You all know the gist about ramen: noodles in hot soup. But you’re probably much less familiar with tsukemen — dipping noodles.
Basically, you are given ramen noodles without any soup and you dip it in an accompanying sauce, which tends to blur the line between a “sauce” as you may normally think of it and a soup. Sometimes the sauce contains pieces of meat and vegetables, though some restaurants choose to serve them on the side. I find tsukemen to be particularly good during the summer, when hot soup is just too hot.
My first experience with tsukemen was during a business trip several years ago to Hiroshima where several colleagues and I went out to a popular local tsukemen joint called Bakudan (ばくだん屋), which means “bomb” in Japanese. Yes, as in THAT bomb.
Served cold on the side were the noodles, roast pork, and vegetables – it looks like a noodle salad when it comes to you. The sauce is soy sauce based and you can set the spiciness level from zero (not spicy at all) to 20 (thermonuclear). Many of the tsukemen places I’ve subsequently eaten at put pieces of meat and vegetables into the sauce, but Bakudan’s had nothing else into it except sauce and some sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The sauce, combined with the cold noodles, meat, and vegetables made for a really good, refreshing meal – quite good for the summer, actually. I forgot exactly how spicy I got my sauce, but I think it was something just over level 10… probably a 12. It was spicy enough to cause me to sniffle a little bit, but not nearly enough to cause physical pain (the restaurant thoughtfully provides tissues to wipe your nose with).
When I moved to Tokyo, I discovered that there was a branch of Bakudan near my neighborhood and took my family there. Unfortunately, I later learned that Bakudan closed not only that location but all of its restaurants in the Tokyo area. It’s too bad because at this time of year when the weather is hot and humid in Tokyo, I think about those cold noodles and the sauce.
Of course, I’ve discovered other good tsukemen places in Tokyo. There’s Rokurinsha (六厘舎), one of eight ramen joints located at Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station. Rokurinsha won a Best Ramen award in 2012, which probably explains why there are such long lines coming out of that place during lunch time (I saw a small crowd lined up at 10:30am, waiting for it to open at 11:00). That’s why I decided to go there for breakfast instead.
Having not had anything for breakfast, I ordered the extra large size – 800 grams (1.8 pounds) of noodles. The sauce was served warm and had a vinegary/fishy flavor, along with chucks of pork floating within the thick liquid. The noodles were served warm and were thick and chewy. It was quite good and those noodles hit the spot like … well, an 800g bowl of noodles.
However, Rokurinsha’s tsukemen was outdone by the stuff I had a few days later at Fuunji (風雲児) in Shinjuku. Fuunji combines dried fish with chicken bones stewed for hours to yield a rich, milky, and smokey sauce. It was outstanding when paired with thick noodles (though there weren’t as much as at Rokurinsha, which still has the edge in the quantity department). I highly recommend checking this place out. Fuunji’s ramen, which featured a soup that looked quite similar to the tsukemen sauce, was also very good.
That’s just a small taste of the tsukemen offerings in Tokyo. I’ll profile some more places in the weeks ahead.
Rokurinsha and Fuunji locations in Tokyo:Rokurinsha: 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. Located in Tokyo Station on the southern end of the Yaesu side of the station. If you’re on the first floor where the gates to the trains are located, take the stairs next to the McDonald’s.
Fuunji: 2-14-3 Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo
For Bakudan-ya locations within Japan and elsewhere in Asia, check out their website (in Japanese).