Monday, March 30, 2020

Tsuta in Singapore


My summer of 2019 trip to Europe was in full effect. To save money on flights, I took Scoot Air, the LCC of the LCC of Singapore Air, from Tokyo to Athens, Greece. Eight-hour layover in Singapore's Jewel Changi Airport? I'm down. At around $400 this flight was less than many domestic flights in Japan.

Often given status as the best airport in the world, this place has a ton to do.

The highlight being the massive indoor waterfall. The 40-meter high Rain Vortex is legit interesting. It's in the middle of Forest Valley, basically a rainforest dome. Neat stuff, though you have to actually leave customs to walk around here, so your mileage may vary if you don't travel as light as I do.

My credit card gives me lounge access, so I thought I would check out the Jewel, then head to the lounge for low-quality snacks and a nap. Then I saw something.

That's right, when Tsuta was awarded their Michelin star, they started their international expansion. 

It looks like I have time for a bowl.

I've heard very mixed reviews about the overseas Tsuta shops. Most lean on the negative side, but what do you expect from ramen in a shopping mall. I enjoyed this slurp in my state of slight delirium (my flight had already made a two-hour layover in Bangkok) and could tell that they were going for a similar taste as the original Japanese version. Ingredients are tweaked here, though the basics remain the same. Excellent shoyu flavors from the tare blend. Truffle accents from the shop's truffle oil. Yes, this bowl still tastes like truffle oil.

Though I only tried this one bowl, the Singapore shops (there are three) offer an original kamo paitan, a creamy duck ramen. Back in the day, chef Onishi-san opened a second brand of Tsuta in Sugamo, called Tsuta no Ha, that had a focus on duck.

Official site here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

丹頂 (Tancho in Osaka)


Yes, this is a bowl of egg custard ramen, topped with gorgonzola cheese and set aflame. Of course it's in Osaka.

I was out working on one of the manmade islands on the edge of Osaka Bay. These islands, like Odaiba in Tokyo, are home to convention centers, theme parks, and an aquarium. This is also the terminus of the Osaka-Shanghai ferry, something I'd like to experience someday. USJ, Osaka Zepp, a bird sanctuary? How much more random can this place get?

How about Japan's shortest mountain. Mt. Tempo, though less than five meters, is an officially recognized mountain. Fun fact, I was here on August 11th, 2019. This national holiday is called, you guessed it, Mountain Day. 山の日よ!

And then there is the ramen at Tancho. Steamed egg custard is mixed with dashi broth. It's covered with a stinky cheese blend (I believe they have a non-stinky cheese version as well) and the whole thing is given a dusting of high-proof spirytus vodka. Just before serving, the chef lights it up.

Wierd, interesting junk food. No, it isn't going on any of my best-of lists, but now that you know of its existence, I'll let you decide for yourself.

Near both the aquarium and the aforementioned mountain, so maybe you want to tie it into a day out, Your call.

Monday, March 23, 2020

ぶたのほし (Butanohoshi in Amagasaki, Hyogo)


Instant favorite at Butanohoshi. I don't say that lightly, this is an epic bowl of tonkotsu ramen. For this ramen fan, easily one I would crush weekly if I lived in the Kansai area of western Japan.

Butanohoshi (lit. Pork Star) comes by way of the Muteppo group. Known for boiling the hell out of their bones with such vigor that the resulting soup is both thicker and surprisingly less stinky than other tonkotsu ramen shops. Many great tonkotsu ramen shops simply stink. The smell can permeate a few city blocks in some cases.

The owner, Takada-san, started making ramen at Muteppo when he was 40 years old. After less than a decade, he opened Butanohoshi in 2018.

This shop ticks all the boxes. Super cool atmosphere in a light and airy converted warehouse. Takada-san is there constantly dishing out bowls and crushing fresh bones with his mallet. This helps bring that rich collagen out, one key to thick soups like tonkotsu ramen.

He has three pots on high boil at all times. The one with a lighter looking liquid gets tempered with the one with the heavier looking liquid. All three have fresh bones tossed in at what appears to be a random pace. Not true. This is something he developed in his years at Muteppo. While most shops prep ahead of time, checking the viscosity along the way, Butanohoshi looks like some kind of improv cooking.

