Saturday, May 27, 2006

★★★★ AFURI - Tokyo

AFURI is a trendy restaurant located near Ebisu station in Tokyo. The owner of AFURI is Nakamura-san, who has many other ramen stores in neighboring Kanagawa prefecture and is quite famous in the ramen circles there. This is his only store in Tokyo, after trying his ramen I wished he had more stores in this area. I tried AFURI's famous 塩ラーメン+鶏油 (salt ramen + chicken oil).

The Soup - is a blend of tonkotsu, chicken,and seafood stock. The chicken flavor dominates while the seafood adds most of the support. Most other places that blend a variety of soup stocks has a complex personality with the different flavors competing against eachother. AFURI's soup ingredients come together quite harmoniously.

The Noodles - are thin straight noodles cooked quite firm. Suprisingly a good match with the sophisticated soup.

The Toppings - you got to try the roasted pork here! The thick piece of the roasted pork is very tender and broiled slightly before being served, one of the best of any ramen I've had. The boiled vegetables and menma bamboo are a perfect match with the soup as well.

Overall - this is one of the best ramen in Tokyo. AFURI has really brought shio ramen (salt ramen) to a whole new level. If you are near Ebisu station in Tokyo it might well be worth a trip here. Come here with an empty stomach and maybe you can visit Miharu as well, two of the best new ramen places in Tokyo.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

★★★ 中華蕎麦 ぷかぷか (Puka-puka) - Tokyo

Puka-Puka is another ramen store produced by the famous Watanabe-san, who is also responsible for other famous ramen stores such as Watanabe and Zou-Roku. On this day I tried the ラーメン(塩) or (salt ramen).

The Soup - is a rich chicken soup that also has hints of Japanese dried bonito. The soup is has a few drops of garlic flavored oil but overall a relatively light soup, maybe a little too light... I've seen a lot of places that blend heavy tonkotsu soup with fish stock, but Puka-puka's choice of chicken stock instead of tonkotsu is quite refreshing.

The Noodles - are medium thickness straight noodles, cooked to regular firmness. Delicious but nothing spectacular.

The Toppings - are cha-shu pork, menma bamboo, and dried seaweed. The cha-shu was very tender, very flavorful, adds a nice punch to this otherwise relatively reserved ramen. The menma was crunchy and good too.

Overall - A great ramen, but I recommend you get the チャーシュー麺(醤油)or (shoyu cha-shu ramen). The shoyu or soy sauce flavored ramen was a better match to this ramen than the salt flavored which I ordered. Plus the lighter soup might be healthier than other ramen places, but I found myself craving more which the extra slices of cha-shu pork might fix. Puka-puka is located near 中目黒 (naka meguro) station.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ramen Basics - The Noodles

The noodles commonly used in Japanese ramen are made with wheat noodles and eggs. They can be round and come in a variety of thicknesses or occasionally can be flat as well. I will talk aobut ramen noodles by breaking down the topic into three areas: the ramen noodles' ingredients, thickness and texture.

The Ingredients - are flour, eggs, and water. But from these three ingredients are numerous possible combinations to create just the right ramen noodles. The flour that is most commonly used are a high gluten bread flour milled from hard wheat, which contains a higher percentage of protein. High gluten flour is more elastic than regular wheat flour, giving the noodles a chewier texture. The eggs are added to hold together the flour together, with the egg white's protein adding more springiness to the noodles while the egg yolk gives it a natural yellowish color. The water can sometimes be alkaline water with sodium carbonate or potassium carbonate. The Alkaline water adds elasticity and flavor to the ramen noodles, though some places prefer to only rely on the eggs to provide the texture and flavor.

The Thickness - the noodles are all long and thin, but how "thin" is what's important here. A thick noodle is anything wider than 1.8mm, while a thin noodle is aroun 1.15mm wide. Hakata style tonkotsu ramen are famous for using thin noodles at around 1.1mm thickness. Some Japanese noodles are slightly curly, where the noodles are pressed slightly perpendicular to the length of the noodles. This adds more texture to the noodles, it also makes the noodle intertwine with the soup more when eaten with chopsticks.

The Texture - is a result of the ingredients, the kneading of the dough, and the length of boiling them.. Some ramen noodles use less water, which results in a dough that is harder to knead, the noodles also absorbs the soup faster and can be overcooked more easily. Some ramen noodles uses more water and have more springiness to them. The length of time for boiling the noodles can also come in different extremes. Some ramen places are famous for boiling their ramen for no more than a few second, resulting in a ramen that is very hard and chewy.

