Thursday, May 30, 2019

麺屋鶏冠 (Tosaka in Oita Prefecture)


Standing bars. Who doesn't love these pillars of Japanese drinking culture? Narrow drinking holes without a chair in sight. They are easy to enter, cheap, and always an adventure.

This one in Oita was full of local Kyushu shochu, as well as the standard beers, highballs, and Japanese sake. The locals were drunk, and my foreignness was to their amusement.

This is the norm. I walk into a countryside bar, people turn, I speak one or two words of mega-basic Japanese. Instant friendship. It is still strange to me that ordering sweet potato shochu with water (芋焼酎水割りください) is seen as a sign of Japanese fluency, but it is. I then spend the next half hour trying to steer the conversation from a boring interview (Where are you from? Why do you live in Japan?) into a normal conversation.

Those conversations somehow turn to ramen.

I do this all over Japan.

About 30 seconds from the standing bar was this regular's favorite ramen shop. He wanted to treat me, and who am I to say no.

Creamy chicken tori paitan. Apart from the normal and spicy versions, they have a Taiwan mazesoba on the menu, which means I will be back. Taiwan mazesoba is a gift from Nagoya to the world.

The shop uses local specialty chicken with an original shoyu blend tare. Kind of the perfect thing after all those drinks at the standing bar.

Gochisosama! (Thank you for treating me!)

Monday, May 27, 2019

清陽軒 (Seiyoken in Oita Prefecture)


After being turned away from a local fugu restaurant, I headed to the most famous ramen shop in Oita.

Of course, they were closed. I was zero for two for the evening. I didn't feel bad about the ramen, this sort of thing happens. But the fugu, I felt I was rejected because of my foreign face. A seat for one at the counter wasn't met with a flat out refusal, but a mini-conference in the back between the staff and chef. They debated whether to let the white guy in and then decided against it. There were plenty of seats I could have taken. You never know for certain what the deal was, but I have this happen on occasion, usually about once every two months, and I know the deal.

Maybe they really had, two hours before closing, reservations for every single seat in their shop, but I doubt it.

Luckily, Seiyoken has a second shop in town, and it was open. Proper tonkotsu ramen. The shop was old and messy. The soup smelled like cheese (or feet). The bowls were about $5. I'm in.

Completely normal stuff, but this shop has been serving completely normal ramen to locals since 1952. The broth is 100% pork, cooked for around three days.

The shop actually closed down in 2006, but the regular customers weren't having it. Three years later, in 2009, they opened again.

Who knows how long they have left in them, but the ancient noren curtain hanging outside the shop looks like it can last another 100 years.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Jeju Noodle Bar in New York

Jeju Noodle Bar

Wait! This isn't ramen . . . it's ramyun!

Technically, ramen and ramyun are both the same thing. Slight pronunciation differences from Japan and Korea. And while ramen played a serious role in modern Japanese food culture, ramyun in Korea was mostly associated with the instant stuff, especially spicy Shin Ramyun. According to the internet, Koreans eat about 80 packs of the stuff per capita a year. That's a lot of late night snacking.

Like all casual comfort foods, this dish lends itself to gourmet versions. The most hyped shop in NYC is, of course, Jeju Noodle Bar. They were given a Michelin Star for their efforts, something no ramen shop can say in this city.

It helps that they serve an entire menu of tasty bites, like Korean-style chicken wings and salads. They had, when I went, a dinner course menu on offer. I was only really interested in the noodles though.

Very impressive stuff. Sure, the $40 wagyu-topped ramyun was a bit excessive, but these bowls hit all the marks.

Very Korean in flavor, with pickled vegetables and a bit of spice coming through. The So Ramyun uses a veal stock, something I've never seen at a Japanese ramen shop. It was mega creamy. You might like it.

Of course, being a Michelin spot, reservations can be a bit tough. We rolled in at the opening and assured the staff we were only going for noodles. Keep that in mind, you can probably get a seat if you promise not to linger. This is America, and people linger.

And yes, the price is a little high for what you get. The bowl was smaller than normal, meant to be part of the tail end of a Korean snack extravaganza. Everyone else in the shop had at least one order of chicken wings for the table, some spicy cucumber, and a steak or two. So you won't be full from the $17 bowl of noodles, but you will probably leave satisfied.

