Monday, April 29, 2019

一番軒 (Ichibanken in Shinujuku)


New shop alert!

Actually, new shops are technically nothing new. If you can manage the Tabelog app (it's in Japanese) you can quickly bring up new restaurants in whatever genre you want in whatever part of Japan you want. 

I was with some serious ラーヲタ. Raota, or Ramen Otaku, are people who basically think about ramen and nothing else. Raota don't care if a shop is good or not. If they haven't been, they want to go. They suffer from the Pokemon mentality; gotta catch em all.

So we went to Ichibanken.

The shop is part of a larger ramen chain group, with over 20 shops to their name. The chain hails from Nagoya, Japan's third-largest metropolis. Nagoya tends to be a huge cauldron of citizens from the East and the West (of Japan), so there is a market for almost anything.

Good price and quality ingredients are what they bring to the table. I didn't ask, but it was written on the wall and on their website.

Normal stuff. Perfect for Kabukiocho, where the Tokyo shop is. In Nagoya fashion, they have chicken wings on the menu. Bonus!

Only 3972 more shops in the area to try. Gotta catch em all!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

ラーメンエアーストリーム (Ramen Airstream in Toyama)

化学調味料無添加&自家製麺 ラーメンエアーストリーム

Welcome to Toyama.

Toyama is known for their own ramen style, dubbed Toyama Black. You can try it at Taiki. I've tried it a few times, so it was time for something new.

Miso to be exact. While they have a few choices on the menu, the staff recommended this tomato flavored bowl. Tomato and miso in the soup, topped with some grated cheese, oregano, and ground chicken. Very satisfying.

Ramen Airstream is a bit of a trek south of the city center. This is Toyama, so don't expect much in the way of public transportation. The bus is infrequent, and it is about a 30-minute walk.

So I walked.

I read that this shop used to be run out of a vintage Airstream trailer. Now, said trailer is used to make the miso. A soy paste fermentation lab inside an old metal trailer? Sure, why not.

It was dark and rainy, so I didn't investigate.

I think you can rent bicycles from near the main station, making this trip much, much easier. Toyama is flat so that would be the way to go.

Monday, April 22, 2019

橋本食堂 (Hashimoto in Susaki, Kochi Prefecture)


My reason for visiting Kochi Prefecture this time around?

This guy!

He's everywhere, from PR posters to the sides of the city's prized cement factory. 

And I was here to meet him.

Shinjokun is the local mascot of Susaki City. He's a Japanese river otter, and he loves the local style of ramen, called nabeyaki ramen. Ramen in an earthenware hotpot. It's a style you won't find anywhere else; the rest of the country sticks with the tried and true udon for their hotpots.

It was an interesting day. I've worked all sorts of talent around Japan but spending the day with a mascot was a highlight of my many years in Japan.

Hashimoto is the towns highest ranked shop. I'd tried a few others, including the famous Mayumi's, but this one really stood out.

Richer broth, meatier chicken, the whole thing was a delight. Nabeyaki Ramen must be made with oyadori; mature chicken meat has a stronger flavor. 

Another rule is the raw egg. Some people leave it in the broth to cook a bit, but others scoop it out into the lid to use as a noodle dip. Do it local style!

This part of Japan is remote. It took a couple hours on a local train from Kochi's main city to Susaki. Shikoku, in general, is a road trip kind of place, so you should be driving and not taking the infrequent public transport. Then again, this was technically a PR gig, so I probably shouldn't say that.

Shikoku is a slow place so take your time between cities. Take some time and soak in the vibe.

Even if you are a famous celebrity, life is slower down here.

Thank you, Shinjokun, for the hospitality.

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.