Thursday, June 30, 2016

大つけ麺博 (Grand Tsukemen Fest in Machida)



Ramen festivals are popping up more and more around Japan. There used to be the Tokyo Ramen Show, and that was it. The success of this event led others to delve into the field, and I remember the early days of the Grand Tsukemen Fest back in 2009. The concept is always the same; buy tickets, wait in lines, eat ramen.


These events often change vendors on a weekly basis. This event, in Machida, had 10 shops that changed every week for four weeks. So, if you were so inclined, you could crush 40 bowls from all over Japan.


In fact, many of the Japanese ramen bloggers I know do just that. They come to every festival, make trips across the country, and slurp everything they can.


I rolled into this, the 2nd week of the festival, with three other ramen nuts; a ramen-loving custom motorcycle maker, a ramen-loving gravure idol, and a ramen-loving exotic car collector. Ten bowls was no problem.


Apologies for not really reviewing the bowls. You can check out more info over at the event's site:


Basically, going to these events alone is tough. Even if you are at comptetive-eater level, you still have to wait for each shop. A small group can come up with a battle strategy to crush them all.


So many bowls!


So much ramen!


If you want to know about these festivals, the Ramen Databank has a page (in Japanese) informing you about upcoming events. Check it here:


Thanks for the ride!


Think he'll notice my addition to his whip? Stickers add five horsepower, though on a 691 hp Aventador you probably won't notice.



Official Grand Tsukemen Fest Site Here.


Monday, June 27, 2016

梅乃家 (Umenoya in Chiba)



Work down in a remote part of Chiba meant that ramen was a possibility. But the usual 11:00am start of most ramen shops would be cutting it close; my job began at noon. The fates aligned, as there was a very popular, very remote ramen shop along my intended route, and they open at 10.


This shop is a trip. It's run by three old ladies, and the customers reflect the staff. At 38, I'm no spring chicken, but I must have been half the age of the seven or eight people waiting outside the shop.


This is the chashumen. I usually don't get a massive bowl the first time around, but that visual is quite striking. Most customers had theirs topped with a mound of raw local onion.


It's a decent bowl, but not the kind I would go telling people to make a journey for. And, unfortunately, you'll need to make a journey if you want to experience this one. It's over three hours by train from central Tokyo, though travel time is just about an hour if you drive without traffic.

The soup was very dark and very salty. The pork was also very heavily seasoned, the kind I really enjoy for a couple pieces, but can't handle more.

It is the atmosphere that is the appeal here. Such an old shop, with such character. It's no surprise that this shop has been on TV many times.


Map of 401 Takeoka, Futtsu-shi, Chiba-ken 299-1621, Japan

Chiba-ken, Futsu-shi, Takeoka 401
Closest station: Takeoka

Open 10:00-19:00
Closed Tuesdays and some Mondays

Thursday, June 23, 2016

成田屋 (Naritaya in Asakusa)



I probably would never have come to this shop if it hadn't been for a TV shooting I was involved in.


X21. On Asahi TV Friday nights.


Well, the theme of this show was ramen that is popular with foreigner. Naritaya's customer base is 90% foreign. You heard me, 90%.


I was as surprised as you. Sure, this is located in the middle of Asakusa, one of Tokyo's most touristy neighborhoods, but that number seems crazy for a country of, well, Japanese people.


The master explained it perfectly.


The shop is Halal certified, and a bit of a destination for Muslims wanting to try something Japanese. Dietary restrictions can be a nightmare in Japan, and a shop like this is an oasis.


The ramen wasn't really to my liking, I found it too garlicky, with herbs and vegetables being used to replace the non-halal meats and alcohol that gives ramen a lot of its signature umami flavors.

But if you are strict halal, your ramen options are either this place, or my recommendation of Oka.


Fun TV shoot, though.


Map of 2 Chome-7-13 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032

Tokyo, Koto-ku, Asakusa 2-7-13
Closest station: Asakusa

Open 10:00-20:00

Monday, June 20, 2016

一風堂パリ (Ippudo in Paris, France)



Only 200 meters from newly opened Kodawari Ramen is newly opened Ippudo. The St. Germain neighborhood is posh and trendy, and it is good to see them with a couple great ramen shops.


Ippudo is Ippudo. Either you love it and obsess, or you just enjoy it as a normal bowl. Me, I slurp at my local Ippudo on occasion, and am always satisfied. They've been pushing the ramen-envelope quite a bit lately, with their global expanse showing no ends. With the recent news that they teamed up with Panda Express, get ready for Ippudo to be all over the place in America in the near future.


