Monday, November 28, 2016

道 (Michi in Ikebukuro)

つけめん 油そば 道


Oops! I went to the wrong shop.


You see, there is a shop called Michi. It's a shop that sits high on my list of bowls to crush. In fact, Michi is #1 on that looming list of the 50 best shops in Japan that I have been trying to complete.


So I went here, to a shop called Michi. But that word, Michi, simply means road, and there are countless shops with this name. I had, in typical me fashion, not done my research.


No wonder there was no line.


Not a bad shop, but nothing special. Just a normal tsukemen shop. This one was a bit in the Marucho style, a style which I love. But since it is only a few stations from the Meijiro Marucho, I'd say skip it and head there instead.


Map of 3 Chome-3-2 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tōkyō-to 170-0014

Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro 3-3-2
Closest station: Kanamecho

Open 11:00-2:00am

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Shinshin in Fukuoka

博多らーめん ShinShin 天神本店


I forgot who, but someone told me that Shinshin was their favorite spot for Hakata ramen. With a location just minutes from where I get my hair cut locally (Frank's Chop Shop), I had to go.


I love when Hakata ramen restaurants have a massive side menu.


I especially love when they have mentaiko, spicy cod roe. It is one of the best things in Japan.


Hakata ramen and mentaiko, it's a classic combo.


Shinshin was strictly normal for me. Very group friendly, as you can get a few things on the side of your noodles, drink a few glasses of strong Kyushu shochu, and kick back.


A famous local spot indeed, you'll find all your favorite Japanese celebs have been here.


Official site here.


Map of 3 Chome-2-19 Tenjin, Chūō-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken 810-0001

Fukuoka, Fukuoka-shi, Chuo-ku, Tenjin 3-2-19
Closest station: Tenjin

Open 11:00-3:00am
Closed Sundays

Monday, November 21, 2016

博多一双 (Hakata Isso in Fukuoka)

博多一双 博多駅東本店


I love my ramen, and I love my adventures. But sometimes, it can be a lot for my stomach. I was officially binging in Osaka ramen before making my way down to Hakata to binge on creamy tonkotsu ramen.


Most shops in Hakata are easy to get to, with long hours and not-so-long waits. Notice I say Hakata, not Fukuoka. There are some shops in the countryside of this prefecture that only open for lunch, run out of soup, and have odd holidays. Thank you Hakata for being tourist friendly.


Isso is a solid shop. Open for 13 hours a day, with no days off makes it convenient as well.


To be honest, this was when I reached my ramen-limit for the week. You've broken me, Hakata!

Which is unfortunate, because Isso serves a fantastic bowl. Opened by the Yamada brothers in 2012, their soup is more on the refined side. They use local fare, the soy sauce, pork, and green onions come from local makers, a sentiment that you feel most shops out here don't adhere to. The soup is constantly moved between pots while cooking, creating what has been dubbed Ramen Cappuccino (their words, not mine).

Great soup, legit noodles, and more toppings than your average tonkotsu bowl. But, like I said, I had just overdosed on ramen.


Adding healthy amount of しょうが - ginger - helped a bit. Ginger is a natural digestive aid, and its use in many Japanese cuisines is a result of a healthful history.


Unsweetened fresh ginger kakigori - Japanese shaved ice. This dish, eaten for breakfast at Suzukake, acted as a much needed cleanse, though I would avoid heavy Kyushu noodles for the next week.


Official site here.

Map of 3 Chome-1-6 Hakataekihigashi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken 812-0013

Fukuoka, Fukuoka-shi, Hakata-ku, Hakataekihigashi 3-1-6
Closed Station:  Hakata

Open 11:00-24:00

Thursday, November 17, 2016

元気一杯 (Genki Ippai in Fukuoka)



Before you go to Genki Ippai, you need a bit of warning. This shop has some idiosyncrasies that make it stand out. The first is well known; the blue bucket. Genki Ippai has no sign. The only way to find it and know that they are open is to look for the blue bucket outside. Warning number one: if the bucket isn't there, search for your noodles elsewhere. And though they have a set schedule, the master is known for closing if the soup isn't perfect that day.


