Thursday, November 27, 2014

安福亭 (Anbukutei in Nagaoka)



Niigata Prefecture boasts an unexpectedly diverse collection of ramen shops. Pick up on of the many annual ramen magazines and you'll be shocked. Ramen Adventures could be devoted to only Niigata (if I lived up there of course).


The above free flyer features only a handful of the shops around Nagaoka Station.

Of course, Niigata isn't Tokyo, and a deep ramen search requires a car or bike. With just a few hours in town, I had no plans to go deep. The highest ranked shop within walking distance of the station was Anbuketei, a biker-friendly bowl that specializes in the Tsubame-Sanjo style.


Tsubame-Sanjo means thick noodles, thick soup, and plenty of seabura back fat.




Definitely a quality slurp, and the shop was full of children and the elderly alike. At one point, a spontaneous "Gochisosama!" (thank you for the meal) screaming contest erupted from a particularly large group of five-year-olds, much to the amusement of everyone present.

If you live in Tokyo and want the equivalent, Dokkan has you covered.


This isn't a bowl that the average ramen fan would finish. Simply slurping all the noodles and eating all the excellent chashu is enough.


Niigata-ken, Nagaoka-shi, Kashiwacho 1-2-18
Closest station: Nagaoka

Open 11:00-20:30
Closed Mondays and some Sundays

Monday, November 24, 2014

東京ラーメンショー (Tokyo Ramen Show 2014)



It is that time of year again. The 2014 Tokyo Ramen Show. There are so many choices, but I only had time for three.


Rairaiken recreated a recipe from 100 years ago. Neat! It turned out to be a great bowl. The flavors were solid, with nothing crazy, and nothing intense.


Of course, you should pick the longest line, right?


The Fukushima toripaitan sold over 8000 bowls at a regional ramen fest, and was finally making the trek down to Tokyo.


The Tokyo Ramen Show is all about collaboration bowls.


This one between Matador and Kuroki brought two of my favorite shops together, though the result was 95% Matador.


I was a bit rushed when I went, so didn't have a chance to get too deep into the mix this year. Did anyone go there? I'd love to hear your impressions.

Official Site Here.


It is finished by the time this post goes live. Catch the 2015 one if you are in town!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ずんどう屋 (Zundoya in Shinjuku)

ラー麺ずんどう屋 東京新宿店


I shy away from large chain shops, and cautiously approach the smaller ones. Zundoya could be classified as a mini-chain, with about a dozen shops in Kansai (Western Japan), a new shop in Tokyo, and a future shop in New York.


New York you say? 


Yep, with a shop opening in 2015 in the heart of Manhattan, Zundoya is setting their sights high. Could this be the Ippudo killer?

At first glance, the shop is very Ippudo-esque. A creamy tonkotsu soup, straight noodles, Kyushu-style toppings. Even the red bowls look to be aimed at Ippudo's style. But Zundoya is its own beast, pushed to another level by the addition of seabura, glistening globs of pork back fat. Choose your level.

Go strong. Ask for こってり味 - kotteri aji - for a big hit of fat. Or go for 背脂まみれ味 - seabura mamire aji - smeared with fat - if you want. 


For me, I was always surprised by the way Ippudo was received in America. In Japan, I'll casually walk into an Ippudo, grab a cheap bowl and a beer, and leave 15 minutes later being satisfied. The insanity of the New York Ippudo, with hour waits and high prices, never felt right.

Zundoya feels to me the same way. This is a bowl I could jump into anytime. No fussing. Just a solid bowl of ramen. Will it suffer the same fate / fortune as Ippudo? We'll know next year.



Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-39-3
Closest station: Shinjuku

Open 24/7/365

Monday, November 17, 2014

ちゃっちゃか (Chachaka in Shinjuku)



One of the best ramen shops in Tokyo is Nagi in Shinjuku's Golden Gai district. Golden Gai is a sight to behold. Four or five small alleys are home to hundreds tiny bars, and a handful of restaurants. With Nagi commanding long lines at all hours, and holding the crown for years, is there room for another shop?


Sure, why not. Chachaka serves up three kinds of miso, each kicked up with seafood. You have from left to right and top to bottom, dried fish, shrimp, and crab (and a beer).


The chef recommended the shrimp.


A decent bowl, accented with a healthy serving of fresh baby shrimp. It was, though, lacking some kick.


