Thursday, October 30, 2014

味の大王 (Ajinodaio in Muroran, Hokkaido)



We finished work in Muroran with about 30 minutes to make our train. Is this enough time to hit up the original Muroran curry ramen shop? I gotta try! チャンス!!


Remember, this is Hokkaido, and Hokkaido runs on Hokkaido-time. The elderly chef took his time, even stopping for a few minutes to chat with a family that wandered in. He had obviously known them many years ago, as the conversation was focused mainly on how big the daughter, now a college student, had become.

The soup is made in small batches. Four bowls at a time. The wok is thoroughly cleaned, and the prep starts again. There were at least eight people ahead of my order. If I missed this train, it was more than two hours until the next one. Hokkaido-style.


But sometimes you need to slow down. Not everything is a rush-hour frenzy to get in and out in record time. Here is a shop, where old friends come for a nostalgic meal, and everyone has a grin, and everything is right with the world.

I'm sure as hell not going to upset this balance by encouraging the chef to pick up his pace.


The ramen was good, surprisingly so. Just enough homemade curry paste mixed with the thick soup. Nothing as epic as Sapporo miso, but I have to give it to Muroran and their 4th Hokkaido style.

Slurping at maximum speed, trying not to splash the potent curry soup on my clean shirt, I finished the last of the noodles, and drank as much of that amazing curry as possible. Then I ran.


Time to spare!


A successful ramen adventure indeed!


I should note that this isn't the original Ajinodaio, which is located near Muroran Station proper.

Hokkaido, Muroran-shi, Nakajimacho 3-25-9
Closest station: Higashi Muroran

Open 11:00-20:40
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, October 27, 2014

富士ラーメン (Fuji in Muroran, Hokkaido)



Muroran is an oft overlooked city in Hokkaido, just south of Sapporo. Formerly a bustling port, it is now one of Japans many cities that are falling by the wayside. But, like many random corners of Japan, Muroran has a history of ramen.


Created in 1965 by the shop Ajinodaio, the curry ramen here reflects the naval connections of the port city. Many ports in Japan boast some sort of curry, as curry was a sailor's staple. And though the curry ramen in Muroran has withstood the test of time, it remained unknown to the rest of Japan until, in 2006, a large PR campaign was launched. The muroran kare ramen no kai, Muroran curry ramen group, set out to educate the country on Hokkaido's 4th ramen (after Sapporo miso, Asahikawa shoyu, and Hakodate shio).


Half real thing and half marketing, this led to too many curry ramen shops. I tried to go to the original, but they had run out of soup for the day. The next closest place to my hotel was Fuji Ramen.


Located in the middle of the red light district (another hobby of sailors worldwide) you'll find a few sushi shops and this curry ramen.

Nothing too special, as expected. Definitely not a bowl that would sell you on an entire style.

In Hokkaido ramenya style, Fuji Ramen serves plenty of other options. You aren't stuck with the curry; shoyu, shio, and miso are all there.


Hokkaido, Muroran-shi, Nakajimacho 1-15-20
Closest station: Muroran

Open 19:00-3:00am
Closed Sundays

Thursday, October 23, 2014

磯焼亭 (Isoyakitei in Rishiri, Hokkaido)



On a whim I decided to trek to Rishiri Island, a remote spot that is a two hour ferry from Japan's northernmost point. The goal was to hike Rishirifuji mountain, one of Japan's 100 famous mountains. Rishiri (and neighboring Rebun) are known for three things. The first is the rain; these islands are magnets for foul weather. The rainwater flows down the steep mountain, collecting iron and other minerals, finally nourishing the second famous thing; kelp. Kelp from this part of Japan is some of the best, and chefs pay a premium to get their hands on it. Fine kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto? They are probably using Rebun konbu. The third thing that flourishes here is the uni. Sea urchins eat that kelp, and once again command a high price.


Notice that I didn't include ramen in that list?


Well, just across from the ferry terminal is a "famous" ramen shop. Famous in that it was on TV back in 2009.

This is an issue I have with local ramen in Japan. It is very easy to get your stuff on TV and then ride that wave. Food-related TV shows in Japan are generally 99% entertainment, and don't take anything seriously. It is all about the talento and their overreaction. That isn't to say that I don't love food-related programming. Just don't assume that because some cross-dressing 芸能人 or pop-star liked the food that it is good.


What about this one, dubbed Rishiri Ramen? I've gotta say no, but I will preface that with a yes. The one they are known for is a hot-mess of ocean-related toppings; shrimp, scallops, oysters, mussels. None of which were that good.


But, the one thing that was local, the kelp, was fantastic as a topping. There was another bowl on the menu, a simple kelp one without all the odd toppings, that I would recommend. It just melts into the soup, releasing massive amounts of umami and a fresh, oceany flavor.

I should also note that the shop serves unidon, bowls of rice topped with local sea urchins, that are fantastic (and spendy at around 4000 yen).


Hokkaido, Rishiri-gun, Rishirifuji-cho, Oshidomari, Minatomachi
Closest station: None. It is on an isalnd.