The next warning: the rules.
  • No phones
  • No photos
  • Drink some of the soup before eating the noodles
  • Do not put any of the takana, spicy mustard greens, in until you eat a bit of the ramen
  • Don't ask the master about the ramen
  • Don't speculate about the ramen's ingredients

Yep, you might have heard about this one.

Well, the blue bucket was out, so I went in. I was the last customer of the day, and the shop emptied by the time my ramen came. I respect rules, so I didn't talk, didn't shoot photos, and ate the ramen in the prescribed way.

Frankly one of the best Hakata-style tonkotsu bowls I've ever had. I won't speculate about the ingredients, but it was mega porky without much stink. I understand why a few people rank this as their #1.

Then I did something I know I wasn't supposed to do; I asked the master about his ramen.

First I asked if I could take one photo, a photo of the rules, for my site. His response was unexpected. "Why would you think you couldn't take photos? You're the only person in here!" Sure enough, I was the only person left, as the blue bucket was no longer outside. Grasping the opportunity, I delved into his thought process. What's with the rules?

To sum it up, he wants everyone to enjoy his ramen to the max of their ability. If someone is talking on their phone, you might be annoyed and it might affect your dining experience. Hearing someone snap shots, and you might worry that your privacy has been invaded. If you are the one taking photos, you are wasting valuable slurping time; thin Hakata noodles are meant to be slurped quickly. Eat some ramen before adding the hot condiment is self explanatory; it was some of the spiciest takana I've ever had.


I don't think you'll be kicked out for breaking the rules, but he does have a sheet with them translated (both English and Chinese). Don't be that guy.

We chatted for about 10 minutes about all things ramen, and he wished me luck on my search. Then, as I was packing away my camera, he runs over to the kitchen and brings out a bag. A tupperware full of the shop's takana, as a gift.

So, yeah, this is officially my favorite place in Hakata.


Map of 4-31 Shimogofukumachi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken 812-0034

Fukuoka, Fukuoka-shi, Hakata-ku, Shimogofukumachi 4-31
Closest staiton: Gofukumachi

Open 12:00-18:00
Saturdays 12:00-17:00
Closed Sundays

Monday, November 14, 2016

きんせい夢風 (Kinseimufu in Osaka)

彩色ラーメン きんせい夢風


I love my ramen adventures, and when I can share them with other ramen nerds, all the better!


Tonda Station itself isn't so far out, but Kinseimufu, a very highly ranked Osaka shop, is. Almost two miles from the nearest station isn't that bad, but on a cloudless day in the middle of a sweltering Japanese summer, I was about to pay the cash for an air-conditioned cab.

Then we saw it. A few hundred yen for a bicycle rental.


Easy choice. We being myself and Ben from Friends in Ramen, your source for Osaka ramen.


The 燻製鶏塩ラーメン, smoked chicken salt ramen, is the one to get. You still get your excellent shio that the place is known for, but you get the bonus of some amazing smoked meat on top.


I thought the normal shio ramen was quite . . . well . . . normal. Two kinds of chashu, high quality menma, and a light, yet umami-rich soup. Great shio ramen has become commonplace these days, so I can't say if the trek was worth it for the non-ramen-obsessed.


Despite having a mega high rating, the line wasn't bad when they opened. You experience may vary.

Official site here.


Map of 2 Chome-19-7 Sakaemachi, Takatsuki-shi, Ōsaka-fu 569-0825

Osaka, Takatsuki, Sakaemachi 2-19-7
Closest station: Tonda

Open 11:00-14:00
Closed Tuesdays and Fridays

Thursday, November 10, 2016

和心 (Nagomi in Mukonoso, Hyogo)

らーめん専門 和心 武庫之荘店


There are actually two shops with the name Nagomi in the eastern part of Hyogo Prefecture, bordering on Osaka. One, the original, is a few blocks off the Hanshin rail line. The other shop, opened by a disciple of the first, is five kilometers north, on the Hankyu line. Both are called Nagomi, though the characters are different (和海 vs 和心).


