Thursday, April 18, 2019

製麺処 蔵木 (Kuraki in Kochi, Kochi Prefecture)

製麺処 蔵木

Kochi is about as far from Tokyo as you can get. The main city in one of Shikoku's four prefectures, famous products include katsuo fish and ginger. They have a famous mascot, Shinjokun. He's a Japanese river otter with a bowl of ramen on his head.

Yep, pretty far from Tokyo.

But the city itself is fairly rad. They have a vibrant downtown with restaurants galore. The local Hirome Ichiba (市場) market is a must hit for local food and drinks (map here). Every time I've gone here I have made friends. Once, with a group of five co-workers, we met another group of very drunk marathon runners from all over Japan. Never mind that the marathon was the next morning, they were there to have a good time. I kept in touch with one of them and even visited his izakaya in Toyama. This time, I was alone, but the family of four sitting next to me became instant drinking pals, talking trash between our kanpais. Even the six-year-old Taiya-kun told me my Japanese penmanship was weak. Love it.

And then there is this ramen shop. Kuraki showed up as the top-ranked shop in the area.

Motsu tsukemen to die for. Motsu is random offal. Stomach, guts, various tubes. By itself, motsu can be offputting to many people. The textures are oddly soft and spongy, and sometimes the bits stink a little. In a heavy soup, though, they are right at home.

Totally my style. There are only a handful of tonkotsu gyokai shops in Tokyo that I recommend to people, so this one is something special.

Add in rice at the end for some extra sustenance. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

中華そば 満鶏軒 (Manchiken in Kinshicho)

中華そば 満鶏軒

Do you know Mengyo? The snapper-based soup topped with smoked chashu was a huge hit in 2016, and for a hot minute, every foodie seemed to know about it. Well, they moved across the street, and the master opened another shop with a different style in the old space.

Duck ramen.

Duck ramen, shio or shoyu. The soup is a clear deal, topped with sous vide duck chashu, a smoked egg, and some duck oil. Duck was a huge trend in recent years. Would Manchiken live up to the hype?

Everyone who has been loved it, but I think nothing compared to the awesomeness that is neighboring Mengyo across the street.

Comparing duck and snapper is like apples and oranges, so let's avoid all that. If you are riding that duck ramen craze, come here for sure.

Both shops, by the way, have long lines that converge in a nearby park. Be sure to follow the directions for the different lines. It would be a downer if you waited an hour for the wrong shop.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

なんでんかんでん (Nandenkanden in Koenji)

なんでんかんでん 高円寺店

Nandenkanden is back! Probably the most famous tonkotsu ramen shop in Tokyo's history, Nandenkanden shaped the ramen scene in the country's capital like no other shop.

When they opened their original shop in Shin-Daita, they didn't know what they were in for. This was back in 1987, and before that, no one had a taste for creamy tonkotsu ramen. Nandenkanden changed all of that, and the four-lane thoroughfare that they were located on couldn't handle the madness. Traffic would back up with cars trying to get into the small parking lot. This is close to central Tokyo, hence the lack of parking spots. The biggest draw was for taxi drivers, who are notorious for their love of strong, porky ramen from Kyushu.

The original shop closed sometime in 2009 or 2010, with hopes of opening again the following year. At least that was the rumor. Sometime around 2015 people stopped talking about it.

Then, suddenly, they opened just outside of Koenji Station. This is big news, and I was there the day after I got back from a big trip overseas.

I heard that one guy has the patent for printing on nori seaweed, and made his fortune off the tech.

So how was it? Years ago, this was one of the stinkiest spots in town. You could smell it from half a kilometer away if the wind was blowing your direction. Well, the new spot lacks any of that, as they are making the soup off-site somewhere.

They taste was, I hate to say, mediocre. It lacked the funky punch that made the original one, from what I can remember, such a beast. The lack of funk and the fact that my noodles were stuck together in a bit of a clump means that I won't be returning. Sorry, guys, but this one feels like a franchise trying to make some money in a good location.

