Friday, October 18, 2013

大つけ麺博 Grand Tsukemen Fest: 毘侍家 Vigiya and 稲葉 Inaba

The next four weeks of Ramen Love will be consumed by the consuming of the best bowls of tsukemen that Japan has to offer. Make way for Prince Ali, for the 2nd Annual Grand Tsukemen Fest, or Dai Tsukemen Haku (Tsukehaku for short), is here.

In case you're late to the show, tsukemen is the "dipping noodle" version of ramen. A plate of cold noodles is served alongside a bowl of a broth typically richer than your average ramen soup. This year, 24 bowls around Nippon have gathered to compete for the honor of greatest tsukemen in the country - and by extension, the world.

While we can't sample every single bowl, we will do our utmost to bring you two highlights of the week. This week features two rich and heavy bowls from Ibaraki and Kurume, Kitakyushu.

First up is Vigiya. They specialize in, like most Kyushu shops, a creamy tonkotsu.

For the Tsukehaku, they brought out a creamy broth made solely of pork bones.

Fuurin Kazan Tsukemen (850yen)

Theirs comes with a ton of gu, or ingredients. Chashu pork, bamboo shoots, and half of a half-boiled egg are part of the standard bowl.

Vigiya's broth was downright outstanding, so much so that this is almost a mandatory stop on my inevitable trip to Kitakyushu one day. There are two types of oil also mixed in: a rayu red chili oil, and a mayu burnt garlic oil. The soup kicks up a notch once all of that is mixed together...

...but it's the smattering of fried onions on top which give the broth a touch of sweetness, and really bring out the deep umami flavor of the pork.

Inaba, on the other hand, specializes in highly-regarded tori paitan chicken base ramen.

Some shops will bring out a limited-edition bowl for the Tsukehaku, and Inaba took their usually creamy bowl of chicken soup up to 11 with a soup featuring additional soul.

Tsukemen Ultra Soul (850yen)

This is, without a doubt, the thickest broth I've ever encountered. It has the flavor and consistency of turkey gravy, and is a taste that, I imagine, most Americans like myself would find very pleasing.

Cream of chicken coating the chopped chicken parts is just a fantastic combination, and would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving feast.

The oily richness, however, might be too heavy for Japanese palates. Lum could not stomach more than a couple mouthfuls. Make sure you leave some of that "soup" for the "wari." Mixed with some of the leftover noodle water, the gravy becomes a soothing chicken broth.

Bring the Love for these master chefs, who will be rotating every Thursday for the next month. Check out the Tsukehaku homepage (translated by Ramen Adventures) for the shops featured every week. And check back here for your weekly rundown of the top shops!


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