Category Archives: Eating

Pit Stop Aomori

The shinkansen never ceases to amaze me. Tokyo-Aomori in slightly over three hours, comfortable seats and some peace and quiet. I’ll elaborate on the peace and quiet later.

The first thing to notice when getting off the train in Aomori was that it was cold. I had had high hopes that going to Japan as late as May would be enough for even the northern parts to have some summer-simulating qualities, but my shorts and fivefingers –based outfit was greeted with a windy 5°C Celsius. And although the ryokan I was supposed to stay at being located only a couple hundred meters from the station entrance, I still managed to spend 15 minutes looking for it. This should not surprise anyone who knows me.

Once found, though, the ryokan was great. The owner lady knew of my arrival and didn’t even care to see my reservation or payment receipt. She showed me to my room and soon brought me a couple of black sesame sembei and hot water to make tea with.

Green tea and sesame sembei

Apparently the only photo I took in while in Aomori. I obviously need three tea cups.

The room was slightly cold but nothing the heater couldn’t have fixed. A wireless connection was available as well, so nothing to complain about. Through the all-seeing eye of the World Wide Web I was able to identify the #1 restaurant in Aomori, Ippachizushi, which was located just a few blocks away. I went on a stroll and ended up walking around Aomori for a bit before reaching the main street and realizing there was nothing to see. The entire city was closing down around 6 pm. Sushi was all I had left.

Ippachizushi was a very traditional looking sushi restaurant with chefs standing behind the counter conversing with customers and, in my case, staring. Which is also why I didn’t dare immortalize the scene with the means of photography. Patrons had no plates, all sushi was placed on the counter in front and could be picked from there piece by piece. There was no english help anywhere and no menu, as was to be expected.

I realized immediately that my rusty Japanese wouldn’t have allowed me to order more than a few varieties of nigiri, so I decided to go all in and get whatever they recommended off the menu. The osusume of the night ended up being the matsu set, valued at 2100 yen. After asking what the clam sushi was called (=hotate), I ordered an additional serving of what had turned out to be my favourite and downed it all with a draft beer. The bill rose to 3310 yen, which was really reasonable for a good selection of sushi (and beer, never forget the beer), especially with the current exchange rate.

Mental note: I would be very interested in knowing what the naming convention for sushi sets are. This is not the first time it goes Umi < Take < Matsu from cheapest to most delectable.

Despite the pristine decor (I have to hit myself for using that word) and friendly staff, I was ever-so-slightly disappointed in the actual sushi. It was no doubt fresh, but the taste itself being very subtle, the amount of wasabi that had been put on the nigiri by the chefs themselves was enough to hide the actual flavors of the fruits-de-mer. Nevertheless, I went back to the ryokan on a full stomach and with a warm feeling inside, and began thorough research on the next destination – Hakodate.

I’M ON TRAIN!

Japanese train manners are, as George W. Bush would say, exemplorary. Not only are there constant reminders over the speaker system to put phones on silent (or manner mode), travelers never even raise their voices for conversing. Naturally ignorant gaijin are the exception to the rule, but I don’t have that much to say to myself so this time I have had no problems following these unwritten rules.

On morning trains, everybody is deathly silent. The only time any noise is heard is in late evenings when the weary salarymen begin to relax a little and a growing percentage of the passengers have imbued themselves with the power of alcohol. What I hadn’t seen before, though, was a sign on the back of the folding table warning passengers who have computers not to disturb others, whilst specifically mentioning the sound from typing on the keyboard.

So there I was in a train going 300 km/h and yet everything was so quiet you could disturb the whole car by the admittedly raucous action of typing.

In contrast, the traditional Japanese way of handling long train rides is as follows:

  • Buy bento box and / or beer at station,
  • Eat and drink
  • Fall asleep for remainder of journey
  • ???
  • Profit

Should the sleeping part fail, at least train-folk keep quiet. Optional actions include but are not limited to: relaxing in awkward positions, removing one shoe or staring at the scenery without so much as budging. Forever.

-Antti

Hotto Koohii and Tonkotsu Ramen

5th day in Japan. The past few days have been spent in Tokyo visiting old places, meeting new people and getting in touch with old friends.

My plan today is to leave for Aomori as soon as I get a taste of Muteppou, which I have literally been dreaming about during these last two years. We left Basti’s place early as he left for work, so I had to find something to kill time with until Muteppou opens for lunch at 11. Unfortunately, Numabukuro station and its surroundings don’t offer much entertainment around 9 am on a Tuesday, so my last resort to escape the wind and pointless roaming was to enter the only premises available for idling, a McDo.

I haven’t been to a McDonald’s in a year or so, but I now wish I would have. The coffee here tastes even worse than home, thus relieving me of any creeping homesickness. Actually, at a different cafe, the coffee labeled ”American coffee” in Japanese was translated as ”weak coffee” in English. Admirable honesty. They could further improve it in the future and go with ”bad coffee” instead. But then again, I drink cold coffee from aluminum cans when in Japan, so the nadir has to be here somewhere.

