leaf. It is even wrapped in plastic, so you can take it with you and have it later. Give it a try!


Mahalo Hulu-lu!


I made a video with the Yummy Japan crew. Check it out!


Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro 2-60-7
Closest station: Ikebukuro

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-21:00
Sundays 11:30-15:30
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, July 28, 2014

蕾 (Tsubomi in Oimachi)


I work once or twice a month at a beauty college teaching English to first year students. And let me tell you, after four hours of that kind of work, you build up quite an appetite.

Luckily, within a 500 meter radius of the campus, there are dozens of ramen shops.


Tsubomi (lit. flower bud) has an odd theme going on. Did you spot it in the photo above?

There are some random Evangelion themed signs scattered about, but that is about it for the tribute to one of the greatest anime series of all time.


I'll admit, I am into quirky atmosphere, and would have really dug a shop that was over the top anime.


The ramen? A hearty tonkotsu shoyu that felt to be 100% Yokahama style, though the shop isn't an ie-kei ramen joint.

By the way, you will stink after this one. Sorry, stylish future hairdressers of Tokyo!



Tokyo, Shinagawa-ku, Oi 1-34-8
Closest station: Oimachi

Open 11:30-23:00
Closed Sundays

Thursday, July 24, 2014

はしづめ (Hashizume in Hiroo)



I recently slammed a horrible ramen place in Hiroo, one of the wealthier parts of Tokyo. Apparently the foodie community took offense, and I was quickly schooled as to where the better noodles in town are.


Schooled indeed. Hashizune is what I expected of a noodle shop in the high-rent side of town. Elegant design (you might think it was a nice sushi-ya at first glance), plenty of extras on the menu, and quality drinks. More on those in a minute.

Above is the noodle menu for the day. Shark fin, Hong Kong style paikomen, and the simple steamed chicken with negi oil all looked good.


This shop is an extension of Shinagawa-based Hashizume Seimen noodle factory. Expect a choice of specialty noodles with any order. Today's selection was:

ごぼう - Gobo is burdock root
モロヘイヤ - Mulukhiyah is a kind of Middle Eastern herb
こしょう - Pepper
花椒 - Kasho, or Sichuan pepper
とまと - Tomato


The staff recommended the chicken. I chose the kansho noodles for a bit of kick to match the simple soup. An excellent all around bowl; nice wafu flavors with tender steamed chicken and crispy cabbage. I'll be back for some of their other dishes soon.

The noodles were very good, as expected from a long-running noodle factory.


Hashizume can be affordable, as the noodles are in the 1000 to 1500 yen price range. Certainly above average, but nothing outrageous (though the shark fin ramen was 2400 yen). Of course, if you start ordering off the side menu, prices can get a little high. Having just finished work, a little Japanese sake was in order. A nice offering from Shimane Prefecture.


After the noodles, I still had a bit of nihonshu left, so I tried to order a small appetizer to match my sake. However, with a slight grammar error on my part, instead of ordering "An appetizer that matches well with this sake," I ordered "An appetizer and another order of this sake."


Official Site Here


Tokyo, Minato-ku, Minamiazabu 5-16-10
Closest station: Hiroo

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-22:00
SUndays 11:30-20:00
Closed Wednesdays

Monday, July 21, 2014

満月 (Mangetsu in Sakata, Yamagata)



The roots of Sakata ramen date back to the end of the Taisho era, sometime in the 1920s. It is a simple story; a Chinese guy's ramen was popular, and spawned a slew of related shops. Fun fact, the original Sakata shop was called 三日軒, and most shops in town show their respect by including the character in their name. More (not much more though) history can be seen in Japanese over at official Sakata site.


I was thinking of forgoing a second bowl, but the massive line outside Mangetsu was begging to be waited in.


Despite about 15 people ahead of me, the line moved fast. Random sight of the day, I watched as a man and his young son stole the ramen map out of the basket of my rented bicycle! I had an extra copy in my bag, and it was free, but still, that was a first!


If you were expecting anything but fishy soup, you'd be wrong.


More of the same.


I really, really liked the vibe at these shops. Locals and tourists all relaxing together. The shops are obviously family run, and the walls are adorned with children's photos and drawings. Community feels strong here.


But I just can't get over the taste. Funky-fishy flavors that, if turned up a couple more notches, would be right at home on an Andrew Zimmern TV show.


Sorry, I have to be honest here on Ramen Adventures.


With some time to spare, I followed the tour buses to see the rest of the town.


From the old warehouses . . .

. . . to $400 a kilo cherries. Yamagata, you're crazy!


