Friday, November 28, 2014

こってりらーめん誉 Homare: thicker than blood

Without turkey for a Japanese Thanksgiving, I went looking in Chiba for something thick like gravy.

Homare is Kashiwa's most well-regarded ramen. A thick miso ramen, it's perfect for these cold times. Winter is coming, and the only prescription is miso ramen.

Miso ramen (720yen)

The miso here is hot and thick, but it doesn't taste as heavy as most places because the broth is cut with shiitake mushrooms. As a result, the flavor is mild and eminently slurpable, one of the best I've ever had.

The noodles are excellent. Chewy, curly, and perfect for this kind of broth.

Red tsukemen (770yen)

The miso tsukemen is terrific too, and is able to be customized according to five different color templates. This one was "Red," meaning it had lots of chili powder and a yuzu citris kick. I could easily see myself coming here and trying out all five styles.

Homare is usually packed with college students from the nearby universities. If only I could have eaten ramen like this back when I was in college...

Chiba, Kashiwa, Asahimachi 1-7-11
Closest stn: Kashiwa

Open from 11am-1am


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

つけ麺 岩 Iwa: sticky fingers

I love cheap ramen! I've written about "one-coin" ramen before (and again), which is ramen that can be had for the price of a single 500-yen coin or less. I'm the designated ramen cheapo, so my next mission was in Shimokitazawa, where the ramen isn't usually one-coin, but I had a special coupon.

Iwa is a tsukemen shop that opened just this summer, just off the main street in a cool basement location. It's spacious inside, with lots of booths for couples and friends.

The noodles are their main selling point, with customers able to choose their thickness level of noodle. There are also a couple limited-time noodle flavors that are made in-house everyday. Hearts and I went with these. I had a noodle kneaded with dried bonito...

Special of the day #1 (750yen)

...while Hearts chose the special of the day: keema curry cheese tsukemen.

Special of the day #2 (750yen)

The soup for both bowls was the same. Pretty standard tonkotsu-gyokai style, with no special features save for the giant shavings of bonito or splatter of curry that you can mix into the broth.

Weren't these noodles supposed to be the shop's draw? They weren't elastic at all, and they were even a little sticky when I chewed them. Definitely not the desired texture.

The curry tsukemen was more like a messy curry udon than a tsukemen.

For 500 yen, I really can't complain, though even the standard price is really good for "limited edition" noodles. Shimo shops always seem to come and go, so hopefully this one sticks around for a little longer.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-12-13
Closest stn: Shimokitazawa

Open from 1130-11pm (closed from 3-530pm on weekdays)


Friday, November 14, 2014

ちよだ Chiyoda: stranger than paradise

Most people don't venture much farther than Matsudo for Chiba ramen. But there is indeed good stuff to be had beyond Tomita, in the fields of Chiba.

See: Chiyoda, a no-frills ramen diner with a rare outdoor eating area, usually occupied by students from the local university.

Chiyoda has a solid shio...

Shio ramen (750yen)

...but their claim to fame is their Tokyo-style shoyu.

Chuka soba (700yen)

With heavy inspiration from Taishoken, this bowl is big, hot, and rich in niboshi goodness. The top is covered in scallions and the noodles have that Eifukucho Taishoken soft, chewy goodness.

For added depth, the bowl has bits of yuzu peel to give it a citrus zest. 

Not sure if this is worth the hassle of a destination drive, but if you just happen to be lost in Chiba, Chiyoda is worth stopping in and taking in the local charm. For some reason, this place reminds me of a dive that would fit right at home in a Jim Jarmusch movie. A little bit of sweetness in the midst of fields and mundane sprawl.

Chiba, Kashiwa, Sakasai 239-1
Closest stn: Sakasai

Open from 1130am-230pm and 6-9pm (open all day on weekends, closed Mondays)


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

麺屋 吉左右 Kisso: charmed

Japanese people love drinking parties, or nomikai, especially when they're organized through the office. Office nomikai are drinking parties with your office workers, and to me is literally an extension of work...even after work or on the weekend. I was in Kiba, on the east side of Tokyo by the Sumida river, where we were supposed to rent and drink on a boat while it cruised around the bay. If only it wasn't an office nomikai, it would be awesome.

I got to Kiba early. I had no idea that there was a really famous ramen shop right by the station. No idea at all. Total coincidence.

About a dozen people were waiting in line when I got there, but it went pretty quickly. The shop is managed only by a husband and wife team. In typical work distribution, the husband does all the cooking, while the wife takes the order and guides the customers to and from their seats. She kept saying "please just wait a little longer, we will serve you very soon," and "thank you for coming" to all the customers. It was very Japanese, but also really nice and polite.

I ordered the ramen. It looks just like an ordinary gyokai tonkotsu, but the soup is mild, tender, and polished. It was clear this soup took a long time to make. Delicate but flavorful, this is a tonkotsu I think most women would like.

Ramen (780yen)

I can't forget how elastic the noodles are. It wasn't just the elasticity; I actually felt the moisture of the noodles in my mouth. Noodles of this quality are really hard to find.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of gyokai tonkotsu bowls. They always have such high ratings on the ramen sites and I expect a lot more. Hearts apparently had a bad experience at Kisso with our friend Keizo a few years ago (they ARE pretty strict on photography), but I think they must have listened to their customers and stepped up their game. This is a very high quality ramen, in a relaxing atmosphere, run by a charming couple.

Tokyo, Koto-ku, Toyo-cho 1-11-3
Closest stn: Kiba

Open for lunch from 1130am to whenever the soup runs out (closed Sundays and Wednesdays)