There really isn't one type of ramen noodle that is the best, each ramen has its own taste, shape and texture that matches best with the soup.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

★★★★ 五行 (Go-gyou) - Tokyo

Go-gyou is from Hakata city located in the southern island of Kyushu. Hakata ramen is famous for its tonkotsu soup, but Go-gyou takes tonkotsu and gives it a unique flair. Their signature dish is the 焦がし味噌ラーメン (burnt miso ramen).

The Soup - as you can see from the picture, is black. That is until you run your spoon through the soup and reveal a creamy miso broth underneath the thin layer of burnt black oil. The soup starts out as a rich tonkotsu soup, then the burnt miso, which I am told is fired at just the right temperature in a Chinese wok, is added to the soup. The burnt miso adds flavor and aroma to the soup that is totally addicting.

The Noodles - are medium thick straight noodles. Cooked slightly on the firmer side and chewy.

The Toppings - are cha-shu pork, mizuna (a Japanese spinach like vegetable), naruto fish cake, and a boiled egg. None of the toppings have a lot of flavor, but instead absorbes the flavor of the soup really well. The cha-shu was on the drier side but after sitting in the soup a while was quite delcious.

Overall - I highly recommend this out of the ordinary ramen. The soup is the star of this ramen while the noodles and toppings complement it perfectly. The soup is served very, very hot, expect burnt tongues after your meal here. Go-gyou is located in Roppongi but requires quite a walk from the subway station, expect long lines during lunch and dinner hours.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

★★ 風来居 (Fuuraikyo) - Tokyo

Fuuraikyo was started by a ramen chef who spent many years training at the big ramen chain store Santouka. Fuuraikyo does have a lot in common with Santouka, an Asahikawa style ramen where the soup is a blend of tonkotsu and seafood stock. On my first visit to Fuuraikyo I tried their みそらーめん (miso ramen).

The Soup - is a blend of tonkotsu, chicken and seafood stock. The tonkotsu flavor seems a little lighter than Santouka's, probably a result of the stronger presence of the chicken stock. The soup is topped off with a layer of flavored oil that seals in the heat of the soup, be careful not to burn your self when eating this ramen.

The Noodles - are medium thin curly noodles that are delivered by air from Hokkaido every day. I noticed that ramen were still in their individual plastic packs before being cooked, but I didn't notice any drop in the flavor or freshness of the noodles. The texture of the noodles were on the firmer side.

The Toppings - are slices of roasted pork , some menma bamboo, and large pieces of kikurage mushrooms (the dark purple-ish things in the ramen). The roast pork could be a little more tender, but the flavor was okay. I do wish that they sliced the kikurage mushrooms since as is the texture doesn't match well with the ramen.

Overall - I recommend you try the しょうゆらーめん (shoyu ramen, soy sauce flavored). The soup is already a complex mix of flavors, the miso is one too many. Try the shoyu (soy sauce) ramen or shio (salt) ramen instead. While this place is delicious in its own right, I feel that Asahikawa style ramen doesn't pack as much punch as Kyushu style ramen which is made of the same soup base. But that is my personal bias, please try and judge for yourself. Fuuraikyo has stores in Shinuku, Shibuya and Omiya.

★ 味噌丸 (Miso-maru) - Tokyo

Miso-maru is a ramen store located near Ebisu station in Tokyo that focuses only on miso flavored ramen. I ordered their 味噌玉子ラーメン (miso egg ramen).

The Soup - is surprising light and slightly sweet. The flavor of the soup is a blend of white miso with a strong accent of ground sesame. However the soup did feel a bit too light, I really wasn't able to figure out what the soup stock was.

The Noodles - are flat curly noodles cooked medium firm. The noodles are very springy and chewy, but the texture might be a bit too strong for the lightly flavored soup.

The Toppings - are a healthy mix of corn, spinach, and stir fried bean sprouts and onions. The boiled egg was pretty salty and boring. There were a lot of additional spices available on the table though, fresh ground sesame, spicy bean sprouts, raw ground garlic, and shichimi Japanese hot spices. The raw garlic did not go well with the ramen at all.

Overall - a hit and miss ramen that still needs some work. The overall balance of the soup and ramen wasn't there, the toppings needed more refinement. I must say that this ramen seemed very healthy though, not oily at all and not too salty, plus all the vegetables as well. While harder to get to, Miso-ichi seems like the better option if you want to get some good miso ramen in the Tokyo area.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

★★★★ らーめん瞠 (Miharu) - Tokyo

Miharu is another ramen store that falls into the tonkotsu/seafood double soup category, it's becoming apparent to me that this is the trendy flavored ramen in Tokyo at the moment. I tried the 味玉らーめん (aji-tama ramen) or flavored boiled egg ramen.

