Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tokyo shio tsukemen contest

After five shio tsukemen tried in the last few days, it was time to reach some verdict.

Hirugao and Touka had a relatively classical broth, whereas it was more cloudy at Ikeda, and fatter at Momonoki. But what interested me in a first place was how much taste could be transfered from the broth to the noodles - a challenge for any shio tsukemen! On this criterion, Oborozuki was the champion. However, Ikeda must be praised for its very interesting alchemy of texture between noodles and broth.

None of the bowls had a very remarkable meat, although the pork at Momonoki was interestingly different, but of uneven quality and overabundant.

In terms of toppings, the use of aburaage at Momonoki and rice krispies at Toka were quite interesting. Oborozuki and Toka definitely scored points to for their use of yuzukoshio.

The wari soup was very well crafted at Toka, quite original at Momonoki with the soba yu, and good too at Oborozuki.

Finally, the atmosphere was special at both Momonoki (with its women cook, relaxed atmosphere and unusual soba yu pot) and Toka (because of its minimalism).

Overall, though, Oborozuki and Toka were my two favorites, whereas Hirugao might have the less interesting dish, and Momonoki the less healthy. But they are all worth trying. I wish I had more time (and stomach strength!) to add Mendokoro Ginzasa and Matoi’s shio tuskemen to the comparison. Some day… some day...

Oborozuki (Tōkyō-to, Shinagawa-ku)

銀座 朧月(目黒処)
ぎんざ おぼろづき
Ginza Oborozuki

Shio tsukemen: 16 / 20
Chūka soba kiwami: 17 / 20
(中華そば 極み)

To finish my Tokyo-shio-tsukemen run, what other place to go than one of my favorite tsukemen restaurant: Ginza Oborozuki (see my former reviews here and there) - this time at the Meguro branch. I ordered the shio tsukemen (obviously), and my friend the chuka soba. Let's start with the former.

Broth: It had a strong herbal taste, and uncommonly, contained octopus and cokles. Despite not being so fat and adhering little to the noodles, it transferred a decent amount of taste to them.

Noodles: Thick, wich a kind of square-ish section, very mochi mochi.

Meat: Some slabs of meting chashu, not bad.

Toppings: Some thin rectangular menma, mild, salty and very soft. And here again as in Toka, the key ingredient is the yuzu koshio. You also get a sudachi that you can press in the broth for some zing. Finally, there were two sheets of nori (not the gigantic one I had in the mother shop, alas), which harmonized very well with the broth.

Soup wari: It brought some more herbal taste, and even a kind of buttery texture.

No surprise here, it was very similar to the one I tried in the Ginza-mother shop. But let's turn to what was the real novelty of the day, the chuka soba. This is a limited edition (gentei / 限定) from this shop, and as the waiter was bringing us the dish, the smell reminded me of something...

Broth: A strong niboshi shoyu broth, with a kind of pungent and roasted taste enhanced by square onion bits. Hmm, I’ve seen that somewhere else...

Noodles: Very yellow and a bit too soft for my taste.

Meat: Two small slices of a quite good chashu - very firm, this fits with my impression of déjà-vu...

Egg: Half a very well cooked egg, on the hard side.

Toppings: Some menma and nori sheets, the same as in the shio tsukemen - what a beautiful harmony between those nori and the roasty broth...

...and then, the illumination came: of course, this bowl is a copycat of Nagi's ramen! All the key components are present: the roasted niboshi-shoyu broth, the squared negi (although a bit less punchy than at Nagi), the firm meat… There are some minor changes, but Nagi's soul is there. Well, Nagi's ramen is a wonderful bowl, one of my favorite in Japan, so one cannot get really wrong by copying it. But I would recommend to go to the original - even more perfect, and in a great setting! - rather than to the copy...

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Tōka (Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku)

塩つけ麺 灯花
しおつけめん とうか
Shio Tsukemen Touka

Shio tsukemen: 16 / 20

As I was making my way towards Toka, I was a bit concerned to eat another shio tsukemen three hours after my first of the day, and five hours before the last... thus, I was happy when I arrived to discover that you could choose your tsukemen in all variations, including a very simple version without chashu and egg. That’s what I need for now!

