Monday, October 31, 2016

井出商店 (Ideshoten in Wakayama)



Wakayama ramen, let's talk about it. More specifically, let's talk about Ideshoten, the shop that launched Wakayama ramen across the country.


The year was 1998, in a decade where ramen was really taking the country by storm. This new thing called the Internet was informing the masses, and regional ramen was becoming a hot topic among foodies.

As always, more conventional media was slow to catch on, but catch on they did. TV shows about ramen began popping up on occasion, then more frequently, and the general, internet-un-savy populace wanted more. So much so, in fact, that the mega popular show TV Champion focused their 1998 airing on the topic of finding the best ramen in the country. Now, I've lived in Japan for over ten years now, and I still can't understand the madness that is year-end TV. From the last days of December until the second or third of January, families reconvene at their jika, hometown, and do nothing more than sit around, eat, drink, and watch variety TV shows.


So when Ideshoten was named the best ramen in the country on national TV, millions upon millions watched.

Nearly 20 years later, and the shop is still on every ramen lover's list. If Wakayama weren't so darn far from everything else, I would be sending people here without hesitation.


We'll get to the ramen in a sec. On the simple menu is すし - sushi - for 150 yen. This is an important part of Wakayama ramen, the hayazushi - fast sushi.


It's sitting on the counter, ready to eat. Just grab one and dig in!


Simple, pressed, vinegared mackerel sushi. Super satisfying after the the wait in line. I didn't try, but you might be able to grab some while you wait; Ideshoten has been known to have some serious lines on busy days.


The ramen is a thick tonkotsu-shoyu. Porky soup with a strong soy sauce flavor. Thin noodles and your standard toppings round out the bowl. It's simple, but you can imagine the ramen judges of two decades ago being entranced by this local creation. Feel-good ramen that encapsulates the idea of shokunin, someone who devotes their life to a single dish.

Personally, I find Wakayama ramen to have a grittier taste and texture than other bowls that use similar ingredients. I also think this is the most underrated style in the country, and a great bowl of Wakayama ramen is something I constantly crave.


An amazing bowl, and if you want to continue your Wakayama search, check out the city's ramen map here.


Map of 4 Chome-84 Tanakamachi, Wakayama-shi, Wakayama-ken 640-8329

Wakayama, Wakayama-shi, Tanakacho 4-84
Closest station: Wakayama

Open 11:30-11:30
Closed Thursdays

Thursday, October 27, 2016

麺や 而今 (Jikon in Osaka)

麺や 而今


I feel like a broken record when I talk about the Osaka food scene. While Tokyo is all over the place in terms of variety of cuisine, Osaka's cuisine is all over the place in terms of variety. Does that make any sense?


Jikon (or is it Zikon?) isn't far from central Osaka, but it feels like you are in another prefecture. Very rural, with plenty of salarymen riding the early evening train back to their families.


About a 30 minute train, followed by a long walk to the shop.


At the shop's opening time, I was second in line. The gentleman before me didn't even have to order, he was a regular who always gets two bowls. One of the shop's famous 芳醇醤油鶏そば, mellow shoyu chicken soba, and one of something a bit more intense. And while the menu has that typical Osaka variety thing going, I had to stick with the classic on my first time.


If you nerd out about deep umami flavors, this bowl is up there. The master uses konbu from Raosu and Rishiri islands in Hokkaido, considered the best in Japan. If you are ever lucky enough to visit that part of the country, you'll see small-scale mom-and-pop kelp operations, where pristine pieces are hand dried by hand and delicately wrapped up to be shipped to the finest restaurants. With that as the base, he flavors this bowl with a special tare reasoning made from ayu fish sauce and natural, unprocessed shoyu.

Toppings include the standards, plus a chicken meatball, plus smoked duck breast.


I think I paid an extra 100 yen for the egg. Amazing value here.

I finished my bowl and watched my neighbor be handed his second. A niboshi ramen taken straight from Ibuki, the famous Tokyo-based niboshi ramen joint. A place I had plans to go to the following week.


Official site here.


Map of 6 Chome-7-9 Haizuka, Daitō-shi, Ōsaka-fu 574-0043

Osaka, Daito-shi, Haizuka 6-7-9
Closest station: Konoikeshinden

Open 11:30-14:30, 18:00-21:00
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Monday, October 24, 2016

麺や 七彩 (Shichisai in Hatchobori)

麺や 七彩 八丁堀店


File this under best-of-the-best. An epic bowl. A masterpiece.


Shichisai was one of my favorite shops back in the day. They were credited with being one of the shops to put mukacho, preservative-free ramen, on the map. Their kitakata-style noodles were made in house and hand massaged before serving them in a niboshi-rich broth. If you've had real kitakata-style ramen before, you would approve of Shichisai's attention to detail.


So how does their second shop, located in Hatchobori on Tokyo's east side make it even better?


They literally make their noodles on the spot.


From rolling the dough, to kneading it, to cutting it, everything is done in front of you.


And it isn't just a gimmick. The vigorous handling means a chewier noodle.


