Monday, November 26, 2012

Tokyo tales: Slurping ramen

Most people associate ramen with the dried blocks of noodles that can be bought by the crateful, with packets of sodium-overdosing flavor.  As with most things, these are just a shadow of the true amazingness of 'real' ramen.  A rich broth with soft noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, fall-apart meat and a softly-boiled egg...mmm.  Just how good is it?  Well, it's probably the one thing I ate the most while I was there this time around.  There were four separate ramen meals, each unique:

1.  Train Station Ramen

On our first day in Tokyo, we wandered around Akihabara and found the restaurant supply district (which deserves its own post later) near Ueno.  At Ueno station, we decided that whatever time our bodies thought it was, it was certainly time to eat something, so we popped into a noodle shop for sustenance more than anything else.

Just a plain miso broth with some pork.  Maybe I had just forgotten how good this stuff really is, but this tasted so much better than something from a train station has any right to.  It was definitely worth the few splatters I caused from my relearning chopstick skills.

2.  Vending Machine Ramen

Next was another ramen of convenience.  After a hard day's work, Dad didn't feel like venturing far from the hotel for dinner.  Thankfully, the Westin in Ebisu happens to be right next to a shopping square, and there is an underground path allowing you to access the shops and restaurants without ever actually going outside.  We found this in the basement level, it looks like the kind of place that would be packed for lunch on a work day.

What made this a little interesting was the way you ordered.  Rather than attempting broken English and pointing with a waitress, you push the buttons on this vending machine, which spits out tickets for each item and takes your money ahead of time.

I opted for the basic ramen, plus my favorite toppings of egg, pork, and bamboo.  And a small beer, the beverage of choice with a steaming bowl of goodness.

3.  The Favorite Ramen

There was only one planned ramen stop on this trip, to the 'favorite noodle shop' located in Harajuku.  It's just around the corner from Kiddy Land, an awesome toy store with several floors filled with Hello Kitty, Disney, and other toys.  It's pretty much a given at this point that for any time spent in Tokyo, one day has to be devoted to Harajuku for shopping and ramen.
This is an almost creamy pork broth, rich from the bones boiled for hours.  Otherwise, it features the same highlights of noodles, sprouts, egg, and pork.  We also shared some dumplings, and I got an almond jelly dessert as part of a set deal.

4. Cheesy Ramen

The final night in Tokyo, we didn't really have plans for dinner.  So I Googled around for ideas in the area, and read about this place, Tsukumo, that did cheesy ramen.  I didn't know whether to be intrigued or horrified.  What I knew I was, was hungry.  Dad approved of this culinary experiment, and it was an easy find just a few blocks from the Ebisu train station.

They start out with the rich pork broth, possibly with some of the parmesan rinds going into that process as well.  And the noodles we know and love.  Then, a 'Made in Italy' cheese grater takes a huge hunk of the stuff and grates it in a heaping pile into the soup.  You add your plate of extras (egg, pork, etc.), and ta-dah!
Man, I cannot tell you how good this was.  Seriously.  It sounds a little weird, but the cheese melts beautifully into the broth and noodles.  The only comparison I can make is to a french onion soup.  So delicious.  I'm quite pleased with myself for this find, but really that's the beauty of Tokyo, it almost doesn't matter where you happen to walk into, chances are you're going to get something good to eat.

Well, with the exception of when you walk into places that aren't restaurants, of course!

There you have it, another tale from Tokyo.  It's taking me a while to get to everything, but I hope you're enjoying it, because I love getting to relive it weeks afterwards.  Stay tuned for further installments of craft stores, food, and more.

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