Thursday, June 27, 2019

丿貫 (Hechikan in Yokohama)

灰汁中華 丿貫福富町本店

There are quite a few niboshisoba (煮干そば) around these days. So many so that it may be time to further categorize the style. You have thinner styles, like Shibata, and thicker styles like Ibuki and Itto. You have the mega-thick style, often called cement ramen like Tsukihi. Then, for some reason, you have places that incorporate crab into their niboshisoba.

And for some reason, these crab-centric spots lean toward quail eggs over the standard chicken egg. Seriously, this is the third crab-niboshi-quail egg spot I've seen recently.

I had to try the rock crab ramen, made with crabs imported from Canada. Luckily, I went with a friend so we could try the standard niboshi as well. By the way, the menu clearly states that first-time customers should probably get the niboshisoba, as it is the shop's claim to fame. This niboshisoba is always made with a different blend of dried fish. On this day it was two kinds of anchovy (片口 and 潤目) and mackerel (鯵). Niboshi can really be any kind of dried seafood, though the anchovy reigns supreme.

Not everyone loves the niboshi styles as they tend to be a bit fishy and bitter. The crab was a more mellow slurp. Really enjoyable.

I didn't try the limited bowl, made with hokkigai, a kind of surf clam. Turns out, Hechikan is constantly doing different limited bowls. Scallop, tuna, and lobster are all recent limited gentei bowls. I always think if I wasn't so obsessed with searching out new spots I would just visit the same five ramen shops and try all of their limited bowls for the duration of my life in Japan.

Monday, June 24, 2019

馬子禄 牛肉面 (Majilu Beef Noodles in Jimbocho)

馬子禄 牛肉面

Story time!

Hand pulled noodles in a beef bone broth. Lanzhou beef noodle soup came into existence in China during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. In many parts of rural China, especially the remote northern reaches, this dish is the staple of daily dining. Shops are everywhere.

Noodles are pulled prior to being cooked. Many rookies to the noodle game think that this is somehow authentic to ramen. Yes, in China many noodles are hand-pulled, but in Japan, we use noodle machines to press the dough and give a more even, chewy texture. This hand-pulled method tends to be a bit uneven if the chef isn't a seasoned vet.

Light beef soup, a bit of beef topping, and some hot chili oil. Comfort food.

This shop in Jimbocho is a decent spot to try this dish out if you've never experienced the real deal.

Oh, yeah, story time. Back in 2016, I was invited to visit Qinghai Province in northwestern China. It was my first "influencer" trip abroad, and I was excited to basically get paid to travel and report on a place I would most likely never visit in my life. Most people probably won't, as the Chinese government is very strict about travel in the area. For 10 days we saw the sights and ate the food. The tour was meant to wow us, and a simple peasant food like noodles wasn't something you would serve to VIP foreign guests. Not a problem, as we had a bit of free time in the evenings. While the other travelers went in search of drugs and Instagramable photo spots, I went for noodles. Discovering shops was easy; there are beef noodle shops on every corner serving bowls for about a buck. No local could point me to their favorite shops though. I honestly got the same answer every time I asked for the best in town. All beef noodle is the same. I had fun trying anyway.

When the trip was over, and it was time to get paid for our work was when the problems started. The Australian company spearheading the entire campaign went dark. Most of the influencers on the trip were owed payment, and most didn't get it. Eventually, I had my USA-based attorney send a letter. They ignored that as well. Not much you can do to Australia from overseas. The money wasn't massive, a thousand bucks or so if I recall, so the other influencers just gave up. I gave up as well. I deleted the posts about the trip and the whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth.

A few months later, I was hosting an Australian couple on a ramen tour. They mentioned that they work in the legal field. Not only that but they were focused on media law. Not only that but they were based in the same city as the company that owed me money. I casually mentioned my case, and they took it on. I'll spare you the details, but I eventually got paid.

Here is my post, back from the dead.

Official site here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

海老丸らーめん (Ebimaru Ramen in Jimbocho)


Lobster ramen? I'm in!

Topped with an entire lobster? I'm intrigued.

Well, I didn't go with the full deal, opting for their more "normal" ramen instead. The lobster ramen topped with a lobster comes in at 2500 yen. Not outrageous, but it looked like a bit of a gimmick. Sure enough, the only people ordering this menu item were the overseas guests from China. The normal bowl is good enough for Instagram, and at 850 yen, not a bad deal.

Ebimaru seeks to create French bisque-inspired ramen. Apart from the lobster, brandy and a bunch of vegetables make this one rich broth. It's decadent and I approve. Maybe the full lobster version isn't a gimmick after all.

Limited bowls from the past are drawn on the walls. Number 12, a soupless lobster tantanmen is right up my alley. I have a love-hate relationship with tasty limited bowls. On one hand, I'm out there hunting out new shops and don't have time to return to old shops often. On the other hand . . . lobster tantanmen.

It looks like they teamed up with Yatagarasu, one of my all-time favorite Tokyo shops for a limited bowl last year. Or was it two years ago. Although I follow many of these shops on Instagram, it can be hard to keep up.