They had only been open a week, so maybe there were some logistics issues. They opened 30 minutes late, which I am not upset about, but the noodle problem is something unacceptable.

When I left, the line was about 20 people.

Kind of sad to read 日本のラーメンブームはここはら始まった!!on the sign. This is where Japan's ramen boom started.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Pink Head Noodle Bar in Malmö, Sweden.

Pink Head Noodle Bar

Technically, is this ramen? No. But when I spent a couple days in Malmö at the end of my three weeks in Europe, I was hit with a sudden craving for noodles.

Pink Head Noodle Bar is in the Malmö Saluhall, a kind up gourmet food court in what I can only guess is the city's business district. Actually, Malmö as a city was strange, exciting, dark, and eye-opening. They were in the middle of a national election, with a far-right group gaining an unsettling number of supporters. Just like America, the cities are hip, modern, and full of snowflakes while the countryside, the silent majority, had a newfound voice. Living in Japan, we are blissfully unaware of the problems in the world that we don't proactively seek information about, and I more or less thought Sweden and Denmark were two peas in a pod; happy socialist states full of stock-photo-happy white people who embrace the diversities of the world. Not really the case. Though I only spent a few nights there, my views of the place are drastically different.

But this isn't about my political opinion (which is actually quite neutral). Let's talk about these noodles!

Wade Brown hails from Australia. Influenced by China, Japan, and Korea, this is a bit of a fusion spot. Asian street food inspired noodles in the far, far north.

Hand cut and served with a spicy sauce. The biang biang noodles were simple and just what I needed.

The accent of fresh peas was a solid addition.

You get all kinds of textures and all kinds of strong flavors. It's a winner.

Get there before the lunch rush.

Fun fact, Pink Head is a racial slur used by the Chinese during colonial times to refer to their aggressors.

Another fun fact. In the time between slurping this bowl and writing this post, they started serving ramen. Good luck!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Mochi Ramen Bar in Vienna, Austria

Mochi Ramen Bar

Mochi Ramen Bar came recommended by a few people, so when I visited Vienna I had to give it a try.

The menu is all over the place, with shio, shoyu, and miso all represented. The tonkotsu ramen sounded like something I should try, though in hindsight I should have read the ingredients list. I assumed normal tonkotsu.

Never assume, even when you are in Japan. Foreigners tend to love miso ramen with corn and butter toppings, something you rarely see in Japan. When you do see it it is probably being slurped by some children. Corn in ramen, to me, is something for white people who probably grew up farming the stuff.

Feel free to have some sake with your noodles.

The addition of corn and sweet pickled daikon was something I would have avoided if I had known. The sweetness (of both yellow things) just doesn't match with creamy pork soup. It's too much, and you lose the most important part, the soup. To add insult to injury, the soup was at a less than ideal temperature. 

Fun spot, but the ramen was a bit underwhelming. Barely warm broth and the addition of mismatched toppings were a bummer.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Karma Ramen in Vienna, Austria

Karma Ramen

Karma Ramen was opened by a friend of mine in Vienna, Austria a few years back. 

Ramen is international but still underrepresented as a cuisine. Makes things easy on my end when I'm in a far away country.

Karma uses as many local ingredients as possible. Local flour for the homemade noodles is a must.

I didn't take photos of all the ones I tried, but this spicy bowl was my favorite. Hit with a bit of heat and a bit of yuzu aroma, it hit all the marks for me. The Lotus root is heavily pickled, something totally new for me. A heavy crunch. Tender chicken. Slick noodles. This bowl hits all the senses.

Be sure to check out the bathroom. A Japanese manga artist penned an original comic strip that runs along the walls.

Who will win in the epic showdown of motorcycle-girl versus umami-beast? Both the men and women's toilets have a different ending!

The people behind Karma also run Cockpit-Bar next door. It's a local-style bar with a bit of a custom motorcycle vibe going on. No a bad place to hang.

FYI, if you are looking for a place to stay, there is a solid Airbnb spot in the same building as Karma and this bar.