The Soup - is a tonkotsu/seafood blend double soup, with what seems like a strong dried bonito flavor that dominates over the tonkotsu soup. The soup is quite salty but the flavor and aroma of bonito makes the soup easy to eat Slightly on the heavy side with a layer of oil on the soup.

The Noodles - are medium thickness straight noodles cooked very firm. The noodles are very delicious but could be a little softer.

The Toppings - are average. The cha-shu was forgetable, the menma bamboo was very large, almost bigger than the cha-shu, but crunchy and delicious. The boiled egg was strongly flavored and delicious as well.

Overall - worth the trip to Ebisu station, I highly recommend this ramen for people of all levels of ramen experience. About a 3 minute walk from the station it is hidden among the buidlings to the east of Ebisu station so you might need some effort to locate this place. There is also another Miharu located in Ikebukuro.

★★★★ 麺場 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai) - Tokyo

Seven Samurai is a ramen shop that can be accessed with a 10 minute walk from Ikebukuro station. A fancy little store that has interior decor that resembles a high class bar rather than a ramen shop. On this trip I tried their 特中華そば (Chuka-soba special).

The Soup - is a double soup made from pork/chicken stock and dried bonito soup, with the aroma and flavor of the bonito dominating this ramen. The soup is very delicious without being too salty or oily, something you rarely see with recent ramen.

The Noodles - are medium thick straight noodles cooked regular firm. The texture of the noodles are just right with the flavor matching the Japanese style soup very well.

The Toppings - 3 slices of very, very thick cha-shu pork that is sliced and steamed right when you order, they are served very hot and tender without a lot of fat but still just melts in your mouth. The menma bamboo is lightly seasoned but crunchy and delicious. The boiled egg has little extra flavoring and wasn't anything special.

Overall - I absolutely loved this place! But it is very well hidden and quite far away from Ikebukuro station. If it wasn't for the strong aroma of the soup that you can smell when near the store I probably would've walked right by it. Make the trek to the store if you have a lot of spare time, otherwise I would recommend you visit 麺屋武蔵 二天 (Musashi Niten) and (Miharu) instead which are both closer to their respective train station.

Monday, May 15, 2006

★★★ 麺屋武蔵 二天 (Musashi Niten) - Tokyo

Musashi Niten is a spinoff of the popular original Musashi store based in Shinjuku, Niten also has the signature Japanese style seafood based soup and delicious thick noodles like Musashi, but tries something new with its toppings. Today I tried Niten's signature dish, 玉豚天らー麺 (tama-buta-ten ramen).

The Soup - is a rich Japanese style broth probably made from mainly dried mackerel, this soup is also slightly richer than Musashi which makes me think that quite a bit of chicken and pork broth is blended together with the seafood broth. The soup is then flavored with a soysauce based sauce with a thin layer of oil on the ramen.

The Noodles - are thick curly noodles that are cooked medium firm and really chewy and delicious. The original Musashi had very memorable noodles and Niten is the same as well. The thicker soup and oil wraps around the noodles really well, every bite of noodles are filled with all the flavors of the soup.

The Toppings - are simple, menma bamboo, nego green onions, and the buta-ten which is like a thin tonkatsu (deep fried pork-chop). The buta-ten is quite unique since it is wrapped in a thin layer of seaweed batter, giving the tonkatsu more of a Japanese flair. The rest of the toppings are simple but match the ramen perfectly.

Overall - one of the best ramen I have had. I liked the original store Musashi, but Niten is worth it even if there's a long wait. The buta-ten ramen is essentially a Japanese style 排骨麺 (pai-ko men), quite a few other ramen stores have pai-ko noodles, Niten is the first that I've tried that actually got it right. The soup is wonderful by itself, the noodles match it perfectly, and the toppings just like the rest of the ramen has a Japanese flair that just wraps everything together nicely. Niten is located to the south of Ikebukuro station, requiring a short walk but worth the effort.

★★ ばんからら~めん (Bankara ramen) - Tokyo

Bankara ramen is ramen chain store that recently expanded into the kabuki-cho area near Shinjuku station in Tokyo. I tried their 角煮ばんからら~めん(Kaku-ni Bankara ramen).

The soup - was a rich tonkotsu based shou flavored soup. This soup further pushes the extreme of how oily a ramen can get. The rich broth is covered with a layer of oily to begin with, then there's bits and pieces of se-abura pork fat added on top. I strongly recommend you request them to go easy on the oil and fat. The soup goes very well with raw garlic and the pickled ginger though, they are available on each table and you can add as much as you want.

