March 28, 2016

Tokyo sakura trip: ramen ramen

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I enjoy a bowl of ramen (ラーメン) as much as the next person, but I don't go ga-ga over them.   Especially not when I'm outside of Japan.  There's a lot of mediocre crap out there, and I never know what's actually in the soup base in the bowl in front of me.  But things change when I'm in Japan, and once in a while I'll go and get my fix.

For the longest time my go-to ramen was Hakata Tenjin (博多天神) - a chain that my friends Cow and Chicken introduced me to a long time ago.  It's been a few years since I last paid them a visit, and since there was a branch only steps away from the Robot Restaurant (ロボットレストラン) in Kabukicho (歌舞伎町), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to slurp down a bowl after the show on our first day.

The reason I love the ramen here is the soup base.  It's probably the only ramen soup that I can handle drinking an entire bowl of, since it's pretty much devoid of MSG and not excessively salty.  The reason is simple: they make their own stock from pork bones, skin, and fat.  I know this because each branch has its own huge pressure cooker, and occasionally while you sit and slurp down your noodles, you can see the staff dump the raw materials into the pot, use a hose to fill it up, stick a wooden oar into the pot and stir... before closing the lid and boiling the hell out of the contents.  This particular pot is actually on the small side, as the one in the Shibuya branch requires someone to climb a ladder in order to access the opening.

The result?  A milky-white broth that is rich in flavor but light on salt.

Ramen with pork belly, seaweed, and spring onions (ネギのりチャーシューメン) - they're certainly not stingy on the pork, and with the extra seaweed and spring onions on top of the wood ear fungus as well as half a hard-boiled egg, this made for a pretty tasty meal.  I didn't completely finish the bowl of milky broth, but came pretty damn close.  Craving and hunger very much satiated.

I was real glad that I came back for another bowl... since it really has been too long.  I think Hello Kitty liked the broth, too.

On day 3 of the trip, we met up with a foodie friend who had just flown in from Europe.  She was going to hit her favorite ramen place - Kagari (篝) in Ginza - which seemed to be getting a lot of attention in the last couple of years, especially among the tourist crowd.  Although we were out sightseeing for the day, I decided to reshuffle our itinerary so that we could join her.

Hello Kitty and I were a tad late coming back from Tokyo Skytree, and as a result we only arrived after 12:30 p.m.  There was already a line outside to the end of the alley, so we waited patiently for our turn.  Normally neither of us would wait in line for food any longer than 15-20 minutes, but we would make an exception for this.

Following just over an hour's wait, it was finally our turn to get inside the tiny 8-seater.  After hanging our coats and putting away our bags, we sat down and waited for our bowls to arrive.

White chicken soup soba (鶏白湯SOBA) - with extra pork belly (チャーシュー) and fresh bamboo shoots from Kyoto (京都筍).  The soup was thick and creamy, and I could definitely taste the chicken fat.  However, I also tasted the grainy texture of the soup, which made me suspect (with no confirmation) that they also added some flour into the soup - even though some people reported diced onions being added.  The other issue I had with the soup was that it was simply too heavy-handed with salt.  I definitely needed the glass of water on the side.

But that chicken was just so incredibly tender and succulent... and dabbed with a little bit of yuzu (柚子) zest for the wonderful fragrance.  The bamboo shoots were fresh and sweet with a nice crunch.  The extra pork belly turned out to be unnecessary and paled in comparison to the chicken.  I'd order extra chicken instead.

I was pretty happy to have met up with my friend and to have tried out this very interesting Chinese soba (中華そば).  But next time the wait had better be a lot shorter than an hour...

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