While their US business is set to explode, the European side of things has taken some time. Ippudo had planned a Parisian ramen dining restaurant akin to their New York branch some time ago, but the delays have been non-stop. Construction problems, tenant issues, supply problems, it has been so long that they decided to go ahead and open a second shop, before the first could start serving.

This shop is smaller, and the menu is mostly just ramen. My kind of shop!


Well, the standard akamaru is just how I remember it. No review needed.

The master here is none other than Conner Callahan, whom I met at Ippudo's ramen competition last year. He insisted that I try their vegetarian bowl. Two bowls in a row, no problem.


Gasp. Whoah. OMG.

This is, in all honesty, the best vegetarian bowl of ramen I've ever had. The soup is a blend of a Japanese kelp and mushroom dashi and a French vegetable bouillon. The combination is so full of umami. I was shocked at this bowl.

The noodles are made like those at Soranoiro in Tokyo, with paprika giving them a bright orange hue.

The toppings; fried mushrooms and a dollop of ratatouille.


This recipe was developed by the head chef of their New York branch.

Out of a dozen or so shops in Tokyo doing a vegetarian bowl, I can only recommend two. Ippudo's Paris branch would make that three. Any chances of Ippudo opening a branch of their French shop in Japan?


Good luck Ippudo, though you don't really need it.


Official Site Here

Map of 14 Rue Grégoire de Tours, 75006 Paris, France

14 rue Grégoire de Tours
Closest station: Odeon

Open 12:00-16:00, 18:00-0:30 (Sunday until 22:30)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Kodawari Ramen in Paris - The Ramen



I sat down almost a year ago in Tokyo with JB, the owner of newly opened Parisian ramen shop Kodawari Ramen. He had dreams of bringing a real bowl to France, the kind that he slurped every time he visited Japan. Not just the taste, but the atmosphere, the feeling, of Japanese ramen.


That was how Kodawari Ramen was born.


The shop is an absolute trip. Located in trendy St. Germain, stepping in is like being transported back to Japan, into a dingy alleyway of a real Yokocho, one of Japan's tightly packed food streets. Check out my YouTube video for a walkgthrough. It is safe to say that this is a must-visit shop just for the traditional chochin lanterns, rickety sheet metal roof awnings, and ripped-from-the-pavement (literally) Tokyo manhole covers on the floor.


Then there is the ramen. While the global trend is still heavy on the pork, Japan is all about chicken these days. High-quality, healthy, farm-raised poultry is the norm at the best ramen shops in Tokyo, and Kodawari isn't any different.


Embracing chicken, Kodawari ramen's small menu has only four bowls of soup; a shoyu, a shio, a paitan, and one made with black sesame.


As expected, the black sesame is the most popular. People outside of Japan still tend to gravitate to less-simple ramen, and this is proof. An excellent bowl, but I would suggest starting with the shoyu ramen your first time. Kodawari is importing high quality soy sauce from Japan, and you might be surprised how good it is.


There are two soupless bowls on the menu, with one of them being the vegetarian option for the shop. These bowls really let the noodles shine. Want to know more about the noodles? I am going to write in detail about this later, but for a quick summary, Kodawari Ramen is growing their own wheat and having it milled by an artisinal miller. I've never seen anyone go this deep into noodles, even in Japan. Of course, they are making the noodles in house as well. Amazing.


The shio bowl has a lot of ramen nerds debating if it is okay to put a tomato in your ramen. Of course, I say it is fine, tomatoes have a lot of natural umami, and shio needs that extra kick, but many self-proclaimed ramen experts in Paris have said it is unacceptable.


My favorite bowl is the toripaitan. It has that extra umami that I love. Not as creamy as some toripaitan bowls I've had, but more robust and intense.


The egg, though not as bright orange as the premium ones we get in Japan, is on point.


Kodawari Ramen is poised to be an important player in the French ramen scene. Ramen in Paris is abysmal at best, with most shops being a combination of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai under one roof. Anywhere that serves sushi and ramen is already doing something wrong (not always the case), but when you start throwing in random Asian cuisine, you've gone too far. I saw dozens of these shops around Paris.

I'm not here to tell you what to eat, but when you visit restaurants created by people who truly care about the food, you're not only helping yourself, but helping to create a vibrant restaurant scene. Kodawari Ramen, alongside anyone else who opens a legit ramen shop in Paris, is a big step in the right direction.


Official Site Here

Map of 29 Rue Mazarine, 75006 Paris, France

29 rue Mazarine, Paris, France
Nearest Station: Odeon

Open 12:00-14:00, 19:00-22:00 (Friday and Saturday until 23:00)
Closed Mondays