The Noodles - are medium thick, slightly curly noodles, cooked very firm. The noodles are very chewy and delicious.

The Toppings - are the standard cha-shu pork, menma bamboo, negi green onions, dried seaweed... and a huge piece of kaku-ni slow cooked pork. All the toppings are very good and matches very well with the ramen. The kaku-ni slow cooked pork could be a little more tender, but the bigger complaint I have is the amount of fat on the pork. Isn't there enough fat in thie ramen already?

Overall - I love heavy oily tonkotsu ramen and I don't mind the fat. If you are new to ramen then be forwarned at how heavy this ramen can be. If you do come here then I recommend you get the regular ramen and not the kaku-ni bankara ramen. I also suggest you order the ramen with little fat 脂控えめ (abura hikae-me).

★ 味千ラーメン (Ajisen) - Tokyo

Ajisen ramen is a tonkotsu style ramen from Kumamoto city located in Kyushu Japan. I went to their Shinjuku store in the Kabuki-cho area during my last trip and tried their standard 味千ラーメン (ajisen ramen).

The Soup - was a mild flavored Kyushu style tonkotsu soup that is covered with a thin layer of brown oil which they call ajisen oil. The brown oil is infused with deep fried scallots, a spice often used in Taiwanese cuisine. The deep fried scallots have a strong aroma that hides the tonkotsu smell, which might dissapoint some fans of tonkotsu ramen.

The Noodles - are regular thickness straight noodles cooked slightly firm.

The Toppings - are a couple slices of thin cha-shu pork, a lot of sliced kikurage mushrooms, boiled egg and sliced green onions. Instead of the standard crushed raw garlic for toppings ajisen has a special deep fried garlic powder on every table, the powder is not as potent as raw garlic and I feel doesn't pack the same punch. They claim the powder gives you the garlic flavor without the bad breath.

Overall - I am not a fan of the ajisen brown oil that they put in the soup, it just doesn't compliment the tonkotsu soup in my opinion. If you are in Japan I don't recommend Ajisen ramen, there are simply too many other options for better Kumamoto style tonkotsu ramen. If you are in LA and NY then give Ajisen a try and let me know how it tastes.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

★★★ 味噌一 (Miso-ichi) - Tokyo

Miso-ichi is a ramen chain in the Tokyo area that focuses on miso flavored ramen only. Miso ramen has its roots in Sapporo city in the northern part of Japan, with corn and sometimes a slice of butter being the unique toppings only for miso ramen. This day I ordered the standard 味噌一らーめん (Miso-ichi ramen).

The Soup - is a thick blend of miso, ground sesame and many spices. When ordering the soup you can specify how spicy you want it, the default is non spicy, ピリ辛 (piri-kara, is hot), 火吹 (hi-fuki, is very hot), and 爆発 (bakuhatsu, is "get your photo posted on the wall" hot). Don't order anything hotter than piri-kara if you like to taste your ramen.

The Noodles - are slightly flat, straight noodles. The noodles are cooked quite firm. There also seems to be more weight to these noodles as well, making them a little chewier.

The Toppings - are stir-fried bean sprouts, cha-su pork, some corn, and wakame seaweed. You can order extra toppings as well, of which I recommend the negi green onions that goes really well with the miso soup.

Overall - I highly recommend this place. I simply don't know of that many ramen places that only serve miso ramen, therefore I don't have much experience with this type of ramen. All I know is that this place was delicious, a flavor that stands out among the saturation of tonkotsu flavored ramen in the Tokyo area.

★★★ Peking Chinese Restaurant - Bellevue

Peking is a Chinese restaurant whos owners are Korean of Chinese decent, so hidden in the menu are quite a few authentic Korean dishes. I came here because of the Korean ramen that my Japanese friends in the area recommended. On this day I tried a delicious spicy ramen called 三鮮炒馬麵 (seafood spicy noodle soup).

The Soup - is a spciy, rich seafood broth. It is quite hot, probably probably 3-4 out of 5 stars hot from the Thai restaurant standard. The soup is seasoned with a fine chili powder that gives it the steady heated spiciness.

The Noodles - they claim are hand made, but seem a little to soft for me to believe so. But still, the noodles are on par with the noodles in the area. If the noodles were firmer and curly noodles instead of straight it would match the soup a little better, but that is just my Japanese ramen bias.

The Toppings - are a variety of noodles and some seafood (shrimp, squid and scallops). Everything is once stir-fried before being served on top of the noodle soup. I would prefer if the vegetables were cut a little thinner, the big chunks of onion and green peppers didn't match the overall texture of the noodles. More seafood would've also been nice.