Monday, May 20, 2019

E.A.K. in New York


I didn't plan on crushing any ie-kei ramen on this trip to NYC, but we got involved with some good sake at Sake Bar Decibel, and EAK wasn't far away.

Ramen x Beer. Yes! And no. Personally, I don't drink at ramen shops. I'm in the mindset that ramen shops are a get-in-get-out affair, and nursing a beer isn't in line with that mentality. But that neon sign is sweet.

Will this shop make my best-of NYC list?

EAK, spelled out, is pronounced 家系. Iekei ramen hails from Yokohama, originating at the infamous Yoshimuraya. It's Japan's eastern-style tonkotsu ramen, and it is intense. While Kyushu style tonkotsu is thick, this stuff is much, much thicker. The thick soup is matched with thicker noodles, topped with a trifecta of green spinach, nori seaweed, and negi green onion. The chashu is divine.

So what about this New York 家系 shop?

Props for their design, the shop is full of fun tidbits.

But first, ramen.

This one is awesome, and I would have never thought it. Iekei is a rather dirty style, full of fat and flavor, garlic and a touch of greens. As long as the funky doesn't get too funky, you've got a winner.

If I was giving out awards, this would be a late night bowl to keep in your back pocket.

Well slurped.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

アジア食堂パクパク (Pakupaku in Shinjuku)


This shop is only a three-minute walk from my front door. One minute if I run. Why would I run? I won't lie, sometimes I wake up late and run the short distance from my bed to Nishi-Shinjuku-Gochome Station to catch the subway. I have yet to be late for work or an appointment, but I have come quite close.

I was reluctant to come here. The previous shop in this building was called Mojito Table. They grew their own mint and served mojitos alongside a Thai / Western bar menu. But the service was terrible, and I got a bad vibe. Also, the mojitos were very overpriced and nothing special, so I vowed to never return. By the way, if you want great mojitos in Tokyo, head to 808 Lounge in Shimokitazawa. And tell Uno-san I said hello.

Back to my local spot.

Creamy tori paitan topped with some roasted chicken. I personally don't like chicken skin inside of ramen; I think the texture is too slimy. So once I removed the skin this one was ok. I don't dislike chicken skin, but that raw smell is something I try and avoid. Crispy chicken skin yakitori is one of the best things in Japan, but that's a different world.

So all in all, a bowl you might like. The shop is in a busy part of town, but down a secret alleyway, so I don't know if their business will work.

It looks like they do more of an Asian menu at night, so I'm not sure if they are still connected with that old mojito spot.

Monday, May 13, 2019

航海屋 (Kokaiya in Shinujuku)

航海屋 新宿店

I've been here many, many years ago in 2011, but was invited by Sebastian to come back. This was one of his favorite shops back in the day.

Nothing has changed. It's still a grungy shop in the heart of Shinjuku.

They still serve a heavy chicken and niboshi soup.

The still top their deal with a ton of tasty chashu.

They still have photos from their glory days of being featured on television by the big names in the ramen world. The guy on the right says it's the best ramen for a hangover.

They still have some great Engrish going on.

And though their other three or four shops closed, they are still serving up some tasty noodles.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Ryu's Noodle Bar at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Ryu's Noodle Bar

The newest shop at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is here!

This time it is from Canada. Toronto to be exact.

Did you find my book on the wall?

Ryu's Noodle Bar brings the tori paitan. Creamy chicken broth. How creamy can it be?

Follow the signs. This shop replaced Yuji, a shop that spent about a year and a half here. Yuji opened a normal shop in Tokyo, FYI.

This ramen is THICK! Some of the thickest chicken paitan I've ever had. 

A bit of yuzu to cut the creamy nature of a thick tori paitan broth, some tender chicken and roasted pork chashu, and a sprinkling of sesame. I am into this one. Be careful, the viscous nature of the thick soup means this bowl is very hot in temperature. Watch out!

To celebrate their Canadian-ness, some maple butter is on offer as a topping. If you thought this bowl was creamy, wait until you add butter. To be honest, I liked it, though it was almost over the top in terms of fatty flavors.

Japan x Canada.

Good luck at the museum!