Broth: A salty broth that tastes like chicken, less fatty than at Momonoki. I cannot say it gave a tremendous amount of taste to the noodles though.

Noodles: Pleasant noodles, less curly and maybe harder than at Momonoki.

Meat: I ordered the version without meat, but there were two small slices of chashu in the broth, relatively firm and salty, not unpleasant.

Toppings: The noodles were sprinkled with stripes of nori, which gave a nice twist to the mix of noodles and broth. Some thin and salty menma. And finally, the touch that made all the difference: some yuzu koshio (kind of spicy yuzu paste) on the side of the noodles-bowl, that you can put on your noodles after you dipped them in the broth. Delicious!

Soup wari: A very well crafted soup wari gave a more cloudy, starchy structure to the bowl (feels kind of like they had added some potato flour), with the addition of some kind of ‘rice krispies’ (that remained crispy even in the soup!).

The base of this dish was very essentialized, but had many little twists that made it worthwhile of attention. The yuzukoshio was a great addition for sure - seriously, it must have been the greatest invention of humanity since the wheel (I cannot say 'sliced bread' - seriously, who wants to buy his bread already sliced?)... It really gave the extra punch that sometimes lack in shio tsukemen.

If you are on a diet and want ramen, that may be a good place to go. As a note, this ramen joint must be the smallest one I’ve ever been to: five seats around the counter, that’s it - and you barely have any room to slide the door behind you when you want to leave. But it was a convivial configuration, and the choregraphy of the chef preparing meticulously the ingredients of each bowl made a great show.

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Momonoki (Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku)

小麦と肉 桃の木
こむぎとにく もものき
Komugi to Niku Momo no Ki

Shio tsukemen: 14 / 20

The north of Shinjuku Gyoen was a strategically location for my shio-tsukemen run, with two shops in the area famous for their shio tsukemen - Momonoki and Tuka. I entered into the former shortly after it opened. Momonoki is an interesting ramen restaurant held by two women – something I’ve never seen so far in Japan! The ‘bulgari ramen’ with yoghurt (of which they have only fifteen dishes every day) was tempting, but I had a mission here, a shio-tsukemen mission.

Broth: A slightly fat broth, flavored with yuzu. It did not provide such a strong taste to the noodles, alas.

Noodles: A large 300g portion of curly-tagliatelle-like noodles, the kind of noodles that definitely seems to be associated with shio tsukemen, as it looks from my recent experience at Zyurumen Ikeda and Hirugao (but this shop was formerly a branch of Hirugao, if I believe Ramen Tokyo, so this makes sense). Not very firm but OK. You can order them as atsumori (hot). Unfortunately you cannot chose how much noodles you want, and the default portion comes with 300g, which was way too much for me (I had some more shio tsukemen to sample during the day, remember?).

Meat: Quite unusually, it featured many, many thin slices of fatty pork: some were standard, some excellent and savory, and some just too fat for my taste. But overall, this was way overabundant and I had to leave some of it untouched - half the quantity would have been largely enough.

Toppings: Some interesting and rare aburaage (fried tofu) topping here - never seen that on a ramen before. Some long white negi too.

Soup wari: You can order ‘soba yu’ (the water in which they cook the noodles, I guess) instead of the classical soup wari, a relatively thick and cloudy juice that brings a really interesting new twist.

This bowl was a bit unequal, but definitely an original experience though, for many reasons - I mean, shio tsukemen is already a rather uncommon dish, so when it is made by women (in a usually overwhelmingly men's world), topped with fatty pork slices and aburaage, and with a yu-soba soup wari, it becomes truly unique.