I bring this up because of a conversation I had with some Osaka natives. When someone moves west of Osaka, the only thing that matters, status-wise at least, is which line they are on. The Hanshin line is by far the lesser of the two, home to old wooden houses, ugly seaside factories, and a general roughness. Hankyu is more manicured beauty, tree-lined sidewalks, and specialty stores.


Sure enough, I arrived at Hanshin Mukogawa Station, where locals were fishing for their dinner in the dirty river. The station itself was a bit dated. Construction workers were taking a break, eating watermelon, atop one of those old wooden houses. And, as if the fates wanted to solidify my opinion of Hanshin, Nagomi was closed that day.


Hankyu Mukonoso Station, on the other hand, is shiny and new. Even the trains are stylish.


Construction workers were replaced by ladies walking their dogs in expensive strollers. Fish from the local river were replaced by fish mongers with a fresh Hokkaido catch. And Nagomi here was definitely open.


At 11:30 or so, half an hour before opening, I was about 15th in line. This is a popular shop. I pity the soul who arrives after opening; you'll be here a long time.


This is the 追い鰹醤油らーめん, a shoyu ramen rich with katsuo flavors. Super dark brown, with a flavor to match. If you aren't a fan of rich, smoky fish flavors in your ramen, you've just wasted a couple hours of your life. More if you went to the closed shop first and had to take a bus for an extra 30 minutes to come here.

The shop's signature kurumabu - 車麩 - is an easy way to know your bowl is from Nagomi. Those circular things on top are actually friend bread slices from Okinawa. Kind of like bits of toast, they soak up the soup the way slices of baguette do in French onion soup.


Having spent an extra few hours on this adventure, I had to try their limited rice bowl. Fluffy scrambled egg, heavily flavored chashu, and a nice sauce over rice. It looks like they often have a limited donburi dish like this, which you should probably go for.


Love ya, Kansai.

Map of 1 Chome-22-23 Minamimukonosō, Amagasaki-shi, Hyōgo-ken 661-0033

Hyogo, Amagasaki-shi, Minamimukonoso 1-22-23
Closest station: Mukonoso

Open 12:00-14:00, 18:00-23:00
Sundays 12:00-16:00
Closed Tuesdays and some Wednesdays

Monday, November 7, 2016

丈六 (Joroku in Osaka)

麺屋 丈六


I met the master of Joroku at a ramen event last year, and he came off as a real nice guy. Well, that niceness meant that he was constantly being invited to ramen collaborations with other shops, and every single time I tried to visit his downtown Osaka spot, they were unexpectedly closed. Either they were at an event, had run out of soup, or just decided to take a day off.

I learned a lesson about Osaka ramen here; be sure to check their twitter feed for updates. The masters here love twitter and it is the only reliable source of up-to-date shop info. You must be able to find their site and read Japanese; I can only help you out so much.


Joroku's super-central location (minutes from Namba Station, in a very lively part of town) means convenience. Not a particular criteria for a good bowl, but it's great to have a lot of before and after options. And while Joroku is on a rather shady street, more family-friendly fun isn't far away.


Getting down to the ramen, the standard bowl is 高井田系 - takaida-style. It's an Osaka thing, and it is wonderful. Deep, dark tamari shoyu is used. Shoyu 101 teaches us that tamari doesn't have the wheat added, resulting in a much heavier taste. If you've ever been served a special shoyu with sashimi, it was probably tamari.


Using this mega-soy sauce could easily result in a bowl that's too salty, so when a shop really makes it well, the fandom follows.

Feeling adventurous, I tried their limited 秋刀魚醤油らーめん - sanma ramen. Sanma, also called Pacific Saury, is an oily, flavorful fish that gives a big kick of flavor. A lighter, more normal soy sauce rounds out this one.


The two broths side by side.


I prefer the deeper soup. It's super intense, and really indicative of Osaka.

Looking at the menu, the sanma is one of their limited volume bowls. Joroku usually has one or two of these seasonal styles on the menu. An easy excuse to come back.


Official site here.


Map of 6-16 Nanbasennichimae, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 542-0075

Osaka, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Nanbasennichimae 6-16
Closest station: Namba

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-21:00
First Sundays 7:00-10:00, 11:30-15:00
Closed Wednesdays