Sunday, September 27, 2020

魚と豚と黒三兵 (Kurosanbe in Shinjuku, Tokyo)


Kurosanbe (full name Sakana to Buta to Kurosanbe) is a newly opened shop that took over when another shop in the back alleys of Nishi-Shinjuku shut down. I can't for the life of me remember the last shop's name, it must not have resonated with me. Though I forgot the last one, Kurosanbe is one to remember.

The name Sanbe (三兵) literally means three warriors. Perhaps this name comes from the three ramen chefs who run this spot. They all trained in Osaka with the Sabaroku Seimenjo group which is part of a larger Fuijio Food Group. I've never been to any of the 12 Sabaroku shops, but the internet tells me that they focus on using saba for a nice umami punch in their ramen. 

Kurosanbe is, as expected, using dried saba fish as a base. Pork plays a major role as well. The result is a solid tonkotsu gyokai style bowl.

The bonus that makes this one special is the non-ramen menu. Gyoza for days.

The signature gyoza are served on a hot iron plate and the shrimp gyoza are essentially an entire XL shrimp done gyoza style. The shop has drinks as well. Gyoza + beer = good.

Homemade noodles. MSG-free. English menu.

I hope business is ok on this back street. I know locals go to the handful of shops around here, but none of these shops (there are half a dozen spots on the street) ever seem too busy.

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Thursday, September 24, 2020

IRUCA Tokyo in Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo

 本格柚子塩らぁ麺 IRUCA Tokyo

Yuzu ramen is a thing. Thanks to some well-managed branding from Afuri, I receive frequent requests from Americans for the 411 on my favorite yuzu ramen spot. In the past, I never really had an answer. Yuzu makes its way into all kinds of ramen, regardless if that ramen is labeled as yuzu ramen or not. That said, I now have an easy answer to one of my top picks for yuzu ramen. IRUCA Tokyo has you covered.

Unfortunately, IRUCA is a bit of a trek from central Tokyo. Expect an hour or so by train and about the same by car.

For a ramen hunter, the trip is worth it. Master Ogawa-san trained at some top shops in Japan, including Nagi, Afuri, and Itto. 

He's combined aspects from all of these shops, though the yuzu shio ramen (柚子塩らぁ麺) at IRUCA is most closely connected to the yuzu shio ramen from Afuri.

Quality chicken from Nagoya and Daisen as well as a blend of five different salts make the base of this bowl deep and flavorful.

The toppings make it something special.

Chicken meatballs, slow-cooked chicken breast, and roasted duck chashu.

Of course, the list of ingredients is much more detailed than that. Different noodles for the shio and shoyu come custom-made from Mikawa Seimen, one of Tokyo's most famous noodle makers.

The soup contains common mussels called murugai (ムール貝) for added umami. Aromatic oils from the Nagoya Kochin chicken fat is infused with porcini mushroom for the shoyu ramen. Meats are all prepared using different homemade tare sauces.

Open since 2019.

Official blog here.

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

とんくる (Tonkuro in Sasazuka, Tokyo)

ぶたの旨味らーめん とんくる

I was meeting a friend at Minatoya for kakigori. This is one of my favorite shops in Japan for shaved ice. They focus on simple fruit flavors without a lot of added syrups. I prefer this style. My friend was running about 45 minutes late, so I popped into a local ramen shop.

Just look for the turtle outside.

Tonkuro, as expected, serves tonkotsu ramen. Or do they?

The soup here is made with pork, chicken, and fish. They strive to make an easy to slurp ramen with minimal seasonings so the customer can focus on the delicate umami. While tonkotsu is rich and creamy, the flavors from chicken bones and dried fish give a little extra balance.

Very basic, clean bowl. You can spice it up with spicy takana mustard greens, Hakata-style. I heard through the grapevine that this ramen shop employed a number of minor television personalities; they will let you work odd hours in order to make it to all of the auditions you are up for.

And for those with attention to detail, the shop used to be called Sanzen (三ZEN) before it became Tonkuro.

Official site here.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

New Years Ramen at Nagi


Every year for the past four or five, Nagi has been one of a handful of ramen shops in Tokyo to do New Years' specials. To bring in 2020, they did three different bowls over three days. Uni ramen, niboshi ramen, and Nishio's ramen.

I didn't make it on the first, so their special niboshi ramen would have to be my first of the year.

Copious amounts of Nagasaki niboshi. Nagi is famous in Japan for their heavy niboshi ramen. While this has been a hit in Japan, their overseas operations found fans with tonkotsu ramen. Interesting how that worked out.