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Other review: Ramen Adventures, Go Ramen!, Ramen Tokyo

Monday, December 8, 2014

Matoi (Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku)

新橋 纏
しんばし まとい
Shinbashi Matoi

Nōkō Niwatori tsukemen : 18 / 20 

So it was decided, I wanted to try some shio tsukemen. Going back to Mendokoro Ginzasa, where I had an excellent shio ramen last time, sounded like a good idea... but damn, this place is hard to find! And when we finally arrived there at 19:50 with my friend, they had run out of soup... For a shop that closes at 22:00, that’s early – it’s definitely more advisable to go there for lunch. Anyway, here we are on our way back to Shimbashi, for my original plan – going to Matoi. Last time I had the niboshi ramen and was not fully convinced, but the great reviews convinced me to give it another chance for their shio tsukemen. Except… that their shio tsukemen was over when we arrived. That's not my lucky day, was I thinking, as I ordered their torigara tsukemen. I was wrong.

Broth: Wow, that’s smooth. And tasty. Hmm, rings a bell… I know, Fuunji! Of course: both use a chicken-bones broth, which bring this delicious sweetness. I may not be a fan of Kyoto-style chicken ramen, but for Tokyo-style chicken tsukemen, count me in at any time. As usual, the soup wari brought some gyokai (fishy) twist; it was even sprinkled with a few yuzu bits, but their taste was hardly discernible – except when you would bit on one of those.

Noodles: Thick and eggy, perfect tsukemen-noodles.

Meat: Ah, now we’re talking! Last time, I had a big slice of very average and over-fatty chashu in the niboshi ramen. Here, you get the usual cubes of chashu, and my god, that may have been the best chashu cubes I've ever eaten - melting in the mouth, and simply excellent. You also get some bits of quite regular chicken.

Toppings: Some thin, soft menma with a sweetish, classical taste.

Last time I was at Matoi, I was surprised to find a relatively unexceptional dish. Now, this one definitely made up for the former one. But make sure NOT to order any extra chashu, as it looks from the picture that it is the same average one as the one I got in the niboshi ramen last time. Anyway, this dish definitely ranks among the best tsukemen of the capital city.

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Other review: Ii Tokoro Ne

AFURI (Tōkyō-to, Meguro-ku)

AFURI (Nakameguro-ten)

Yuzu shio ramen: 13 / 20 

I had been thinking for some time of contacting the two currently most active English-speaking ramen-bloggers in Japan, and I finally put myself to do it, sending emails to Brian from Ramen Adventures and Ben from Friends in Ramen. Both answered me quickly, and my new trip to Tokyo was a good occasion to eat some ramen with Brian. He had plans to go to the new Usagi shokudo, but it was closed on Monday, so we switched to nearby AFURI. I had been there some time ago, but was curious to try it again, in order to complete my current shio experience - although they unfortunately did not have a shio tsukemen (only a shoyu one). I ordered the classical yuzu shio ramen, in its assari, "Tanrei" version (you can also order a thicker "Maroaji" version), and Brian some special winter miso bowl.

Broth: Very simple, and the taste of yuzu, despite being the trademark of the shop, was rather subdued – weaker than at Hirugao!

Noodles: They quickly became too soft.

Chashu: Firm with some tasty fat (which could be more melting though), a good chashu overall.

Egg: Half of an egg with a very soft white and a nicely cooked yolk.

Toppings: The menma were thin, small, crunchy and extremely mild – might they be non-fermented bamboo shoots? The sheet of nori became quickly too soaked. They were also some mizuna, very light in taste.

Maybe I was a bit unlucky with my ramen on this day and the cook missed something in the dosage - in my memory (about eight months ago), it had a stronger yuzu taste. This bowl was not unpleasant but relatively standard, and saved by its relatively good chashu and egg. It would deserve a 14/20 with more yuzu or harder noodles, and a 15/20 with both, but you can find many better choices of shio ramen around Tokyo - like Shunmen Shirohachi, Hyottoko, Mendokoro Ginzasa or Menya Sou (review to come!). Brian's miso ramen was apparently not so tasty.

Anyway, we went to a cafe thereafter and had a great talk about ramen and philosophy - two of my passions in life, it case you didn't get it from the title of this blog. Was good to finally meet Brian, this guy is a real living ramen-encyclopedia!

