Thursday, April 30, 2020

梅花亭 (Baikatei in Shiga Prefecture)


Baikatei is one of Shiga Prefecture's most celebrated shops. If you narrow your search down to Nagahama on the east side of Lake Biwa, this is the one to hit. I went for the sake kasu ramen (酒かすのらーめん) as recommended by the staff, but found out later they are better known for their snapper dashi ramen (天然鯛だしそば). I can assure you the one I ate was excellent.

Baikatei is a consistent winner on both Tabelog and Ramen Walker's annual grand prix. 

Very, very good. I am a sucker for well-made sake kasu ramen, as the number of places using it as an ingredient can fit on one hand.

The shop's teppan fried rice looked good, so I found room in my extra stomach for an order. Basically, you "cook" the egg yourself. Gyoza, homemade karaage fried chicken, a few kinds of rice bowls, even anindofu dessert are all on the menu. 

Though the shop feels ancient, it has only been open since 2008.

And though I am obviously a fan of this one, I have to warn you that it is kind of a pain to get to. Lake Biwa is cool and all, but it's over an hour to Kyoto and over an hour to Nagoya, making this shop a positive pain for non-locals.

Monday, April 27, 2020

ピラニアラーメン (Piranha Ramen at Ninja Cafe in Asakusa)


Yes, this is ramen made from Piranha.

I made a YouTube video here with thoughts of it going viral. That didn't happen.

I try not to be too negative about ramen I eat. Something that isn't the best for me is often someone else's favorite bowl on the planet. I tend to be a bit of a noodle nerd, but I realize that many people are fine with overcooked, soggy 麺. But this one was really bad. I definitely don't want to be labeled as a critic, telling men and women who devoted their lives to cuisine how to do their job, but this was awful.

I am convinced that they made some error. We were some of the first customers of the day, as I lined up thinking this would be much more popular than it was. There were a few press there before the general public, so I know we weren't the first to eat it.

All good, though. I hope they at least broke even on this Pirahna endeavor.

Official site here.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

杭州飯店 (Koshu Hanten in Niigata)


Koshu Hanten is a full-on legend shop. One of the founders of Niigata-style seabura ramen. Seabura (背脂) is pork back fat, and the stuff covers bowls in this massive prefecture. I've heard that the hard-working rice farmers of this part of Japan needed something to give them the energy for long days in the fields. Whether that is true or myth, you'll find a lot of pork fat in Niigata.

Koshu Hanten has around 85 years of experience. From humble beginnings as a yatai food cart to this.

Insane gyoza and tasty gyusijinikomi, beef tendon stewed in Japanese sauce, along with the ramen make for one of the most decadent, calorie-riddled meals I've had in a while. Could you say no to all this good stuff?

Sure, you could just go for ramen. I visited with a group of four adults and two children. Crushed it all.

The noodles here are on the thick side and a bit uneven. Noodles are obviously an integral part of any bowl of ramen. While the Tokyo trend is refined, something like the seabura ramen at Koshi Hanten is a breath of fresh air.

The owner is a character. The third or fourth generation, he carries on the tradition. Obviously, he's happy to be ranked so highly in Ramen Walker magazine.

And he rides a badass Harley! Always good to see another #ramenrider out there.

Sorry, but this shop is a tad out of the way of any touristy spots in Niigata. Tsubame has many metal-working factories, so maybe you'll come for that. Otherwise, hop off the bullet train, grab a bowl, and head on your way.

Monday, April 20, 2020

むぎくらべ (Mugikurabe in Ogawamachi, Tokyo)


The name of this shop says it all. Mugi (むぎ) kurabe (くらべ). Literally, compare the wheat. So let's . . . compare wheat!

The shop is both a ramen shop and a bakery. Every day they use different wheat.

Fun concept and those noodles were, in fact, super wheaty. I imagine if I worked in the area–Jimbocho is full of offices and what not–I would be here now and then to . . . compare wheat.

Bonus! This dude's rad ramen tattoo!

Official site here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Casa Ramen Super in Milano, Italy

Casa Ramen Super

I met Luca back in 2015 when his Italian ramen was featured at the Yokohama Ramen Museum. It took four years, but I finally made it to the source. Unfortunately, his main shop, Casa Luca, was closed during the summer holidays. Fortunately, his second shop, Casa Ramen Super, was open for business. Let's go!