I love these New Years' bowls for two reasons. First of all, this shop isn't so far from my home. I can be there in less than five minutes if I speed on my bicycle. The other reason is that I always run into the usual gang of Japan's ramen nerds. Most people take the first few days of the year off to lounge around the house. With only a couple ramen shops open, they all tend to come here for a bowl.

The niboshi ramen was great, made with some premium ingredients and a side of dried root vegetables with mountain wasabi.

But the real winner (every year?) is the Nishio Chukasoba.

I used to visit Nishio's shop about once a week back in the day (my original blog post was in January 2010). Since then he closed up shop to focus on the expansion of the Nagi group both within Japan and overseas. On one hand, I'm happy for one of my favorite ramen shops to succeed in such a way, but on the other, it sucks that I can't have this bowl more often. Heavily seasoned roast chashu, sprouted moyashi ben sprouts, and a special noodle made with a bit of cornflour. 

Since these are special bowls, the choice of ingredients is on the premium side. Ingredients from Akita, Kumamoto, Aomori, Iwate, Aichi, Kagoshima, Hokkaido, Tottori, Nagano, Fukuoka, and Kagawa. It's literally half of Japan in a bowl.

See you again in 2021!

Official site here.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Japanese Soba Noodles蔦 (Tsuta in Yoyogi-Uehara, Tokyo)

Japanese Soba Noodles蔦

"The truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac, but it can upon occasion make women more tender and men more apt to love."

- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1852) The Physiology of Taste

Tsuta, the first ramen restaurant in Japan to receive a coveted Michelin star is back in a new location. The menu still features truffle oil-infused shoyu ramen, as well as a few other styles. The new spot is slightly larger to deal with the insane amount of tourists they expected to receive during the now-canceled Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It's also in the much more desirable Yoyogi-Uehara, just a short walk from Yoyogi Park and Shibuya.

Please note that I came during their soft open, so things will be different when you come. I lined up for an hour, but there may be a different reservation system in place when you come.

The menu could be different as well. Chef Onishi-san, like most new-school ramen chefs, is constantly tweaking his recipes and sometimes even adding completely new items to the menu. He also frequently makes limited bowls, so check their website if you are into that sort of thing.

The noodles, though, will probably remain made in house.

Despite the meteoric rise to ramen fame, Tsuta makes a stellar bowl. They pretty much made truffle ramen a thing, and a slew of other shops started putting cheap truffle oil into their soups for a chance at some love from Michelin. It isn't lost on me that the third shop to receive a Michelin Star, Hototogisu, also uses truffles.

Yes, I ordered the shoyu ramen topped with extra shaved truffles. Each style of ramen comes with this option at a rather high cost. Is it worth it? Truffles are purely aromatic, and the amount they put in the standard bowl has almost the exact same qualities as the premium one, at a cost of almost 2000 yen less.

Of course, fresh truffles are different than truffle-infused products like oils, sauces, and butters. I recently read an expose on the shady side of Italy's truffle word called The Truffle Underground.

It paints a bleak image of this industry. I don't want to imply that anything used here is inauthentic, but many truffle products are made without any truffles at all. Pharmaceutical chemicals like bis(methylthio) methane are labeled as truffle aroma, as are boiled down bovine spines.

A paltry 2000 yen for fresh truffles isn't looking so bad now.

Maybe 2000 yen isn't a big deal, or maybe you want to do it for the Gram. Either way, you are getting their phenomenal soup.

Tsuta has always used ultra-premium ingredients. Top-level, expensive chicken from Aomori and konbu from Hokkaido. Specifically, Aomori Shamo chicken (青森シャモロック), massive Amakusa Daio chicken (天草大王), meaty Kuroiwa chicken (黒岩土鶏), and everyone's favorite Nagoya Cochin chicken (名古屋コーチン).

I crushed the ramen at this new spot with fervor.

Actually, Tsuta was one of my favorite shops back in the day. I worked in the area of their old shop at a girl's high school, a job that I really didn't have my heart in at times. After a stressful day, I would walk back towards Sugamo Station and wait in the modest 30-minute line for a bowl. When they received the Michelin Star I went once more, skipped to the front of the 2-hour line to offer my congratulations, and went home without eating. I went back once to film one of my most popular YouTube videos ever, but that was it for Tsuta and me. 

The new spot is a 5-minute bicycle ride from my home, so I'll probably roll by now and then. I hear, even during popular tourism seasons, they don't have a line in the evening. 

Welcome to the Wonderful World.

Official site here. Onishi-san's blog is here.