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Ramen Adventures (new), Ramen Adventures (old), Ramenate, Ramen Love, Chubby Hubby, Gastrolust, Ramen Walker, Tokyo Belly, No Ramen No Life, Eataku, Do you even eat, Ramen Tokyo

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Zyurumen Ikeda (Tōkyō-to, Meguro-ku)

づゅる麺 池田
Zyurumen Ikeda

Shio tsukemen: 15 / 20
[Shoyu] tsukemen: 14 / 20

My shio tsukemen comparison project brought me to Zyurumen Ikeda in Meguro. I ordered the shio tsukemen with ajitama, my friend the shoyu tsukemen, and we shared three gyozas. While waiting, you can learn from some explanation sheet above the counter that their broth is made of chicken, vegetable, bonito and samma - and they use apparently organic ingredients, in case that matters for you. They also make their own noodles, a different kind for each dish. Here comes the shio tsukemen:

Broth: A cloudy broth with some special taste, thicker than a classical shio broth (although not very thick); it coated very nicely the noodles and made them remarkably slippery - a very interesting consistency. Not the best broth you'll find around but good enough. The soup wari at the end pushed it on the gyokai side, although it was still too concentrated and undrinkable.

Noodles: Kind of tagliatelle-like, flat and curly, very similar to the ones I had the day before at Hirugao.

Meat: Some bits of very regular chicken in the soup.

Egg: Excellent, in a classical way.

Toppings: Some thin and long menma that had a surprisingly mushroom-like softness. Some crunchy cabbage. A small bit of lemon that you can press to add some zing.

The alchemy between the noodles and the broth was remarkable, and for this reason, this ramen must be recommended.

The shoyu tsukemen was a bit less to my taste. The noodles were more spaghetti-like (and cut into pieces! if you're Italian, try not to faint, please...), and the broth sticked less harmoniously to them, but otherwise it had the same chicken, cabbage and final twist with the soup wari. Still good though.

Oh and I'm no expert in gyoza, but I was not especially impressed by their taste, despite their elegance.

More info on ramendb.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hirugao (Tōkyō-to, Ōta-ku)

塩らーめん専門 ひるがお (大岡山店)
しおらーめんせんもん ひるがお
Shio Ramen Senmon Hirugao (Oookayama ten)

Shio ramen: 15 / 20

Shio tsukemen: 14 / 20

A branch of Hirugao in the relatively remote area of Okayama station, that's an unexpected discovery! Ten minutes west of Meguro by train, Okayama station is located just next a campus of Tokyo Tech University, which probably explains the relatively high number of ramen shops around. Hirugao had always been a bit special for me, as it is the first restaurant (at the Tokyo ramen street branch) where I tried shio tsukemen, four years ago, a dish that had always puzzled me (how can you dip noodles in a clear broth?). This time, though, I went with their more classical shio ramen.

Broth: Simple and elegant, with just enough fattiness and a hint of yuzu. It concentrates nicely the taste of all ingredients - although I could not recognize the niboshi in it.

Noodles: Straight and firm enough.

Meat: A thin slice of chashu, relatively lean and very firm, with some crunchy fat inside and a caramelized taste - not the kind of soft, fatty chashu I usually prefer, but very decent though.

Toppings: Some relatively thin menma with, surprisingly, a taste of braised meat. And some viscous seaweed for an interesting twist.

Like many shio ramen, this is a simple bowl, but I appreciated its subtle simplicity. Kind of similar in terms of quality to Ryukishin in Kyoto (and in Kansai airport). If you are on a diet or care a bit about your health, you should consider this bowl.

The day after, I came back to try their shio tsukemen:

Broth: The broth in itself had a quite intense (and salty) taste, and it coated nicely the noodles, but still, not enough taste could be transfered to them. The soup wari at the end brought some fishy twist – and was quite different from the more meaty and umami shio ramen broth.

Noodles: Quite peculiar: slightly curly noodles with a relatively soft and starchy out part, but a relatively firm inner core.

Meat: A few pieces of firm chashu, with hard fat - it had a pleasant, slightly braised taste.

