Thursday, February 26, 2015

ラーメン総選挙 - 2015 Ippudo Ramen Championship



Global ramen force Ippudo recently held their third annual ramen competition. That's founder Kawahara-san (河原) above. Out of 176 entries, only 14 were invited to present their bowl to a jury of ramen professionals. I was honored to be invited as a judge, and though I approach ramen in general as fun food, I took this seriously. The winner would get 3,000,000 yen, about $30,000. Amazing.


The theme this year was dashi. I think this follows the current trend of thinking in Tokyo's ramen scene; focus on something simple, while doing everything you can to extract as much umami flavors from your ingredients as possible. All of the ramen was fantastic. Here are some of the bowls.



Chef Suzuki-san (鈴木) crafted a tai and salt ramen with an aroma of orange peel. There were a lot of Italian influences, and the addition of an olive and sun-dried tomato paste added a lot of depth.



Chef Kimura (木村) went super simple, and the roasted nori senbe on top was fragrant and beautiful. Under the nori was a kinchaku, a tofu bag filled with minced chicken and mushroom that exploded in flavor when ripped open. The soup went from simple and fragrant to intense and flavorful. Very cool.



Chef Nakamura-san (中村) from Nagasaki used whale as his main ingredient. Whale can be a bit gamey, not something you would expect to be used as an ingredient in a light soup. But the chef's skill with a controversial ingredient from his hometown really came out in the end product.


HIPPIE RAMEN ~Hollywood Legend~

Chef Isobe-san from Los Angeles based Tatsu Ramen made a vegan ramen. Wow, this was actually one of the best vegetarian ramen bowls I have ever tasted. I think if America can contribute one thing to the world of ramen in general, it is excellent vegetarian versions of a typically meaty dish.



Chef Sasahara-san (篠原) focused on things that have been and will always be good. Simple and delicious. I dug the softly scrambled egg, which melted into the soup and gave it a rich, eggy flavor.



Chef Conner Callahan is the kitchen supervisor at Ippudo in New York. Donning his colorful uniform, he came with a complex bowl that told the story of his connections with ramen and the sea. Three kinds of dashi, a dashi foam, and plenty of Italian influence from his childhood growing up in an Italian fishing village.



Chef Futa-san (太田) works at a tea shop, and made this playful macha ramen. She wanted slurpers to exclaim "Kawaii!" when they were served, and it sure worked. The taste wasn't sweet at all, instead tasted of a chicken soup base.


The winner? Chef Kimura-san took home the prize. Congratulations, your bowl really shone. You will be able to try his ramen in Ippudo stores across the country soon. Here it is one more time.


Check the video we made!

Monday, February 23, 2015

國松 (Kunimatsu in Hiroshima)



Kunimatsu came recommended by the chef at Musashibo, another local 汁なし担担麺 place. When the master at your favorite new shop says to go, you go. This is another one of Hiroshima's soupless tantanmen shops. The recent boom of this style remains a mystery. Clever marketing or something more?


ZIP! Hey, I did that show before, I think. Maybe not.


Pretty decent one here. As always, a small serving of noodles sitting in a spicy oil sauce. Moderate amounts of sansho pepper gave this one a little kick, and it went really well with a beer.


Mix it up. Part of the Hiroshima shirunashi tantanmen scene is to put a bowl of rice into the leftover sauce. That might explain why the serving sizes were all quite small. Probably a tasty idea, but I was in foodie mode, what with the handy map I picked up.


Having crushed three of them, plus the King-Ken popup in Ginza, I feel like I did Hiroshima's soupless scene a little justice. See you next year!


Map of 広島県広島市中区八丁堀8-10

Hiroshima-ken, Hiroshima-shi, Naka-ku, Hatchobori 8-10
Closest station: Tatemachi on the Street Car

Open 11:00-15:00, 17:00-20:00
Closed Sundays

Thursday, February 19, 2015

きさく (Kisaku in Hiroshima)



Kisaku was the soupless tantanmen that every random person I spoke with recommended.


A bit out of the way, though easy to get to on Hiroshima's local streetcar.


It barely fits on the official Hiroshima shirunashi tantanmen map.

The menu, like that of any specialty shop, is small. Hot or cold. That's pretty much it. You can get different sizes, and I was the only person who didn't go with the double size bowl.


As always, mix it up. Dry noodles, a little spicy sauce, and some sparse toppings.


To be honest, I wasn't feeling this one. It was cheap and tasty, but I don't think I can recommend anyone who doesn't live in Hiroshima spend the time to make it out here. Most travelers have limited time in this town, and should stick more to the downtown.


Map of 広島県広島市中区舟入川口町5-13

Hiroshima-ken, Hiroshima-shi, Chu-ku, Funairikawaguchicho 5-13
Closest station: Funairisaiwaicho on the Street Car

Open 11:00-14:00, 18:00-20:00
Sundays 11:00-15:00
Closed Wednesdays

Monday, February 16, 2015

武蔵坊 (Musashibo in Hiroshima)

汁なし担担麺 武蔵坊


My company had me down in Hiroshima for a weekend. Time for another completely random, newly-created, local style ramen boom!