Official site here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

おとど餃子食堂 (Otodo Gyoza Shokudo in Yawata, Tokyo)

餃子楼 おとど餃子食堂 本八幡店

The ramen here was great, but you probably won't come here for noodles.

As the name suggests, Otodo Gyoza Shokudo is all about the gyoza. Check out the video!

The quick story is that Otodo in Kasai added gyoza to their ramen menu, then won a TON of awards around Japan for their juicy dumplings. The trick was added pork back fat. When the gyoza fry up, they fat melts and turns into meat juice. Genius.

Here at their recently opened gyoza-only spot, you can get that one plus half a dozen others. Everything is super kodawari, meaning the attention to detail is deep.

By the way, the first time I had these dumplings was back in 2016 when I was filming a TV show with AKB48. What a nostalgic memory. That post is here.

Official site here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Sakanoue Unique in Kagoshima

Sakanoue Unique

Kagoshima Prefecture is quite massive. Personally, I feel like I've explored my fair share, but when I pull up a map of the place, I realize that isn't the case. And as is the case with most large landmasses, we set our sights on the extremes. The island of Yakushima. The active volcano Sakurajima. Ibuski. The Shibushi Bay.

But some great finds are just a few stations from downtown Kagoshima.

Sakanoue Unique is about 30 minutes by train from central Kagoshima by train. How did I find this gem? To be honest . . . Tinder. Years ago I matched with someone from the area. We never had a chance to meet, but she (I'm assuming her gender wasn't a ruse) told me about this ramen shop in her area. Score (and no score).

The menu has a few choices, but the light chicken ramen seemed the way to go. Not necessarily unique, but solid.

Light and refreshing and kissed with a bit of yuzu citrus. Exceptional slurps.

The menu has a tonkotsu, chukasoba, and sanra style as well. Out here in the sticks, you need a variety. Regulars are common here. I was probably the only one who rolled in unannounced.

Third place in a local ramen contest some years back.

I've long since deleted my Tinder account, but I'm glad I got something good out of it on this particular Kagoshima adventure.

Monday, June 10, 2019

三平らーめん (Sanpei Ramen in Kagoshima)

三平らーめん 照国本店

Road trip to Kagoshima!

Well, not really a road trip per se. I had work in Kagoshima on a Saturday, and work in neighboring Miyazaki on Sunday. Though the work load is light, the travel between hotels is quite far, leaving little in the way of free time. So I cam a day early, and ate a couple bowls of ramen.

Sanpei is one of the area's famous shops. While most shops in Kagoshima serve up budget bowls that I personally think are a bit underwhelming, Sanpei goes all in with a homemade miso base.

Black miso.

According to locl lore, this part of Japan created black miso. It's a blend of a few different Kyushu countryside misos, and has the benefit of being made without all the oil that miso ramen usually has.

Like other "black" bowls (Taiki in Toyama comes to mind), the taste is intense and spiked with black pepper.

Not too intense for me, but it might not be for you. In case you can't tell from the photos, the pork is a thick stewed block of deliciousness.

Official site here.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

麺処 銀笹 (Ginzasa in Ginza)

麺処 銀笹

Ginzasa offers a unique take on ramen.

Luckily, they offer a step-by-step guide on how to eat theirs. In English as well!

The broth is a light deal made with Japanese dashi and flavored with salt. Simple.

They also offer a tsukemen, but the ramen here is the main draw.

When you finish your noodles, order a side of 鯛飯. Taimeshi is a bowl of rice with snapper fish. The ramen bowl is conveniently pourable. Pour some soup into the rice.

It is a novel way to enjoy the soup a bit more. This is called お茶漬け. Ochazuke in Japanese is usually a rice bowl with hot tea poured in, but you can use any kind of broth and still get away with that name.

Rice tends to amplify the umami flavors, and ramen soup in rice has a very different taste than ramen soup with noodles.

Don't forget to add a little aonori and fried garlic.

They have many accolades, but their slightly inconvenient location a few blocks from central Ginza means that you may avoid a line.

Monday, June 3, 2019

大島 味噌ラーメン (Oshima Ramen in Funabori)

大島 味噌ラーメン


Here it is. This is the highest-ranked miso ramen in Tokyo.

Can see the shop from the highest viewpoint in Funabori at Tower Hall Funabori's free observation deck?

In pure Hokkaido fashion, they do shio, shoyu, and miso. They also have a 昔風, old-style bowl.

But since this shop is a direct descendent of すみれ, you should probably do miso. Sumire is considered one of Sapporo's best miso ramen restaurants.

The old-style was something I'd never seen before. I was with a friend who wanted to try it, so at least I could have a taste.

Interesting. Very, very light. Not something I would ever order to be honest. But that is the beauty of true Hokkaido ramen shops; shops in the north have variety.

The miso is the star. Heavy, funky stuff that needs a large helping of freshly grated ginger to cut the miso's fermented flavors. It's classic and I loved it.

Is this Tokyo's best miso ramen? Well, it is actually ranked best in the country on the Ramen Databank. Though this site tends to lean towards Tokyo, that isn't a small feat.

Crushed it!

I noticed a mini curry on the menu and had to try it.

Simple Japanese curry rice, made with ramen soup for a bit of underlying flavor. Good stuff!