Monday, April 28, 2014

ビンギリ Bingiri: spicy love soup

Cherry blossoms are gone and the leaves are finally turning green. There's still the occasional cold night, but the days are getting warm. I had a day off, so I decided to go to a hot spring in Ogikubo. Even though the I was sitting in boiling water, I was craving something hot to eat. Naturally, ramen.

Luckily, there are plenty of ramen shops in Ogikubo, which is a sort of mecca for old school ramen. I chose Bingiri, which is famous for a katsuura tantanmen.

Katsuura tantanmen (800yen)

This type of tantanmen has a shoyu base with a lot of chili oil, chopped onions, and minced meat. Katsuura tantanmen originally came from the industrial fishing city of Katsuura in Chiba prefecture. It used to be a meal just for fishermen or divers to make their bodies warm after a cold day on the job.

This bowl had a strong impact. Contents: extremely hot!

The amount of numbing pepper was especially ridiculous, but I couldn't stop eating. This isn't just a spicy bowl; the spices blend very well with the mild sea flavor of the soup. Though extremely spicy, this is a flavorful, enjoyable bowl.

Tokyo just has it all.

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Momoi 1-12-6
Closest stn: Ogikubo

Open from 12-230pm (closed Sundays)


Thursday, April 17, 2014

めとき Metoki: experience [CLOSED]

Metoki has been around for over 40 years, in the same location, run by the same master. We were the last customers in the shop and got to talking to old man Metoki about his life and work.

He started his ramen career at Eifukucho Taishoken, which were some of the hardest years of his life. Why? "They're so strict. Every procedure was meticulous, from the preparation of the soup to the cleaning of the kitchen."

Having served his time at a verifiable ramen dojo, Metoki branched out and opened up a shop of his own in Okubo, a seven-seat counter with a more relaxed vibe, but with ramen demonstrating the compressed experience he gained from his masters. While Metoki has racked up the years and shortened his hours, virtually nothing else about his shop has changed in its four odd decades of existence, from the sturdy wooden lids used to seal in heat and put immense pressure on the soup... the old toy radio cranking out Showa-era radio programs by the windowsill. Step into Metoki, and you step back through time, when the world surrounding ramen was simpler, but the best bowls (and the hands that made them) were no less complex.

Metoki only serves one bowl, in a "small" or "regular" size. Even those with large appetites will have great difficulty polishing off a regular-sized bowl. Go with the small.

Small chukamen (840yen)

Metoki's bowl is a niboshi shoyu, similar to that which you would get at Eifukucho Taishoken. The noodles have the same softness and chew, the menma is thin and cruncy, and the lean chashu has been marinated for longer. 

But the difference is in the soup. Metoki's broth is no less rich with sardines, but the tare is much thicker than ET, so the overall balance is much more slurpable. This is, perhaps, what ET tasted like many moons ago.

How does one discuss great ramen shops such as these? I'll leave the in-depth flavor profiles to the professionals. For me, in its simplicity and depth, Metoki's bowl might be a damn near perfect expression of what it means to eat great ramen. In this case, you are eating years of labor, what one man has achieved through serving the same item to people everyday, nearly singlehandedly, for over half of his life. Great ramen isn't the sum of it's reviews, where you lose a star for a long line, a smelly bathroom, or the wood splintering your lip from the disposable chopsticks. You experience it. Or you don't.

Do yourself a service and experience it while you can.

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Okubo 2-29-8
Closest stn: Shin-Okubo

Open from 11am-230pm (closed Sundays, Mondays, and holidays, and when soup runs out)


Friday, April 11, 2014

ななふく Nanafuku: a scene by the sea

While I was writing about Kiraku the other day, my mouth started watering. I started craving wanton ramen while I was writing about Kiraku's bowl. I couldn't control myself, and I suddenly remembered there was a small ramen shop near my office that seats 10 customers. I immediately left my post after I finished writing and headed to Nanafuku.

The wanton-men looks beautiful, and the soup tastes like the sea.