Overall - a decent ramen, though I would prefer other places in the Seattle area when eating 三鮮炒馬麵. Is Peking restaurant's Korean style noodles authentic? I have no way of finding knowing. I will need to bring my Korean friends along to find out.

14150 NE 20TH St. Bellevue, WA 98007

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

★★ 羊城麵家 (Canton Wonton House) - Seattle

Canton Wonton House is my first review of Hong Kong/Canton style ramen. I've tried a bunch of different ramen from China, Taiwan, and SE Asia, all of them are quite different from the ramen in Japan. But Hong Kong style noodle soup is very similar to Japanese ramen that it leads me to think that this might be the original ramen that was brought into Japan 100 years ago. Located in the International District in Seattle. I ordered the first item on the menu, 鮮蝦雲吞麵 (wonton noodle soup).

The Soup - in Japanese ramen standards this soup seems unfinished. A simple clear chicken/pork based broth seasoned with salt and soy sauce, that's it. No special sauce, no drops of flavored oil, and no bits of pork fat rained on top... The soup was simple yet enjoyable.

The Noodles - are in appearance very similar to the ramen noodles in Japan. Thin and slightly curly, yellow egg noodles just like Japan... that is until you take a bite of it. These noodles are tough, hard, and not very easy to swallow; Japanese ramen can be judged by its 喉越し (nodo-goshi) or "the texture of the food as it passes through the throat". Some Japanese ramen noodles are slippery and silky, making it easily possible to swallow even without chewing. Don't try that with these Canton noodles though; There was also a trace of shrimp flavor in the noodles itself.

The Toppings - run the gammit from wontons, cha-shu pork, sui-kau (gyoza dumplings), bok choy cabbage, and more. There are over 40 different ramen you can order, the major difference is the topping you order. The shrimp wontons were very good.

Overall - if you are a fan of Japanese ramen then Hong Kong style noodle soup might seem a bit bland for you. I enjoy it because it is simple and cheap (this dish was only $3.25). The texture of the noodles I didn't enjoy, but I'm sure this is just from an initial ramen culture gap. I will try some more Canton style ramen places and see if I can develop a new appreciation for this type of noodles.

608 S Weller St Seattle, WA 98104

Monday, May 08, 2006

★★★ 桂花 (Keika) - Tokyo

Keika is a ramen chain from Kamakura that first debuted in Tokyo back in 1968. For almost 40 years Keika has been serving the same style of Tonkotsu ramen to busy commuters going through Tokyo and Shinjuku station. Today with many newer styles of tonkotsu such as Ichi-ran and Ippudou dominating the ramen scene Keika hasn't been getting much attention as of late. But there are many ramen fans who had their first tonkotsu ramen at Keika back in the old days, including me. I went back to Keika again recently and tried their most popular ramen 太肉麺 (ta-ro-men), ta-ro meaning tender cooked pork.

The Soup - is a less refined tonkotsu that has a bit of the signature tonkotsu smell. The white soup is topped off with a few drops of マー油 (ma-yu) or a special sesame oil. There is quite a strong accent with the soup here and might turn some people away.

The Noodles - are very firm, what I expect from a kyushu area ramen, but the noodles here are medium thickness which goes against the other tonkotsu ramen.

The Toppings - the ta-ro pork were very tender, the konbu seaweed and raw cabbage were very crunchy. The raw cabbage and ramen is still an odd combination for me, there's just a little too much variety in textures for me.

Overall - go to Higomonzu if you are new to tonkotsu or Kumamoto style ramen. Try this place out if you want to adventure a little with your ramen experience. On the wall in the ramen store is an old, hand written sign that says: "please visit us at least three times", claiming the flavor is something that will grow on you. It worked for me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

★★★ 野方ホープ軒 (Nogata Hope-ken) - Tokyo

Nogata Hope is a popular ramen store in Tokyo that serves a tonkotsu based shoyu soup ramen that many have termed it "背脂チャッチャ" which literally means "pork fat cha-cha". This style of ramen was started in Tokyo about 20 years ago. "Cha-cha" is not a dance, here it's describing the motion of straining a piece of pork fat through a strainer and raining the little bits of fat over a bowl of ramen. Needless to say, the ramen I had on this day easily falls on the extreme end of oily. I ordered the 全部入りラーメン (zenbu-iri ramen) or "ramen with everything in it".

