Thursday, May 28, 2020

명동교자 본점 (Myeongdong Kyoja in Seoul, South Korea)

명동교자 본점

On this episode of "Is it Ramen?" we have kalguksu and bibimguksu from Korea. Is it ramen?

Noodles in Korea have a separate but parallel history with noodles in Japan. In the 1960s, following the war, there was a massive shortage of rice in the area. Noodle culture from other parts of Asia, both using flour and other grains like buckwheat or beans, come together in the Korean melting pot. Local ingredients made their way into the mix, like broth from oysters and crabs along the seaside.

The kalguksu at Myeongdong Kyoja is made with a light chicken broth and topped with dumplings and ground meat. The texture is similar to ramen, though less chewy. I'm fairly sure they leave out the kansui, a key ingredient in ramen's unique texture.

I'm not sure if this is a thing, but this crowded shop was over 90% seniors. With a 60 year history of making noodles, I'm sure they have some loyal customers.

The mandu dumplings were fairly bomb. Dumplings came to Korea via China, with the former adjusting the tastes for the local palate. Apparently, Koreans want their dumplings to be less oily. A great match for kimchi.

Bibimguksu is a kind of spicy, cold noodle dish. Cold noodles, hot pepper, and cool cucumber.

Very heavy, but the spice and vegetables don't weigh you down. 

Am I the only one who can't use the metal chopsticks in Korea?

I guess it just takes practice.

Myeongdong Kyoja is in the Michelin Guide, for you collecting Bib Gourmand marks. I enjoyed this one a lot, though people told me there are better shops out there. Bibimguksu is considered a countryside village food, much like soba in Japan, and I would love to travel a bit around Korea eating noodles.

Maybe I can find an 80-something-year-old grandpa to take me on a tour.

Official site here.

Monday, May 25, 2020

酒酔 醍醐 (Daigo in Kanazwa)

酒酔 醍醐

Technically not a ramen shop, Daigo is an izakaya that serves some of Japan's most premium sakes.

Take a look outside to see if they have your favorite. Many, many Juyondai bottles for those with deep pockets.

Izakayas serve snacks and small plates meant to go well with sake. Daigo is no exception, and you can try many local seafood specialties like nodoguro (a kind of fatty fish) and oysters. And like most izakayas, they have some soupy carbs to finish on. In this case, ramen comes in the form of fishy (魚介スープの旨塩味), miso (ひき肉たっぷり味噌味), or beef (牛テールスープの醤油味). I went with the beef tail bowl.

Nothing mind-blowing, but when you are a bit tipsy (or downright drunk), you want a simple, filling thing to end the meal.

You came here for the sake, right?

Stellar collection. The full line of Aramasu, dozens of my favorite Kudoki Jozu, and the aforementioned Juyondai. Yes, they get a few bottles of Ryusen when it is released, with a price of over $100 for a small glass.

Come for the premium sake, stay for the ramen.

Official site here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

東京ラーメンショー2019 (Tokyo Ramen Show 2019)


The 2019 Tokyo Ramen Show, held around the first week of November, featured some collabs, some out of town shops, and some souvenir swag. Same as every year.

I only went twice to try a couple interesting collabs. Nakamura and Setagaya did a spicy fishy ramen.

And Kikanbo teamed up with Nagi for a spicy fishy bowl.

Both were very good.

The Nakamura bowl won second place overall, with a Kyoto nodoguro ramen coming in first. You can drop your ticket stub into your favorite shop's ballot box. If they win, they will use the publicity to try and ramp up sales. I'm not sure if it helps. Many shops will print posters with long lists of achievements. Ramen Adventures best-of lists have even been used, though rarely.

I would have liked to spend a bit more time here, but it all depends on if I can find a group to go with on the weekdays. The lines can be bad on the weekend, though this year's attendance was way down. I heard it was around half of what it was before, though I wasn't invited to the press booth so I can't really state any facts about the event.

A lot of people plan their Japan trip around this event. Is the Tokyo Ramen Show on your bucket list?