Egg: Two halves of an egg, but it didn't look like an ajitama as far as I can see (the outer part was very white, so there is no sign that it had been marinated). Well cooked, with a gooey yellow.

Toppings: Some long, thin crunchy menma with a mild, salty taste. Some scallops in the soup, a quite nice addition.

Overall, this was a pleasant dish but it did not convince me that shio tsukemen could be something special. Therefore, I put myself on a mission: try the best shio tsukemen of the capital city in the next few days, to see if there could be anything interesting with this uncommon dish! More info on this soon...

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Friends in Ramen, Ramen Adventures, Gastrolust, Enjoyramen

Hanada (Tōkyō-to, Toshima-ku)

麺処 花田めんどころ はなだ
めんどころ はなだ
Mendokoro Hanada

Miso ramen (yasai-mashi, ninniku): 14 / 20
(ラーメン, 野菜増量・生ニンニク)

Arriving at Ikebukuro in Tokyo with the night bus from Osaka, this was a perfect opportunity to continue my discovery of the ramen of the area, after last time's visits to King Kong and Tokyo Underground Ramen Ganja. After a couple of hours working from a Starbucks, I arrived at 10:50 in front of Hanada, a well-ranked ramen joint in the area which specializes in miso ramen. Don't mistake Hanada with Hanada tonari, the sister shop, as I first did! The latter specializes in abura soba and mazemen, and it's not sure that they are as much recommendable. Once in the shop, I ordered the miso ramen, yasai-mashi (added vegetables), ninniku-mashi (added garlic). While I was waiting, I could watch the impressive show of the cook frying the bean sprouts in large flames. Finally, my bowl arrived, with a small portion of rice (which I had explicitly said I did not want - I guess I have to work more on my nihon-go).

Broth: A very creamy miso that feels more like a sauce than like a soup. With the added garlic, it was excellent. In particular, it did not have this strong after-taste that many miso broth have too often (in a first place, the renown Kururi).

Noodles: Relatively thick and yellow for ramen-noodles, they were not as curly as the ones you would find in a classical Hokkaido-style miso ramen. Not so firm, but OK.

Meat: A slice of chashu, crumbly at places and firm at others, with a more meaty taste than most chashu.

Toppings: A lot of stir-fried bean sprouts, good but a bit overcooked for my taste, as well as some cabbage. Some (too soft!) menma with a very strong taste.

Side-dish: As I said, I also got a small bowl of rice, a good way to finish your sauce/soup.

I have mixed feelings about this bowl. The soup was really good, but the whole combination not really optimal, and the ramendb ranking seems a bit overrated to me. Maybe I’m not a big fan of miso ramen after all (I always find something I don’t like). But anyway, it was overall a good ramen, and you should not miss it if you love miso ramen. Note that the whole thing, mixed with the bean sprout and the thick soup, was quite difficult to slurp (especially if you don’t want to stain your nice suit), and very voluminous - come here hungry!

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Other reviews: Tokyobelly, Enjoyramen, Ramentokyo, Ryusuke

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Marusho (Osaka-fu, Toyonaka-shi)

Menya Marushou

Taiwan mazesoba: 17 / 20 

And here I am again in one of my Northern Osaka favorites, Marusho. It was time to try their mazesoba - which I had eaten in its summer, cold version - in its original, hot version.

Sauce: A very tasty, relatively spicy, and unfortunately too salty sauce.

Noodles: They had the perfect firmness.

Meat: You have to taste the ground minced meat before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients, to discover the richness of the spices. Sublime.

Egg: A raw egg, which fits perfectly well here.

Toppings: The same kind of toppings as in the cold version - minus the tomato: small nori squares, white negi, green negi - and the oh-so-subtle goma-flavored cubes (here again, taste one before mixing it with the rest, as the sauce might slightly overpower its taste).

As with the cold version, you get some rice to mix with the remainder of the sauce, for a very convincing after-experience. This mix is simple but sublime, and might even deserve in my opinion a special trip to Osaka’s northern suburbs.

More info on ramendb.