The Soup - is a rich tonkotsu based, shoyu flavored soup. From the picture you might notice the little bits of white colored pork fat floating on the soup. You can actually request the amount of "cha-cha" or fat on the soup, it ranges from 脂抜き (abura-nuki, no-fat), あっさり (assari, light), 普通 (futsuu, regular), こってり (kotteri, heavy), こてこて (kote-kote, very heavy). I ordered the heavy kotteri and kind of regretted it. The flavor of the broth is very rich and delicious, I bet the soup is actually quite refined if it didn't have the thick layer of fat floating on top.

The Noodles - are medium-thick curly noodles, cooked slightly firm. These noodles are a joy to eat, springy and chewy. These egg noodles are quite flavorful and matches well with the soup.

The Toppings - are many chunks of slow cooked tender pork that just melts in your mouth. Lots of green onions, menma bamboo and dried seaweed. They have raw garlic on the counter so you can add as much as you want, it went really well with the tonkotsu based soup.

Overall - I have never felt so guilty after eating an oily ramen like this, I recommend you try the soup "assari" with little fat on it. This ramen place isn't just a grease fest though, the soup had such a strong, rich flavor to it that even the oiliness couldn't hide it completely. I had to order the ramen with lots of "cha-cha" on it since "pork fat cha-cha" ramen is quite a major style in Tokyo, I did it for "acedemic" reasons.

★★★★ 地雷源 (Jiraigen) - Tokyo

Jiraigen is one of the best ramen shops in Tokyo, I would easily recommend it to anyone if it was only more easily accessible. Jiraigen is a tiny store with only about a dozen counter seating, with posters of great American soul musicians all over its walls the decor feels more like a bar than a ramen shop. On this day I ordered the 我流旨味ソバ (ga-ryu umami soba), or directly translated "my style delicious noodles".

The Soup - is a beautiful, transparent shoyu soup, not too salty, with only a little bit of oil floating on top. But on the flavor side it packs quite a punch. The soup is a blend of tonkotsu pork bone, chicken and seafood stock. The mellow flavor of the shoyu is balanced with a hint of sweetness from 味りん a type of Japanese sweet vinegar. The soup is delicious and suprisingly light, using less oil than most other places.

The Noodles - are wonderful as well. Very thin straight noodles are cooked slightly firm. The soup and the noodles are very well matched. You can specify the thickness of the noodles as well, chose between 中細麺 (chu-boso medium thin) and 極細麺 (goku-boso extra thin). I chose the extra-thin noodles on this day.

The Toppings - are simple, a slice of cha-shu pork, some menma bamboo, green onions and nori dried seaweed. The cha-shu is roasted slightly before being served and is very tender, the flavor light and subtle. The menma bamboo was memorable, big slices very crunchy and just the right flavor that matches the ramen.

Overall - Jiraigen stands out as a sophisticated ramen that wins you over with its flavor that is refined and well balanced. Everything from the soup, noodles and toppings compliment eachother well. I higly recommend this place if you are new to ramen and if you know your way around Tokyo, unfortunately this place is hard to access. By train the best way is to hop on the Keio line and get off at 代田橋 Daitabashi station, takes about 7 min on foot.

Friday, May 05, 2006

★★ Maple Garden - Bellevue

Maple Garden is a Chinese restaurant in Bellevue that serves a few varieties of Chinese style ramen. Our favorite dish here is an interesting noodle soup called 大滷麵 (da-lu mian). Da-lu noodles are originally from Sandong province in the north-eastern part of China. What's unique about da-lu noodles is its soup that has been thickened by starch to keep the heat in the noodles, something that comes in handy during the cold winter months in Sandong province.

The Soup - starts out as 清湯 (flavorful clear chicken/pork broth), then they put in a variety of vegetables, seafood, chicken, pork or beef, give it a quick cook, flavor it with soy sauce, and then add a scrambled egg and some corn starch to thicken up the soup.

The Noodles - are medium thickness straight egg noodles, cooked more on the soft side.

The Toppings - there's a little bit of everything. You'll never find a Japanese ramen with brocolli, cauli flower or peas in a pod, but da-lu noodles has it. Some restaurants will serve it with shrimp and scallops too. All these vegetables and seafood are less like toppings and more part of the soup since they were cooked in it right before being served.

Overall - a great departure from the standard ramen, whether Japanese or Chinese. Most ramen are meant to be enjoyed in three parts, soup, noodles, toppings. But with da-lu mian all three parts are enjoyed at the same time. The thickness of the soup pulls everything together, texture wise the soft noodles almost blends with the thick soup. Many authentic Chinese restaurants in America has da-lu mian in their Chinese menu, so search it out and give this delicious noodle soup dish a try. The only thing that might turn you away is if you don't have the chopstick skills to control the heavy noodles.