In recent years, Hiroshima has seen a boom in 汁なし担担麺. Spicy soupless noodles. Why Hiroshima? I have no idea! They already have their own genre of noodles; spicy Hiroshima tsukemen. Do they really need another?

I don't care. This is one of my favorite styles of noodles. I've gone so far as to spend half a day searching it out in Beijing. By the way, the best of the best in Tokyo is at Lashohan. But I'm getting distracted. With 19 shops on the official shirunashitantanmen map, I had some work cut out for me.

Turns out Sunday is a poor day to go, as half the shops are closed. Randomly, I chose the closest one to the hotel. Musashibo's menu is simple, and the noodles came out quick.


If you are a fan of this style, you just know. This one is good. It is so simple; noodles, ground pork, green onions, and spices.


And then you see it. Right there on the counter.


Three kinds of sansho! This is a good thing. This is a very good thing. It's that spice, often called Chinese numbing pepper, or Sichuan peppercorn, that makes any kind of tantanmen great. Sansho gives a bitter, tongue-numbing kick to anything it touches. Either you love it or hate it. I absolutely love the stuff.

若山椒 - wakasansho - young sansho is strong on the bitter flavors.
赤山椒 - akasansho - red sansho that has a bit of heat to it.
青山椒 - aosansho - green sansho with a strong fragrance and heavy numbing powers.


There are rules to this style. Ten of them in fact.


1. Add sansho to your liking.
2. Mix it up.
3. Really mix it up.
4. You'd better keep mixing it.
5. Eat it before it gets cold!
6. Throw in some rice with whatever is left in the bowl.
7. Kick it up with any of the counter-top seasonings.
8. Mix, mix, mix.
9. Even if it gets a bit cold, it's still good.
10. Thank you.


This one was fantastic.


Very close to the Peace Park, a must-visit spot in Hiroshima.

And for anyone who says, "You're crazy! You go all the way to Hiroshima and just eat tantanmen! You're missing out on some famous okonokiyaki!"


I ain't missing anything! This is a ramen blog, though.


Map of 広島県広島市中区富士見町5-12

Hiroshima-ken, Hiroshima-shi, Chuo-ku, Fujimicho 5-12
Closest station: Hiroshima (or Chudenmae on the street car)

Open 11:00-15:00, 18:00-24:00
Sundays 11:00-20:00

Thursday, February 12, 2015

ちゃんぽん亭 (Champontei in Hikone, Shiga)

ちゃんぽん亭総本家 彦根駅前本店


Holy smokes! I discovered a minor Japanese ramen style that I had no idea existed!

I make it no secret that I am a big ramen nerd, and thusly try and know as much as I can about not just the Tokyo ramen scene, but the fascinating world of local ramen throughout Japan. So when I rolled into Hikone Station, on the banks of Lake Biwa, and saw a famous-in-our-town poster at the station, I was shocked to see something new.


Omi champon. I had heard of omigyu, the locally raised cattle with well marbled meat, but had never heard of a locally branded ramen. I had also heard of champon, the famous ramen style from Nagasaki. Gotta grab a bowl.


According to the champon wikipedia page, 近江ちゃんぽん dates back to the 90s, when local shop Champontei wanted to expand their brand and become a franchise chain. By creating a local style, they could count on a minor influx of tourism, and things like the previously mentioned train station poster calling them out by name.

Yeah, this one isn't looking to good.


But then I dug into it. Omi champon is defined as having a light broth made with konbu seaweed and katsuo fish. Top with a hug pile of crisp vegetables, and give the customer lots of vinegar on the table to hit it with. This bowl was, shockingly, quite good. Although I think the concept of making this a local dish is corny, in the end I recommend it to anyone who is in this area and needs an affordable bowl.

Not worth a huge detour, but Hikone is a quaint little castle town that might be worth a trek for someone living in the Kansai area.


Of course, B-list celebrities put on their best faces for the cameras, as always.

Official Site Here


Map of 滋賀県彦根市旭町9-6

Shiga-ken, Hikone-shi, Asahimachi 9-6
Closest station: Hikone

Open 11:00-23:00

Monday, February 9, 2015

KABOちゃん (Kabochan in Komagome)



We all love Kabo-chan.


He was, like myself, all about ラーメン食べ歩き, the fine art of hitting up as many ramen shops as we can. While English-speakers are few and far between (check out the blogroll on the right to see some), there are plenty of Japanese ramen hunters in Japan. Kabo-chan took it to the next level, and took over a tiny shop that was planning on shutting down. That was a few years ago.


When Kabo-chan made a special limited bowl of miso one winter, fans were delighted. So much so that the one-month special became a permanent menu item.


Flavorful red miso.


Sansho. I am a huge fan of Chinese numbing pepper.


The noodles are under-cooked, then given a a minute more in the boiling soup.


The whole thing is heavily spiced. Almost a curry miso with undertones of Chinese sansho pepper. Very nice.


Seems like Kabo-chan kept another limited item on the menu as well. You can, even in the dead of winter, get a bowl of Japanese-style shaved ice. For me, the miso will do just fine.


Tokyo, Kita-ku, Nishigahara 1-54-1
Closest station: Komagome

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:30-21:00
Closed Wednesdays