August 27, 2010

Tokyo 2010: Ramen showdown

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When in Tokyo, I always make sure to get some of my favorite ramen (ラーメン).  As I'm staying for a while this trip, I had the chance to compare two places I haven't been to before.

Gogyo (五行) - I went to the Ginza (銀座) outlet on day 2 for lunch as it was just around the hotel.  My friend Susan had raved about this place so I came to check it out.  One is given a choice of 4 soup bases, plus a tossed cold noodle.  I came for the trademark burnt miso (焦がし味噌) so that's what I ordered.  I also added a soft-boiled egg (半熟味付け玉子), some nori (のり) and chopped green spring onions (青ねぎ).

Every once in a while, there'd be a huge burst of flames in the kitchen when the miso (味噌) is burnt.  What comes out in the bowl is a dark broth with fine, black powder.  It wasn't as salty as I expected, and there was definitely that added dimension of smoky flavors.  Pretty nice.  Interestingly there were small, rough meatballs in the bowl... something I didn't expect.  The slice of fatty pork belly (the Japanese call it チャーシュー) was yummy... lots of delicious, soft fat...

The big pitchers of cold buckwheat tea (麦茶) were great - really refreshing and exactly what I needed to cool me down after a hot bowl of noodles.

On day 8 I marched off to Roppongi (六本木) for my long-awaited dining experience at Ichiran (一蘭).  I use the words "dining experience" because it is a little different from your regular ramenya (ラーメン屋). The diners sit at individual booths in a straight line, facing the serving area.  A drape covers the top half of the window, describing the philosophy of the place.  After handing over the order sheet to the waiter, a bowl of noodle appears shortly in front of you, and the waiter lowers the bottom drape so that the diner no longer looks at anyone (or anything) except the bowl of noodle in front of him/her.  If you want to really focus on your food - for the ultimate solo dining experience - or just don't feel like talking to anyone, this is the place.  There's even a spout so you can get more water without asking the waiter.

Ichiran offers customization - not just with additional condiments like seaweed, spring onions and such - by allowing diners to choose the taste of the broth.  One is able to choose various aspects such as the concentration, amount of fat, amount of spiciness, amount of minced garlic and type of spring onion.  They even offer 5 different levels of noodle consistency.  That's impressive...

So I circled "stronger broth", "normal fattiness", "standard amount of garlic", "green spring onions", "fatty pork belly", "half spiciness" and "very hard noodles".  I also added some seaweed and a boiled egg.

When my bowl arrived, I realized that "stronger broth" basically meant "salty broth"... this isn't a bowl of broth where I can finish the entire bowl, like I sometimes do at Hakata Tenshin (博多天神).  I'm also surprised that spiciness comes standard for the broth, and even at 1/2 the normal level I found it a little spicy.  I did like my noodles...

My noodles disappeared in no time, but I left a good amount of soup in the bowl as it was a little salty and spicy.  Maybe I should have tried the lighter broth without spiciness...

I still like my old favorite Hakata Tenshin, although Gogyo was pretty good, too.  The jury is still out on Ichiran until I fine-tune the taste to suit my palate, but that will have to wait till my next trip...

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