Official site here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

大つけ麺博2019 (Grand Tsukemen Fest 2019 in Shinjuku)


Remember 2019? I do. I didn't go as hard on the annual Grand Tsukemen Fest as I normally do, as I was traveling a bit in the month of October. It was unfortunate, as this year's lineup was insane. Usually, we have five weeks with nine shops each week for a total of 45 places to try. This time, shops were constantly changing in and out of the ten booths. A total of 100 ramen shops from around Japan made the trek to Shinjuku.

Could you crush 100 bowls in one month?

I would if I could. The event in 2020 is still undecided, though if they repeat this system I'll go for it.

Each shop had a stamp, and the more stamps you get the more prizes you can go home with.

Crush all 100 and you'll have a custom bowl and custom spoon. I realize that at 870 yen a bowl that is an 800 dollar bowl. I'd still do it if I could.

To be honest, I rarely have a stellar bowl of ramen at these events, as the noodles in soup tend to get soft as we wait for friends.

But the mazesoba bowls are another story. I love them! How about some mazesoba topped with fried gyoza, fried gobo (burdock), and a bunch of meat? Yeah, I thought so.

I reckon I crushed around 20 or 30 bowls this year. October is a wonderful time to be outside in Japan, and this venue is only a 10-minute bicycle ride from my home. Nothing going on . . . head to the Grand Tsukemen Fest.

Stay tuned about the 2020 event. If they have this 100 concept again, I'm in it to win it. I would have to time things perfectly though, as some shops are only there for a day or two.

Official site here.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

好陽軒 (Koyoken in Nagoya)


Certainly one of the most visual bowls out there. Ramen geeks in Japan can recognize Koyoken with ease. A few dozen thick-cut menma pieces cover the ramen. Sure, that housemade menma is a major draw, but the soup isn't bad either.

The 竹 (take means bamboo) bowl has the goods. Of course, you can get one with significantly less menma if you really want, but it won't look as good on your Instagram feed.

The ramen here is known as Korai-style (好来系). It's a Nagoya style originating in 1959 that uses chicken, pork, and marine products along with onion, carrot, and other root vegetables to make a cloudy soup. Another small detail about this style is the use of 松, 竹, and 寿 on the menu. 松 (matsu) is the normal bowl. 竹 (take) has extra menma. 寿 (kotobuki) has extra pork. Koyoken (and I assume other shops in the korai style) has a special 寿竹 bowl as well, with extra pork and extra menma. Go for it!

Official site here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

迂直 (Uchoku in Ogikubo, Tokyo)


Enter the new king of Tokyo. Uchoku was praised heavily by everyone who tried it. Count me in that crowd. Katsuo konbudashi shoyu tsukemen (鰹昆布出汁醤油つけ麺) to die for.

Hours are lunch only with a sporadic day-off schedule. Plan accordingly. I won't lie, it took me a couple attempts to make it here, as they were closed on some irregular days. Twitter is your friend in Japan.

Take note of the how-to-line instructions as well. Can't read Japanese? Well, only a few people can line in front of this shop in a residential suburb of Tokyo. The line continues a block away. Don't roll up and cut, though I'm sure someone will call you out on it.

The current trend in ramen in Tokyo is tsukemen served in broth. Konbusui (昆布水) is literally kelp water. Kelp seaweed is boiled down into a viscous water for the noodles to sit in. The amount of umami is insane. This style was popularized at mega-famous Idashoten, regarded as the best ramen shop in Japan.

Taste the homemade noodles as they are. Taste the noodles with a touch of salt. Then start dipping.

The konbusui at Uchoku uses katsu as well for that umami synergy we all love.

Deep soy sauce-based broth. The soup here is chicken-based and hit with some nice aromatic oils on top. While most tsukemen shops have soup wari, a broth for pouring into the heavy soup at the end, here just drop some of that konbusui in and drink it down.

I've tried a few other shops in Tokyo following this trend, and though they are mostly excellent, Uchoku is next-level.