Maple Garden - 14725 NE 20th St. Bellevue, WA 98007

Thursday, May 04, 2006

★★ Mamasan - Bellevue

Mamasan's started as a Japanese izakaya (pub) that only had one ramen dish, but their nagasaki champon ramen became so popular that they have expanded their ramen menu. Now they serve a large variety of ramen, including shoyu and tonkotsu just to name a few. I ordered their popular dish, the Nagasaki Champon.

The Soup - is a flavorful mix of seafood stock mixed with tonkotsu soup (pork bone)... at least traditionally that is how champon soup is made. Mamasan's champon seems to favor the seafood flavor some more.

The Noodles - are medium thickness, slightly curly noodles, most likely pre-packaged noodles. The noodles simply didn't have the firmness and texture of Japanese ramen, it was soft and didn't come close to matching the strong flavored soup.

The Toppings - are a variety of seafood and vegetables that was stir fried, slightly seared and then cooked slightly in the broth.

Overall - The soup and toppings were great, though the noodles at Mamasan always seem to be a hit and miss. Sometimes the noodles will come out okay, sometimes it ends up being too soft. Fortunately their champon soup is always good. I will probably try their shoyu and tonkotsu ramen next time, but these are soups that require a lot of time to cook and I don't think they can afford to hand cook all these different types of soup stock from scratch. But if you live in the Seattle area, Mamasan is probably as close as you can get to sample a large variety Japanese ramen.

Mamasan - 131 106th Ave. NE Bellevue, WA 98004

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

★★★ なんでんかんでん (Nanden-Kanden) - Tokyo

Nanden-Kanden is another tonkotsu style ramen chain from Hakata area of Kyushu. There are over 4-5 major tonkotsu ramen chains that are big in Tokyo, but Nanden-Kanden easily sets itself apart from the others by being bold and just all around fun. The store has the atmosphere of an old school food stand, very minimum decor, simple folder tables and stools. I went on a Saturday night and the place was bustling with long lines of people waiting outside and ramen chefs busy cooking and serving the bowls of noodles. The air is filled with the smell of tonkotsu while we waited in line to make our order. We eventually got seated and had to share a small table with another group of people (just like at the food stands). I ordered just the regular ラーメンramen on this day. though I regreted it and wished I ordered the ねぎバカラーメン (green onion baka ramen)

The Soup - was very rich, oily and salty, but surprisingly not filled with the overwhelming tonkotsu smell that filled the store. Whatever smell that was left in the soup was easily nuetralized by the tons of toppings that you can put into the soup, from beni-shoga (sweet pickled ginger), takana (pickled vegetables), and raw garlic. You can order your soup to come in different levels of oiliness from, 脂抜き(abura-nuki, no oil), 脂少なめ(abura-sukuname, little oil), こってり(kotteri, oily), and すごくこってり(sugoku-kotteri, very oily). I ordered the default which is kotteri.

The Noodles - were the standard thin straight noodles often used in tonkotsu ramen. You can order the noodles at different firmness from やわめん(yawa-men, soft), 普通めん(futsuu-men, regular), はりがね(harigane, firm), and 粉落とし(kona-otoshi, very firm). I ordered the kona-otoshi, which literally means "washing the flour off the noodles", where they only boil the noodles for a few seconds. The default is the futsuu-men but I ordered the kona-otoshi or very firm.

The Toppings - are very different this is where Nanden-Kanden has a lot of fun with its ramen. I ordered the boring simple ramen that comes with green onions, nori dried seaweed, sesame and some deep fried onions. Check out the toppings for the other types ramen from left to right: のりバカラーメン (nori-baka ramen, all dried seaweed) ねぎバカラーメン (negi-baka ramen, all green onions), and 玉子バカラーメン (tamago-baka ramen, all boiled eggs).

You can also add as pickled sweet ginger, takana, sesame, and garlic as you want.

Overall - Nanden-Kenden is one my favorite tonkotsu ramen place. The ramen itself might be heavy for a lot of people, but the flavor is delicious, and I love how the presentation is over the top. There were only two Nanden-Kanden stores in Tokyo, both outside the central Yamanote area, they recently opened a store in Shinjuku, but I've never checked the place out. If you are new to the tonkotsu ramen then I recommend you try ichi-ran or Ippudou first before giving Nanden-Kanden a try.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

★★★ Sandie's Gourmet - Seattle

Sandie's Gourmet is a hole in the wall type of small restaurant that serves a variety of traditional Taiwanese food. I came here after being referred here because of its great Taiwanese ramen. The owner of Sandie's had a sucessful ramen shop back in Taiwan, she recommended the 川味牛肉麺 (Szechuan style beef noodle soup) so I gave it a try.