The only downside is the time. It takes around ten minutes for your noodles to be made. I arrived first thing in the morning on a weekday, so no problem. If you were coming during a busy weekend day you might have to wait a very long time. I can't say for sure, please make sure you arrive early if possible.


Schichisai's broth is deep and smoky. Kitakata-style flavors the broth with dried baby sardines and a lighter style of soy sauce. Heavy enough for a huge impact of flavors, but light enough to crush the entire bowl.


Site here.


Map of 2 Chome-13-2 Hatchōbori, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0032

電話番号 03-5566-9355
営業時間 11:00~15:30/17:30~21:00
定休日 火曜日

Thursday, October 20, 2016

友乐达 (Yolota Noodle House in Shanghai)



I'm usually pretty good about keeping up with my backlog of posts, but somehow this one slipped through the cracks! With a few hours layover in Shanghai, I had enough time to meet Michael (site here) for a bowl. Sure, Shanghai has a great number of Japanese ramen shops, but what is something I can't find back home? Shanghai-style noodles?


Not really. This shop is actually Taiwan-style beef noodles. Not that I'm complaining. Shanghai is more known for their dumplings, so I'm happy to slurp at this popular shop.


Very clean, modern, and chic. Yes, this is a shop in one of the city's many new shopping complexes. Yes, I usually avoid this sort of thing. But in an unknown city, with a likely chance of getting lost on the way to a hidden hole-in-the-wall, the fancy department store next to a major station is a good choice.

And now I have a taste for Taiwan, meaning I'll have to make a trip sooner rather than later.


As for these beef noodles, I approve. Solid fare, with a deep, beefy taste to the soup. Very much lacking in the umami department, but that is coming from someone who is invested in that sort of thing.

I would love to hear some of my reader's recommendations for Shanghai. I plan on returning soon for a deeper noodle search.


Site here.

Map of 浦东嘉里城

Go to Longyang Road Station Exit 1. It is in the Kerry Parkside shopping mall.


Monday, October 17, 2016

うえまち (Uemachi in Osaka)

中華そば うえまち


Uemachi isn't as out of the way as many of Osaka's more highly ranked shops, but for someone like me who doesn't live in the Kansai region, it took a while to finally make it.


Actually, with working finishing around 5pm on a Sunday, I could easily change my Shinkansen ticket back to Tokyo to a few hours later, head here for their opening at six, and still make it home before bedtime. For other's I work with, this would be a nightmare; performing for eight hours, then waiting in lines for noodles before the long train back. But if you've followed me recently, you'll know I am obsessed with this list, a 50 best of Japan, and Uemachi comes in at number 30.


A half hour before opening, and there were five people in line. The lure of homemade noodles and a light, preservative-free broth perhaps. I went with the 中華そば, chukasoba, the standard bowl. The other option that looked appealing was the 和え麺, aemen, an all-dashi soup that must be more like a buckwheat soba broth.




The master spent four years at another well known Osaka ramen shops (カドヤ食堂). What he learned there was precision, and everything about Uemachi is precise. The soup is a base of very specific chicken from nearby Nara Prefecture and Berkshire Pork from no-so-nearby Kagoshima. It all come together wonderfully. It's the kind of bowl that would give the high-end shoyu ramen shops of Tokyo a run for their money.


Excellent noodles, made in house with a Japanese flour blend.


Map of 〒540-0005 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Uemachi, A22

Osaka, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Uemachi A-22
Closest station: Tanimachi6

Open 11:00-14:30. 18:00-21:00
Closed Mondays

Thursday, October 13, 2016

神座 (Kamukura in Osaka)

神座 道頓堀店


The fine folks at Kamukra invited me to visit their head shop in Osaka, right in the middle of Dotonbori.


While Kamukura has a few shops in and around Tokyo, they are an Osaka institution, and have firmly planted themselves as one of the most important shops in the area. The first shop opened in 1986, and in just 30 years they have gone on to be a huge force in the ramen world. Forty one shops in total.


I took this chance to try and understand their brand a bit more, and maybe find out some secrets that go into the soup.


But, alas, it wasn't going to happen. Kamukura's recipe is a closely guarded secret, and to work here behind the soup you need to pass a series of tests and become a soup sommelier.


Well, what can I discern from the taste alone?


If you've ever been to a nabepa, Japanese nabe hotpot party, then you know. You cook meat and vegetables in a broth, infusing all these great flavors together over the course of an hour or so. You're left with an intense broth, and no nabepa ends without noodles being dumped into the left over soup.

This is a basic description of Kamukura's ramen to me. It's intense, with a lot of meat and cabbage flavors. A bit rough and crazy, but a great bowl.

Kind of like Osaka. To me, Osaka is madness, in the best possible way. After this bowl, I somehow wandered into a random sake bar. Next thing I know, yada yada yada, I was drinking absinthe and eating raw horse in a cyber-goth punk bar with old salarymen. You know, a typical Osaka evening.


I shot a simple video this time around, where I met up with my friend Yuka, an Osaka native. Check it out!

Official site here.


Map of 1 Chome-7-25 Dōtonbori, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 542-0071

Osaka, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori 1-7-25
Closest station: Namba

Open 11:00-11:00