And like a well-tuned improv jazz pianist, the results are impeccable. Get the special bowl, it comes with extra thinly sliced pork and an egg. The pork slices actually feel light when compared with the soup.

Soup full of life. Bits of meat mingle with the broth.

Noodles come from the Muteppo group, based out of Nara.

You will wait, but you won't mind.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

鶏Soba 座銀 にぼし店 (Zagin Niboshi in Osaka)

鶏Soba 座銀 にぼし店

Beautiful bowl, I know. Zagin's second shop serves a niboshi offshoot of what they serve at their first shop, a frothy tori paitan. Artistic with a taste to match. What's not to love?

Well, Zagin is one of those shops adored by overseas tourists, and ramen like this has some convincing to do. I don't automatically dislike the shops with 80% tourists in the line, but I am often underwhelmed. Can Zagin do it for me?

Oh yeah. The already creamy chicken soup is blended with a mixer to aerate it more, turning the broth white. Served with their signature fried burdock root (ゴボ) you get a creamy smooth and an earthy crunch. Sous vide pork and chicken chashu adds more layers to an already excellent bowl.

Zagin Niboshi uses dried sardines from Kyushu, Nagasaki and Fukuoka to be exact, to give the soup a bit of deeper ocean umami.

The day I went, I noticed a limited cold soupless bowl on the menu. I can almost always crush another bowl if it is sans-soup, and that's that I did. Italian cured ham and seasonal vegetables. Of course, plenty of fried burdock.

Very good, though a bit of a challenge to eat with so many parts. Do you eat each bit separately or mix it all into a blob. Your choice.

As with most 80% tourist shops, Zagin has a few branches overseas. If you live in Hong Kong, let me know how they are.

Monday, March 16, 2020

crab台風 (Crab Typhoon in Ningyocho, Tokyo)


Crab Typhoon is an offshoot of Typhoon, a spot I didn't care for much back in 2009. I look to be in the minority, as they had a bit of success and even opened an outlet in Hong Kong (香港荃灣にらーめん). That said, I can't comment on something I tried once 11 years ago. Let's focus on the new!

Crab Typhoon, as the name suggests, uses crab. While shops have been blending rich tonkotsu soup with dried fish, this is one of the first shops to blend it with crab.

The result isn't very crabby. It's more like a kicked up new-wave tonkotsu ramen. Bits of ocean umami mingling with the heavy collagen of the pork. I really dug this one.

The spicy green sauce is a must. A bit aromatic with a tame amount of heat. This is Japan, after all, and anything above a two on the spice-o-meter just won't fly.

Ramen or soupless noodles on the menu. Choose what you like. If I return I will go for the soupless with an extra serving of the green sauce.

In 2020, they opened a third shop called Typhoon R. Stay tuned!

Official site here.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

いそのかづお (Isono Kazuo in Sapporo, Hokkaido)


This trip to Hokkaido was all about the legend shops, ramen restaurants highlighted in The Best of the Best Ramen. This meant a lot of great bowls. This also had a strange side effect; I ate very few bowls of miso ramen in Hokkaido this time around.

Isono Kazuo is, as the surrounding Susukino area, a late-night spot. Susukino is one of Japan's top nightlife areas if we are talking about the drinky kinds. The kinds where Japanese businessmen pay top dollar to have attractive women pour their drinks and make small talk. Apparently, Susukino is a bit more affordable. I have my favorite natural wine bar in Sapporo, so I'm more interested in the ramen.

Open from 10pm until something like 6am. You can get a bowl of Sapporo Black Ramen anytime you need.

Dark soy sauce and a fishy base. A garlic punch hiding in there somewhere. 

The unofficial style of ramen known as black is famous in Toyama and Osaka, but any locality can do it. Is one of the rules that the soup has to stain the noodles?

Check! Noodles made from Hokkaido-based Hinodeseimen noodle factory. Though the soup isn't a Sapporo miso, those noodles are thick, curly, and eggy. 

The master works quickly. This is a good thing, as the line at 9:30 pm was already 15 people deep. By the time I left at around 11, there must have been 30 people waiting.

This is a must in Sapporo, though that list for me is around 10 shops now.