The Japanese sure love the Chinese-style spicy noodles known as tantanmen (or dandan mian in Mandarin Chinese). Previously, I wrote about two tantanmen joints in Tokyo, Rashohan in Kanda and Kisurin in Akasaka. Yesterday, I went to another well-regarded place called Yokarou (よかろう).
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.
Ramen is synonymous with Japan, but it is commonly thought to have come from China sometime during the Meiji period. The term “ramen” is supposedly the Japanese pronunciation for the Chinese word for pulled noodles, lamian. Additionally, an alternative term for ramen is chuka soba, literally “Chinese noodles.” However, food historians dispute whether there was ever any direct connection between the two. As anyone who has had both ramen and lamian can tell you, the types of noodle dishes are very different.
Even if they are unrelated, I thought it would be interesting to compare the original Chinese “ramen” with the Japanese version that has taken the world by storm. But in a country as obsessed with noodles as Japan, I could not find any restaurants that served fresh, hand-pulled, reasonably authentic lamian.
That is, until now.
Ramen is traditionally stereotyped as a male thing, the heavy, meaty, carb loaded meal of men young and old. Although some ramen shops like Afuri have sought to attract a more gender diverse audience, Bario (バリ男) goes in the complete opposite direction. As the character 男 implies, it literally is ramen for men.
The global popularity of Japanese food has never been greater, as underscored by the recent decision of the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, to add traditional Japanese cuisine to its “intangible world heritage” list. It’s easy to think that the Japanese cuisine we know and enjoy today has an ancient, dynamic, and delicious history and that Japan has always been a nation of foodies.
In reality, for much of Japan’s history, Japanese food wasn’t that good (unremarkable if not downright awful, in fact) and there wasn’t much of it to go around. That’s one of the central insights of “Slurp: A Social and Culinary History of Ramen – Japan’s Favorite Noodle Soup” by historian Barak Kushner of the University of Cambridge. While Japan’s iconic noodle dish is certainly the centerpiece of this book (it begins with a recounting of Kushner’s first trip to an Ichiran ramen shop), “Slurp” is a broader exploration of the history and dramatic evolution of Japanese cuisine and food culture into the phenomenon that we see today.
Late last year, Ippudo (一風堂) conducted an in-house ramen development competition. The winner of the contest was a Hakata Black Curry Ramen, which the general public can now try at Ippudo stores across the country for a limited time only. I finally got the chance to try it earlier today, and it was delicious.
When people think about Japanese beer, they usually think of mass produced brands such as Kirin Ichiban or Asahi Super Dry. They probably don’t know that there’s a burgeoning industry of craft breweries in Japan that make a wide variety of good tasting beers. So I’ve decided to launch a series of posts exploring craft beer and craft beer restaurants in Tokyo.
Last week, an elegant black box from arrived at my house — a gift from the famous ramen chain Ippudo. I have an Ippudo point card and have been steadily collecting stamps for each bowl my family and I have eaten (see my previous posts on their tonkotsu and seasonal ramen). Recently, I got enough to become a Premium Member, which meant that I received a black membership card that entitles me to free kaedama for myself and guests for a year, among other things.
But what about the black box?
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.
I’ve noticed that a lot of folks who check out this blog are interested in Tokyo Ramen Street at Tokyo Station, so I thought I should highlight another of its shops — Oneshiki Jun (俺式 純). Oneshiki, which is part of a chain of ramen restaurants called Setagaya, is one of the new ramen joints that moved in following recent renovations to the Street. It specializes in tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen and offers a couple of tsukemen (dipping noodle) options as well.