Good thing they have a homemade spice blend. Take pepper, sansho, and a bunch of secret stuff, and you have exactly what this bowl needs. Use a lot of it.


And get back to the bars!

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-1-8
Closest station: Shinjuku

Open 7:00pm-5:00am

Thursday, November 13, 2014

兎に角 (Tonikaku in Matsudo)



If you find yourself in Matsudo, you should really go to Tomita. The tsukemen there is considered by many to be the best in Japan. Who are these many I speak of? For one, Tomita is the number one ranked shop over at the Ramen Database.

But what if you are in the mood for something with a slightly shorter line?


Tonikaku serves three heavy bowls; a ramen, a tsukemen, and a soupless aburasoba.


Intense. And for me, a bit too much. Fans of thick, porky ramen may disagree with me here.

This shop is in the same ramen group as Tomita, if that makes any difference to you.


I was feeling a bit wrecked after this bowl. What to do? Magic tea to the rescue!


からだすこやか茶 - Karada Sukoyaka Cha - Healthy Body Tea

This tea has been a big hit in Japan recently. The tea contains ingredients to battle the adverse effects of all those carbohydrates and fat. I'm not sure if it is just a placebo, but I was feeling great an hour later!


Chiba-ken, Matsudo-shi, Nemoto 462
Closest station: Matsudo

Open 11:00-23:00

Monday, November 10, 2014

四つ葉 (Yotsuba in Saitama)

中華そば 四つ葉


Another edition of Ramen Riders, our gang of ramen-hunting, motorcycle-riding, trouble-causing dudes (and a pretty girl this time!) was much needed. Despite having a list of far-off shops to trek to, Yotsuba was just up the road in Saitama. And Yotsuba commands an insane score of 97.6 at the ramen database. That puts it at #3 in the country for new shops.


We had to go. It isn't even that far. But due to it being the start of a long weekend, the traffic just to get out there made it feel like a trek. Ugh, I can't begin to describe how bad traffic in Japan can get.

We arrived at the spot, somewhere along national route 254, somewhere in the middle of rice paddies and factories.


There it is. We sampled both the ramen and the mazesoba. Both are top notch, with copious amounts of slow-cooked pork and solid noodles.


Both also remind me specifically of Mugitooribu in Ginza. Actually, it reminds me so much of their soup blend (also a mix of chicken and clams) that I would say, unless you are a motorcycle rider with plans to be in the area, you might want to give this one a miss.

I'm conflicted.

If you live in Saitama, this one might be closer.


The shop is also a sushi-ya. I believe the story is that the ramen master's father made sushi here for some years. Keeping with the roots of the shop, there will be a daily nigiri that you can order. The aji - horse mackerel - of the day was excellent.


Good luck, and let me know if you make it out here.


Saitama-ken, Hiki-gun, Kawajimamachi, Igusa 298-20
Closest station: Kawagoe, though it is quite far

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-21:00
Closed Tuesdays

Thursday, November 6, 2014

雪風 (Yukikaze in Sapporo, Hokkaido)

麺屋 雪風


We are spoiled in Tokyo. Not only do we have amazing new shops opening weekly, we have superior versions of styles that have their birthplaces far from the capital.

Miso ramen's history dates back to 1955, when a customer asked for noodles in his miso/pork soup. Since then, Sapporo has been synonymous with miso ramen. But, truth be told, my limited excursions into the far north have had less than stellar results. Bowls were mediocre, while the miso ramen joints in Tokyo that I frequent really shine.


Yukikaze is, of course, highly ranked and famous. This is usually a sign of greatness, but my skepticism is high when it comes to miso.


Taking the chance (a business trip sent me up here for the week), I waited in the long line, and ordered the most popular menu item. 濃厚味噌らーめん. Thick miso ramen.


Yes, yes! I wanted to shout out my praises in this silent shop. Silent because everyone is entranced by their bowl of miso perfection.


A secret blend of three misos, topped with just the right amount of high quality toppings. This bowl sits alongside the best of the best.

I dug the sprinkling of fried potato on the top, it added an extra kick of salt and texture that matches with that silky smooth soup.


As this random celebrity agrees!

(Actually, he isn't random, and he said the shio ramen was good. I'll be back to try it.)


北海道札幌市中央区南七条西4-2-6 LC拾壱番館 1F
Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Minami 7, Nishi 4-2-6
Closest station: Susukino

Open 19:00-2:00am
Closed Sundays