Wonton-men (800yen)

Apparently, this soup is made from scallops, giving it a rich and briny flavor. The wantons are also incredibly juicy...

...but I was more surprised by the smooth and elastic noodles. I wondered to myself between slurps, how on earth can someone create noodles as beautifully silky as these?

Fluttering wantons, bouncy noodles, and for the finishing touches, a shoyu flavored soup from the sea. And yet it all feels like a bowl from home. Amazing.

From now on, whenever I'm tired and irritated from job and looking to punch someone in the face, I'll know that this ramen will be the best cure for my body and soul.

Tokyo, Koganeishi Honcho 5-15-9
Closest stn: Musashi Koganei

Open from 1130am-3pm and 6-11pm


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

おおぜき中華そば Ozeki: smokin' aces

Ebisu isn't necessarily a ramen destination, but they are known for having a few high-quality ramen options. Afuri is probably the most well known, but there are also classic options like Tsukumo, Miharu, and Kiwa (an Ebisu outpost of Sapporo Junren also opened recently).

Ozeki Chukasoba is one of the highest-ranked in the area. They serve a classic shoyu chukasoba…

...a similar bowl heavy with niboshi…

...and a tori-paitan chicken broth. Will have to go back for that last one. Menma, naruto, and torched chashu round out the toppings. This bowl was simple but very carefully composed; an aerial view is necessary to capture Ozeki's attention to ramen composition.

The shoyu gets a clean bill of health. Deep broth matched by thin noodles. This isn't a hearty bowl, and it's probably not complex enough to rank with the best shoyu in town, but the devotion is definitely there.

For those not afraid of something richer, the niboshi bowl might be the more solid option. It has that kick missing from the shoyu, supplied by hundreds of liquified sardines. There isn't any fishiness here, just smoky richness. Depending on your tolerance for niboshi, this might be too dense, but I think Ozeki achieves a creamy balance with this one.

Regardless of what you order, the ingredients and presentation excel. There's a care taken by the two dudes who work on each bowl together that is almost serene.

A quality option for a quality part of Tokyo.

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 1-9-4
Closest stn: Ebisu

Open from 1130am-10pm (closed Sundays)


Thursday, April 3, 2014

東京ラーメンストリート店 麺や七彩: Tokyo Ramen Street's Shichisai [CLOSED]

Okay, I promised we would review the new shops on the Tokyo Ramen Street, but after a couple solid but solidly overpriced bowls, I had to go back to what brought me to the Street the first time.

Shichisai 麺や七彩

This is actually Shichisai's second branch, but the first one is way out in Toritsukasei, so when I want my Shichisai fill, I come here.

Shichisai makes a deep and deeply satisfying Kitakata style bowl (see here if you're interested in Kitakata and their delicious bowls of curly ramen and horse meat). Every element of this bowl comes together for soothing nourishment.

Tokusei Kitakata ramen

While you wait, the noodles are pounded right in front of your eyes…

…with just the right amount of chew and bite. These are hearty noodles to balance the light but flavorful soup. Supposedly the shop uses no additives or MSG, so to achieve this level of flavor using all-natural ingredients is amazing (for my internal organs).

You're also fed two types of chashu pork - bara (belly) and momo (thigh). Both are delicious, but the thigh meat is so flavorful you'll regret not getting a chashumen with extra cuts of meat.

There's just nothing wrong with this bowl. The egg is gooey and delicious. Even the thin slices of menma work perfectly with the thick and chewy noodles.

At night, Shichisai turns into Tokyo Miso Ramen Edo-ama, which turns out a mean bowl of miso supplied with totally different ingredients. It's also excellent, but deserves its own review.

Shichisai is one of those shops that demand repeat visits. They have limited-edition bowls as well, and came out with a one-day luxurious bowl of foie gras ramen for their 7th anniversary. How I wish I had that bowl.

But there are many more to come.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 1-9-1 Tokyo Ramen Street
Closest stn: Tokyo

Open from 730-11pm (morning ramen until 11am, miso ramen from 5pm)