Super! Six different styles using four different soups. They were out of the signature tonkotsu this time, so with some local friends, we tried all the rest.

Yuzu ramen with a Mediterranean fish called umbrina. A very fleshy fish, umbrina works well as sashimi or ceviche. A very light flavor with a nice kick of spicy yuzu kosho.

The Tori Red Paitan is a creamy chicken soup with a bit of both spicy oil and burnt garlic oil, known as mayu in Japan. Spot on bomb creamy style ramen.

A bit of aburasoba for my little Principessa. I hadn't seen my friend Francesca in over a decade, and to eat ramen with her and her daughter was a delight. Along with another friend Alex, I was happy to introduce two people to the world of great ramen in Milano. 

Unfortunately, I only had one afternoon in Milano, so just a few hours to check out the town. I went back to have some pizza and natural wines with Luca Catalfamo. I even filmed for a YouTube video. Stay tuned for that!

Official site here.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Verderamen in Brescia, Italy


I met Giancarlo back in early 2019. He was out in Tokyo to eat a bunch of ramen as "research" for his upcoming shop. It worked out, as the Asahi Shinbun newspaper wanted to profile my ramen tours. Giancarlo is a charismatic Italian, perfect for this sort of thing. After the tour, he said I am welcome anytime in Brescia, his hometown in the north of Italy. How about summer?

Brescia is about an hour from Milano by either car or high-speed rail. The town is historically quite famous for marble production and has some decent old buildings like a Medieval castle and Roman ruins.

And now some ramen.

Verderamen serves an array of tasty bowls. This tantanmen is Japanese-style, meaning not to heavy on the heat and a smooth sesame base to mellow it out. Giancarlo and I had planned a trip to the heart of Chinese spice land, Chengdu, around June 2020, but Covid-19 put an end to that. Next year!

The shop's signature bowl is their shoyu truffle ramen. People have divided opinions about truffle as a flavor and aroma enhancer in casual food like ramen, and I personally shy away from it in Japan. But here in the north of Italy, we are smack in the middle of the global truffle scene, so I'm interested.

Fantastic. Truffles should be used as a minor accent. If you want full-on truffle flavors, I'd go for something like risotto, not ramen. As a little bonus, though, this one works. Chashu wonton truffle ramen.

Regardless of how you feel, this homemade topping is tough to argue with, though. The truffles are locally sourced blacks from the nearby mountains. Giancarlo slices them thin and stores them in some quality olive oil.

Of course, the chashu wonton truffle ramen has a healthy serving of pork chashu.

Ramen, aburasoba, summer cold noodles, rice bowls, and bao. A large snack section means drinks are a must.

Local craft beer in the bottle.

Junky aburasoba always works if the noodles are the right size. Verderamen makes their own noodles using a Japanese ramen machine. I got a lot of flack for eating so much ramen in Italy, but aburasoba is kind of like Japanese pasta, no?

Bao is very common in Italy as a side menu. I thought the veggie bao would be a light, healthy snack, but it turned out to be a tasty tempura calorie bomb. Pork, salmon, and beef bao are on the menu as well.

The Gozer is an Italian panna cotta mixed with white miso covered in white chocolate matcha crumble. Yes, this refers to Gozer The Gozerian. Are you a god? No? Then die!

Though it is almost unheard of to find such kind of side menu items at ramen shops in Japan, I have no problem with this growing trend.

Giancarlo is a graduate of the Osaka Ramen School that I work with. How cool is that!

Many people scoff at me eating so much ramen in Italy. The truth is my culinary journey was all over the place. Just around the corner from Verderamen is the excellent Hosteria Antica Lelia, where I went to town on what Brescia had to offer.

More truffles from just up the road.

Pasta made with dried shad fish, aka Italian niboshi. I asked Giancarlo to make a local-style niboshi ramen, but the fish from nearby Lake Iseo are very expensive due to the difficulty in both fishing and preserving.

Stewed beef cheek on polenta.

When I geeked out about this food to a friend who spends a few months eating in Italy every year, he said food of this caliber is the norm. Good to know.

Thank you Giancarlo for everything. I took my buddy to Lido 84 on our last day for a little something fancy to thank him for all the ramen. During our meal we talked about ramen and life in Italy. Stay tuned to the YouTube channel for that content . . . only a year late!

Official site here.