Friday, August 29, 2014

好陽軒 Koyoken: korai style

It was time for Nagoya to step up its game. Enter korai-kei ramen.

Korai-kei isn't as well known as its more famous brothers such as Yokohama Ie-kei, or even the sloppy Jiro-kei, but it's much healthier than either of those pork intensive bowls. A speciality of Nagoya's Chikusa ward, these are bowls made of pork and chicken stock, dried bonito, and lots of vegetables. The bowls are so clean they supposedly have medicinal properties.

Koyoken, a mom and pop run single counter, is one of the best in the area.

Korai-kei ramen is ordered by Matsu, Take, and Ume, the three kanji in the word shochikubai (松竹梅 ), which translate to "pine, bamboo, and plum." The words together signify the "three friends of winter" and are commonly used for greeting cards and celebratory events, though most people probably know the word from the mediocre sake.

Anyway, the Matsu is the standard bowl at any korai-kei shop. A few thick bamboo shoots, thick and curly noodles, and thinly sliced round chashu.

Matsu (800yen)

A slightly cloudy soup is famous for being light on oil but dense with flavor. Despite the richness of the soup, no one ingredient stands out. People have trouble describing the taste of korai-kei, since the flavors of the ingredients tend to blend together.

Noodles are thick and curly in korai-kei bowls, with a lot of bite and chew.

Korai-kei is also famous for the menma, or fermented bamboo shoots. I ordered the Take, naturally, which includes a little too much bamboo.

Take (1100yen)

As you can (or can't) see, the bamboo tends to obscure everything in the bowl. My uncle ordered the Oo-take, which is just obscene and overflowing with menma. The menma are thick and delicious, but its exhausting chewing these things one after another.

Ramenma Love!

Aichi, Nagoya, Showa-ku, Hiromicho 2-21-3
Closest stn: Sakurayama

Open from 11am-3pm and 5-8pm (closed Thursdays)


Monday, August 18, 2014

光来 Korai: cheap thrills

I was walking around Shinjuku and, as usual, was starving. But I had a plan to dine out with friends that night, so I needed something cheap and light. It also needed to be ramen.

And I got you, Korai, you unseemly-looking ramen shop on the west side of Shinjuku. The only problem was that the place was filled with ojisan, or old Japanese men, eating their ramen while drinking bottles and bottles of beer. I am a brave ramen soul, though, and entered anyway.! Or rather, very reasonably priced ramen. The most expensive item on the menu is 730 yen, and their standard shoyu ramen is only 400 yen. Cheap...light...perfect.

I also happen to love this type of old-school chukasoba. No unnecessary ingredients.

Chukasoba (400yen)

Curly noodles with good texture that absorb the soup. Even though it's cheap, the quality of the noodle flour, as well as the taste of the egg, were pretty good.

Japan plans to keep raising the sales tax, so cheap and tasty ramen like this might disappear in the near future. But to me, Korai Ramen is what ramen has always been about. I hope they keep serving and entertaining their regular ojisan customers for a long time.

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 7-14-12
Closest stn: Shinjuku

Open from 11am-3pm and 430-9pm (closed Sundays)


Friday, August 15, 2014

たけぞう Takezo: family plot

Another big Nagoya ramen shop, Takezo specializes in a little bit of everything. Think big set menus with ramen and gyoza, fried chicken, and rice with assorted toppings like fermented coe roe, grilled chashu, and Chinese twice-cooked pork and veggies.

Ramen places like these are almost more cafeteria that serves ramen than pure ramen joint. Shoyu, miso, tantanmen all get equal billing. My cousin ordered the "shoyu," though it looks like everything here has tonkotsu as a base. Deceptive.

Shoyu ramen (600yen)

The top of the menu is always the safest bet. In this case, a light and colorful tsukemen.

Tsukemen (750yen)

I had their special "black" tsukemen, which is their standard tsukemen dipping broth mixed with a thick black sesame seed oil.

For a ramen cafeteria, this isn't bad ramen! Black sesame oil is usually used as a supplemental topping, but here it's clearly the star. It's more of a paste than an oil, and the flavor and texture is appropriately thick and grainy. Nice change from the usual gyokai-tonkotsu tsukemen. Even the soup wari was different. While it's still the usual ramen water, it was also thicker and almost milk-like. It went extremely well with the black sesame.

The interior here is spacious and great for families. Most families. While I was eating, the family of eight who had just saw across from our table was berating the waiter severely for not bringing them enough cups of water. Classing up the joint!

With our shop, we want people to think...delicious!

Aichi, Tokai-shi, Kagiyamachi, Matsusaki 86
Closest stn: Takayokosuka (but 1.5 km away!)

Open from 11am-3pm and 6pm-midnight (closed Mondays)


Thursday, August 7, 2014

うま屋 ラーメン Umaya: Nagoya's main chain

The next few posts from dear old uncle Hearts will be on shops from the Aichi/Gifu region, in and around Nagoya in particular. I make trips out here every year to visit family and gorge on regional ramen/miso katsu/tebasaki.

Umaya is THE typical Nagoya ramen shop. Nagoya has a lot more space and unoccupied land than Tokyo, meaning that many restaurants are larger and cater to families. Ramen shops like Umaya are no exception, seating dozens of groups during lunch. I went to the Oike-koen branch, which is not among the best Umaya branches, but is fairly representative of their quality as a whole.

Umaya are a chain of ramen shops that have circled the Nagoya area for over fifteen years. They specialize in a tonkotsu shoyu ramen with thick, oily, pork-bone broth and curly noodles of medium thickness.

Tokusei ramen (580yen)

This isn't my favorite bowl, but it is among my favorite bowl prices: just 580 yen for the standard tonkoku ramen with extra kujo scallions. The price hasn't changed since they first opened!

At lunch, however, they serve a special set that comes with a bowl of fried rice. The fried rice is real, and it's spectacular. Mixed with bits of pork and special seasoning, this is really good stuff and probably worth a full order in lieu of the ramen.

Like so many places in Nagoya, if you don't have a car, you'll have trouble getting here. But if you have a vehicle, a starving family, and an insatiable desire for expertly prepared fried rice, Umaya won't hurt your wallet or your feelings too badly.

Aichi, Tokai-shi, Fukinodai 6-127
Closest stn: Shinnittetsumae

Open from 11am-3pm (closed Mondays)