Open 7:00-19:00
Winter 10:00-17:00

Monday, October 20, 2014

まつ田 (Matsuda in Asahikawa, Hokkaido)

旭川ラーメン まつ田


Asahikawa! Long time, no see!


A quick history of Asahikawa ramen:

Asahikawa created their own signature ramen style back in 1947, when Hachiya and Aoba started mixing pork and chicken bone soup with a lighter, fishy soup. While nowhere near as famous a style as Sapporo miso ramen, this is one of my favorite places to slurp. The ramen tends to be a bit intense up here in the north, just the way I like it. And while the original shops still command long lines, there are plenty of other top shops in Asahikawa. Tenkin tends to be many people's favorite.

But I've visited all of these shops. Time to hit the solid #4 in town.


Matsuda's tontoro chashumen comes in at a staggering 1200 yen. That's almost double what a normal bowl in Hokkaido costs.


But they've been serving this one for a while, and the masses have spoken with their wallets. This is a great bowl. Not as intense as Hachiya or Aoba, this one is the perfect backdrop for the chashu that makes Matsuda famous.


The thing you paid so much for is worth it. Pork that melts into the bowl. Almost impossible to pick up with your chopsticks.

This is tontoro, the fattiest pieces of meat. Taken from the jowl, this cut is often compared to fatty tuna. I don't know about that analogy, but it is definitely some of the best in town.


See you next year, Asahikawa!


北海道旭川市2条通6丁目 エンドレス26 1F
Hokkaido, Asahikawa, Jodori 2-6

Open 11:00-4:00am

Thursday, October 16, 2014

極 (Kiwami in Kameido)


Is this a ramen shop? Kind of.


The concept of the Kameido Yokocho is simple. Sit at any of the tiny bars, order some drinks and snacks, and then proceed to order food from any of the other adjoining shops in the area. It is a fun idea. It is also super cheap, and a group of any size can eat and drink for next-to-nothing. Yokocho, by the way, means alley.


A hidden gem, and the perfect place to kick it.

Although we were seated at a shop specializing in fried skewers of meat, Kiwami was right across from us, and the miso ramen was unavoidable. This was also, unofficially, a sort of ramen-related gathering. One order of miso ramen with six bowls please!


How was the miso ramen from Kiwami?


Inexpensive, if I recall. Yeah, it isn't winning any awards, but these places aren't meant to be culinary masterpieces. It was good enough to share, and we all left the yokocho happy.


Kameido Yokocho site here.

Tokyo, Edo-ku, Kameido 5-13-2
Closest station: Kameido

Open at night

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Grand Tsukemen Fest 2014

大つけ麺博 - 2014

Once again the Grand Tsukemen Fest is upon us! Once again it is in Okubo Park, just minutes from Shinjuku Station. Once again I'm having an official Ramen Adventures Meetup!

What: The 2014 Grand Tsukemen Fest
Where: Okubo Park (大久保公園)
When: Sunday, October 19th from 7pm-9pm

Check the meetup link here:

RSVP and tell a friend. Anyone is welcome!


The event is on from October 2nd to 29th, every day, so feel free to check it out when you have time. Each week, from Thursday, six new shops from all over Japan come to showcase what they can do with tsukemen.


I couldn't make the first week, but here are some impressions from week two.


Junk Story, a shop from Osaka, killed it with this one. Simple and intense, you can't go wrong with a solid tonkotsu gyokai toripaitan soup.


Otodo, the 3rd place winner from last year, topped themselves with this one. A heavy chicken soup with plenty of great toppings.


Strike, another Osaka shop, made a light toripaitan that was the surprise of the day. Very refreshing.

Also, they have the best T-Shirt of the event! Go Raiders!


Gonokamisuisan made an interesting gindama, sablefish, soup that was on the fishy side, but excellent when piping hot.


I hope to see some of you at the meetup on October 19th!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

角栄 (Kakua in Shinjuku)

Miso Noodle Spot 角栄 KAKU-A


One of the best shops that I don't visit so much anymore is just down the street from Shinjuku, in Hatagaya. 弥彦 - Yahiko - serves up a mean Niigata-style miso that I randomly crave now and then. The problem, though, is that sometimes the Hatagaya Yahiko shop is also Dokkan. And if you are craving Dokkan, then chances are it is Gamushara that day.

Yes, the shop changes menu depending on the day and time.


Fret not, though, as last year the master opened a stand-alone Dokkan just west of Hattagaya. And now they have opened a stand-alone Yahiko-style shop. While one shop with three facades was fun, three shops is much better.


Just as the original, there are plenty of savory toppings to choose from.


Pretty much the same deal. I'll admit, I am biased towards the original location, probably because Hatagaya is one of my favorite drinking spots in Tokyo, and a trip to Yahiko/Dokkan/Gamushara is often preceded by good times.


The location is great, as well. Right next to beautiful Shinjuku-gyoen park and the Takashima department store. Something for everyone!

I made a video with #TokyExtra. Check it out!


Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-29-27
Closest station: Yoyogi

Open 11:00-22:00
Closed Sundays