Monday, April 27, 2015

みんみん Min-Min: three musketeers

How on earth is the combination of ramen, chahan (fried rice) and gyoza (fried dumplings) so good? Flawless, even? Min-Min is one shop where you can enjoy all three musketeers.

Kichijoji has a reputation for being upscale and crowded, especially on the weekend, but their famous narrow alleyways called Harmonica Yokocho is packed full of little bars and dens where fanciness is a sin. The shop of the hour has been at this location for over 40 years. It's a narrow little place, with the typical red upholstery of Showa-era shops, and it's always packed by regulars and locals.

We shared a ramen, gyoza, and their specialty clam fried rice. Mixing in clams with fried rice is different. The rice has a greasy, shiny hue that practically invites large bites. The gyoza are also big. The skin is thick and chewy, but the insides soft and juicy. Female readers will probably be full just ordering a plate of gyoza!

Gyoza (420yen)

Finally, the ramen. This is a no-frills, classic chuka soba. Very simple-looking, with a very simple taste.

Ramen (700yen)

It's not great, but it's nourishing in the way these cafeteria-like bowls typically are.

If I were a salaryman, I'm sure I'd visit Min-Min pretty often after work to eat their ramen-gyoza-fried rice trifecta, and wash it down with a few beers.

Tokyo, Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 1-1-9
Closest stn: Kichijoji

Open from 11am-9pm


Monday, April 20, 2015

粋な一生 Iki na Isshou: middlemen

Akiba has become a veritable mini ramen mecca, with several new shops sprouting within walking distance from the station and ranking high in the annual magazine awards. Unfortunately, many of those shops were closed, and I promised a friend from out of town a solid ramen experience.

Iki no Isshou has been around a few years and has its own devoted following. The interior is spacious, with several tables for small groups. Perfect for chatting over a plate of pre-ramen gyoza.

The shop specializes in shio...

Shio ramen (720yen)

...though they serve the holy trio of shoyu and miso as well, the latter of which my friend ordered.

Miso ramen (780yen)

Both bowls were a bit underwhelming. The shio had a decent soup, with faint undertones of chicken stock, though a bit too bland. It might have fit better with more flavorful noodles, as the chewy flour noodles added little to the bowl.

The miso was lacking the impact and depth that other miso bowls have with the first sip. The presentation probably wasn't helped by the giant donburi that housed the ramen.

This is a good example of non-chain, middle-tier ramen. Open late, serving lots of bowls and customers, and still better than what you'll find in some mass-produced franchises. But far from the high level of craft that you'll find in a lot of the top shops in the area.

Tokyo, Taito-ku, Taito 1-27-2
Closest stn: Akihabara

Open from 11am-9pm (closes at 8pm on weekends)


Monday, April 13, 2015

らぁ麺屋 飯田商店 Iida Shoten: shoyu the best

March 14th in Japan is "White Day," the day where men must give back "two-fold" to their girlfriends, wives, or female co-workers any presents they received on Valentine's Day. But all of this matters little to me, for March 14 is Hearts' birthday!

The plan was to head to Atami, but we made a special stop on the way at Yugawara for Iida Shoten, a shop that we had been longing to go to for some time.

About 10 minutes from the station in a quiet residential area, the shop had a queue of more than 10 people even though we had arrived 30 minutes before it opened!

While we waited, we observed the scene. Inside the shop are cute cartoons instructing customers on how to eat the noodles, pictures drawn by children, and photos of volunteer activities in Fukushima after the big quake. This seemed like a shop with a kind-hearted owner, always a good sign for a ramen artist. Also, some customers were ordering two bowls - one ramen and one tsukemen - which both intrigued and infuriated us.

Hearts ordered the tsukemen...

Tsukemen (900yen)

...while I ordered the ramen.

Ramen (750yen)

Both were exceedingly beautiful. I can hardly put these bowls into words. The ramen had hand-made noodles that were as smooth as silk. 

The entire bowl was amazingly well-balanced: the noodles, the flavor of the soy sauce, the soft and marbled pork and chicken chashu all complemented one another. I've never, ever tasted such deep soy sauce flavor in any bowl!

The tsukemen noodles were covered in a seaweed dashi that made them very slippery.

You first try the noodles with a pinch of salt, enjoying the umami of the dashi, salt, and noodle.

Then, you dip them in the soup and savor the fluffy, slimy, rich, slightly sour taste all at once. This is what might be called a "mouth orgasm" (the clean kind!).

These are bowls that touched our hearts. It's rare to find such faultless ramen. We hardly make absolute recommendations, but if you haven't tried Iida Shoten, it's worth a special trip to Yugawara. Go now!

Kanagawa, Ashigarashimogun Yugawara-cho Doi 2-12-14
Closest stn: Yugawara

Open from 11am-3pm (closed Mondays)