Official Site Here


Yamagata-ken, Sakata-shi, Higashinakanokuchimachi 2-1
Closest station: Sataka

Open 11:00-20:00
Closed 4-5 days a month. Check their homepage.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

花鳥風月 (Kachofugetsu in Sakata, Yamagata)



Ah, obscure ramen towns across Japan, how you tempt me. One such town is Sakata, north of Tokyo in Yamagata Prefecture.

Sakata ramen! Let the adventure begin!


I've worked up here before. Usually, my company sends us the day before, but for some reason opted for an 8am train up into Yamagata Perfecture via Niigata. Five hours later, and we would only have a couple minutes of free time. Followed by work. Followed by a taxi to the airport and a quick flight home.

So I did what any ramen hunter would do . . . stayed up all night and took the 6am train!


Ugh. Plans for blissful slumber on the shinkansen didn't work as well as I had hoped. Can we get some comfortable seats to Niigata? The new E5 and E6 trains to Tohoku are much nicer. I'm looking forward to the new E7 as well, I'm guessing it is on the luxurious side. But enough about trains.

What is up with Sakata?


Free bicycle rentals at the station, that's what's up!


This is countryside Japan, and things are spread out. Hours of walking were mitigated to minutes, thanks to my trusty mama-chari. Or maybe I should say rusty mama-chari. But free is free!

And thanks to the free ramen map from the station, I only got lost twice on my way!


Sakata ramen at last.

Sakata ramen's soup is heavy on the fish. Here, flying fish, mackerel, sardines, and skipjack tuna. No subtle flavors going on here, this is some in-your-face fishy stuff. Historically, Sakata was a thriving port city, with local fishermen using it as their port for unloading the hulls.

Kachofugetsu adds shrimp wontons for a unique bowl.


Honestly, though, I wasn't feeling this one. The mega-fishiness would have worked better as a late-night bowl than an 11am one.


This shop, as well as the next one I would go to, were packed with people, it should be noted.

Official Site Here


Yamagata-ken, Sakata-shi, Azumacho 1-3-19
Closest station: Sakata

Open 11:00-19:00
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tokyo's Best Ramen According to Weekly Playboy Magazine

We (Abram and I, aka ラーメンアメリカ人) cracked out a ranking for our last week with the magazine*. This is in no way definitive, but I think we came up with a pretty solid list that could keep anyone busy for a few months. The lists are grouped in general categories. Click the shop names to be taken to a page, if I've written about it. Most shops are in Tokyo, a couple are far, far away.


TOP5 Salt (塩ラーメン)

1. 麺や河野


2. 牛骨らぁ麺マタドール本店


3. 厚木本丸亭


4. 饗くろ㐂


5. ぜんや

(sorry, I haven't gone)


TOP5 Miso (味噌ラーメン)

1. カラシビ味噌らー麺鬼金棒


2. 味噌麺処花道


3. 金竜

(sorry, I haven't gone! This spot is a bit out of the way in Chiba)

4. 3SO


5. ラーメンおやじ本店



TOP5 Light Soy (淡麗系醤油)

1. 煮干鰮らーめん圓


2. 一汁三煮干裏不如帰


3. むぎとオリーブ


4. らぁ麺やまぐち


5. 本枯中華そば魚雷



Thick Style (濃厚系ラーメン)

1. 麺屋吉左右


2. 燦燦斗


3. 無鉄砲大阪店


4. 長尾中華そば西バイパス本店


5. 俺のラーメンあっぱれ屋



Tsukemen (つけ麺)

1. 風雲児


2. 中華蕎麦とみ田


3. 俺のラーメンあっぱれ屋

(I didn't have the tsukemen)

4. 頑者


5. べんてん

(sorry, I haven't been)


TOP5 Soupless Noodles (汁なし油そば系)

1. 担々麺本舗 辣椒漢


2. 麺屋はなび高畑本店


3. むぎとオリーブ


4. 油そば専門店GACHI


5. ajito ism



Extreme Style (エクストリーム系)

1. 麺や河野


2. パイナップルラーメン屋さんパパパパパイン


3. 千里眼


4. ラーメン凪新宿煮干ゴールデン街店


5. ラーメンBARスナック、居酒屋


* The magazine in question is Weekly Playboy (週刊プレイボーイ or just 週プレイ). It's a weekly men's interest magazine available everywhere, especially at your local convenience store. Just look for the bikini-clad idol on the cover. Our article, Ramen Americans, ran for about two and a half years on a weekly basis.

A huge thanks is in order to all of our readers.