The Soup - is a lively combination of rich beef broth, Chinese spices, a slight tanginess, and the steady burn of red chile peppers. I am guessing that they use quite a bit of different vegetables in their stock (tomoatoes, celery, & ginger) that adds more of a sweet and tangy hint to the soup. The spiciness is noticeable right away but doesn't escalate too much. Everything is well balanced and delicious.

The Noodles - are medium thickness straight noodles. Slightly on the softer side but firmer than some other Chinese style noodles.

The Toppings - are many slices of stewed beef and a lot of coriander. The stewed beef is tender with quite a bit of tendon on them giving them a slightly crunchy texture. The slices of beef are wonderful, embodying all the flavors of the soup. Ask for the coriander on the side if you are new to this ramen though.

Overall - one of the best beef noodle soups I have had outside of Taiwan. The type of flavor that helped the owner of Sandie's sell an average of 250 bowls of this ramen a day back in Taiwan. Until I find something better, I will return here anytime I want some really good beef noodle soup.

Monday, May 01, 2006

濃厚魚介 - Rich Seafood Ramen

濃厚魚介 (rich seafood style) is a new wave of ramen that gained popularity in Tokyo around the year 2002. 濃厚 means thick/rich, in this case it means that richness of broth taken from pork or poultry based soup stock. 魚介 means fish or shell fish, which in this case mostly represents the Japanese style soup made from dried fish such as bonito or mackerel. The two different soups are cooked separately and blended together before being served. Some Japanese ramen circles call this the W スープ or double soup based ramen.

The balance between blending the richer tonkotsu/chicken soup with the lighter seafood based soup varies significantly from store to store. Most places will favor the richer tonkotsu soup to provide the body, and then blend the lighter seafood based stock to add extra aroma to the soup. Some places will blend a lighter chicken based broth with the seafood soup, but those places are more rare.

★★★★ 青葉 (Aoba) - Tokyo

★★★★ はやし (Hayashi) - Tokyo

★★ 渡なべ (Watanabe) - Tokyo

★★★ 櫻坂 (Sakura-zaka) - Tokyo

★★★ 俺の空 (Ore no Sora) - Tokyo

★★★ 麺屋蔵六 (Zou-roku) - Tokyo

★★★★ 地雷源 (Jiraigen) - Tokyo

★★★★ 麺場 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai) - Tokyo

★★★★ らーめん瞠 (Miharu) - Tokyo

★★★ 中華蕎麦 ぷかぷか (Puka-puka) - Tokyo

背脂チャッチャ - Pork Fat cha-cha Ramen

背脂チャッチャ (pork fat cha-cha) is an extremely heavy ramen that has been around Tokyo for the last 30 years or so. 背脂 refers to the thick layer of cooked pork fat which they run through a strainer and rain down the little pieces of fat into the bowl of ramen. The チャッチャ "cha-cha" is supposedly describing the movement/sound of straining the pork fat.

This rich oily soup is usually a great match with raw minced garlic or 紅生姜 (pickled sweet ginger), most of these stores will have these extra toppings available on the table.

While many "pork fat cha-cha" style ramen stores use a pretty rich soup to begin with, there are some rare stores that start out with a lighter soup.

★★ ばんからら~めん (Bankara ramen) - Tokyo

★★★ 野方ホープ軒 (Nogata Hope-ken) - Tokyo

★★ ラーメン 二郎 (Ramen Jiro) - Tokyo

★★ らーめん 香月 (Kazuki) - Tokyo

旭川ラーメン Asahikawa Ramen

The city of Asahikawa lies in the center of Hokkaido island in the northern part of Japan. Asahikawa style ramen is basically a blend of tonkotsu pork bone soup and seafood soup, often flavored with soy sauce and served with curly ramen noodles. Asahikawa style ramen has very little of the tonkotsu smell, which distinguishes itself from the Kyushu style tonkotsu ramen.

Asahikawa style ramen, like its neighboring city Sapporo, has severe cold winters. Just like Sapporo's miso ramen, the Asahikawa ramen also tries preserve the heat in the soup by covering the ramen with a layer of oil. With the tonkotsu based soup, the oil makes the ramen much heavier than most ramen from Sapporo.

★★★ 旭鳳 (Kyokuhou) - Tokyo

★★ らーめん山頭火 (Santouka) - Tokyo

★★ 風来居 (Fuuraikyo) - Tokyo

★ 旭川 さいじょう (Saijo) - Tokyo

★ 蜂屋 (Hachiya) - Shin Yokohama