Tonkotsu ramen is arguably the most popular style of ramen in Japan. From mass market chains like Ippudo and Ichiran, to smaller and more local ones like Ikaruga, there are countless shops competing to feed the nation-wide addiction to thin noodles in creamy pork bone broth.
One well-known chain of tonkotsu ramen shops in Tokyo is Kyushu Jangara Ramen (九州じゃんがら). Perhaps the most popular branch of Jangara in Tokyo is in Harajuku, just down the street from Meiji Shrine. There always seems to be a line coming out of the place on weekends.
When people first hear me mention burnt miso ramen, they usually think it sounds intriguing and want to try it. However, some folks are a little more skeptical. After all, how good could burnt anything really be? But rest assured, the burnt miso ramen at Gogyo (五行) is among some of the tastiest ramen I have had so far in Tokyo.
Several months ago when I did my previous post about tonkatsu, I talked about the various kinds of tonkatsu you can get in Tokyo. One of my Japanese friends told me that I should try a place called Kimukatsu (キムカツ) which is famous for tonkatsu made not from one piece of pork cutlet, but rather 25 layers of thinly sliced pork stacked together and deep fried. Earlier this week, I finally got the chance to check out the main branch in Ebisu with two other friends.
One of the most fascinating things about food in Japan is how many foreign foods have been reinterpreted and reinvented in ways that make them distinctively Japanese. I’ve talked previously about tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) which is the Japanese version of German schnitzel and American chicken fried steak. And of course there is ramen, which is Chinese in origin but has evolved into a quintessential Japanese dish.
What you may not be as familiar with is the Japanese take on pasta, the stuff that (according to legend) Marco Polo introduced to Italy from the Far East and the Italians have exported right back. You can find Italian pasta in Tokyo and, depending on where you go, it can be quite good. However, the Japanese have also developed their own unique versions that reflect local ingredients and flavors.
Some of the best places to do gourmet foodspotting in Japan are the food sections of major department stores, which are normally located in the basement level. Yennie Cheung of the blog International Gluttony does a great overview of these depachika, which she describes as “essentially like supermarket delis, except that these would make Whole Foods weep with inadequacy.”
The one my family and I have gone to relatively frequently is in the Mitsukoshi Department store in Ginza, conveniently connected to the Metro station. It is a wall-to-wall Versailles of high quality, spectacularly presented food — European-style pastries and baked goods, chocolates, some of the most immaculate looking fruit you will ever see in your life, a broad selection of Asian and European cuisines, and much more. You really have to be careful not to drool over everything you see.
Items tend to be on the pricey side, as you would expect from an upscale retailer. But we always seem to buy something from the European-style bakery there, Johan, which makes great bread, croissants, and other pastries. They offer some sort of “bread of the day” (at least on the weekends) and there are often a lot of people waiting in line to pick some up.
Of course, any of the Japanese departments stores (especially the high end ones such as Mitsukoshi and Takeshimaya) will have depachika like this. So if you happen to see one while you’re hanging out in Japan, definitely check it out.
Mitsukoshi Department Store
4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
Food truck alley next to Tokyo International Forum in Ginza
Taco rice truck
Grilled meat truck
Another food truck
Yellow food truck
Vegan food truck
I was at the Tokyo International Forum near Ginza recently where I came upon a group of food trucks standing outside, ready to serve the lunch crowd. Food trucks have been a growing phenomenon in major cities in the United States over the last several years, and Tokyo has its share as well. However, the trucks are a lot smaller in Japan. Some of them are basically converted micro-vans that are ubiquitous in this country. Others are converted 1960s-area Volkswagen microbuses, which lend a cool retro/counterculture vibe. Continue reading