To avoid walking around with a full travel backpack, Japanese train stations luckily offer coin lockers that can be conveniently used at any time for a small fee. These things are absent from all European locations I’ve visited due to the terrorism scare.

Once done with the ramen I will continue the journey towards areas that no man has gone to before. Sabae was a refreshing sight, and I would have gladly spent more time in the eyeglasses capital of the world, but unfortunately Golden Week thwarted those plans.

Looking forward the situation is clearly better. After three nights of modest ryokan living booked in Aomori and Hakodate (one and two nights respectively), I will move on to Sapporo (probably three nights), dissect the place and return south promptly in order to get a glimpse at Kyushu before facing the inevitability of an expiring rail pass. Obviously Kyushu would have been a better choice this time of year in any case, but I refuse to give up on Hokkaido. So why not both?

-Antti

After sitting in the morning sun enjoying a nice cup of espresso, I went to do my Sunday morning shopping at the ever expensive Meidi-ya Hiroo department store. The arctic temperature in the store was a nice change of climate from the 30 degrees celcius and suffocating Honshu humidity levels present outside. Purely by accident I stumbled upon a rare endemic dish that I had needed to try: the tokoroten.

Why wouldn't people want to buy a living blue jelly for ¥100?

Originally I was introduced to the obscure stuff by the equally bizarre Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo tv-show. Unfortunately, all relevant videos on Youtube are Spanish dubs so I won’t be linking any here. Considering the character of Tokoro Tennosuke, who was made entirely of tokoroten, failed to sell himself at the supermarket for a mere ¥10, I was surprised I needed to pay ¥315 for a batch of three small cups in the real world. Then again, it was Meidi-ya whose slogan is “We love overpricing”.

3-pack of un-snacks

Tokoroten is a weird beast, which, besides the anime reference, was the main reason I needed to try it. Consisting practically only of water, the dish has lately been advertised in Japan as a diet food for the very same reason, because it’s water (Japanese wikipedia indicates the water content to be 98-99%). To water is added agar, and the gelatinous end result is shaped into “noodles”. Therefore stuffing yourself full of tokoroten before a meal can fill your stomach with water jelly, thus decreasing your hunger and making you eat less actual food. That wasn’t really my goal, but I had no option but to try the stuff nevertheless.

Maximum texture, no taste!

The pack I bought also contained a vinegar dipping sauce as well as small bags of sesame seeds for seasoning. A few slurps and it was gone. Being as the tokoroten itself doesn’t taste like anything, it was exactly like eating textured water with vinegar, an experience best described as unproductive. According to the Japanese, tokoroten is great in the summer as you can cool yourself down while having the illusion of eating. I personally prefer to keep my water as a liquid and my food as an energy source. No wonder Tennosuke was so unpopular in Bo-bobo. It’s not really worth much more than ¥10 a cup. I won’t be buying it again but I still have two cups left in the fridge so it seems I’ll be eating some more water in the days to come.

-Antti

Instance Noodles

You Are Not Prepared!

I spent most of the midsummer days preparing to move house from Nakamurabashi to Hiroo. After a tedious dragging of luggage around the city on Saturday, I relaxed for a couple of hours before heading to Heiwajima Park for a Finno-Swedish midsummer party complete with bonfire, sauna, barbecue and drinks. As I couldn’t be certain whether or not anyone would be attending, I entered the premises empty-handed and needed a quick trip to the ever-so-useful nearby Don Quixote to replenish my resources.

During the long evening I managed to meet several nice and interesting people. Besides encountering a couple of Japanese girls who were part of the national women’s floorball team (out of maybe 100 practitioners of the sport here in total) and were moving to some kind of Köping in Sweden to get better at the trade, the evening was a relatively standard Nordic estival drinking session. In addition, it served as a catalyst for some more culinary adventures. The rest of this post will be a storyteller’s nightmare, mainly because I will be posting pictures of unrelated ramen dishes in a seemingly arbitrary manner until my phone’s memory is empty again.

Becoming a Pastafarian

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to avoid my weekly Muteppou trap and found a new tonkotsu ramen place worth visiting, Yottekoya at Ebisu station. Their tonshio (pork-salt broth) ramen was excellent, and I went out on a limb again by purposefully ordering the dish with double chashuu slices. Although I have no complaints about the rest of the bowl whatsoever, what really made my day were the said thick slices of pork. Extremely tasty and fatty, they had been lightly broiled and were by far the best chashuu in any ramen restaurant I’ve visited so far.

My only regret that day is that I managed to bypass another type of broth on the menu until after I had finished my bowl: The ジェノバラーメン (Jenova ramen). That’s my own romanization. There is close to no chance that the meal was actually referring to the Calamity from the Skies, but as a Final Fantasy reference-nerd I now have two reasons to return to Yottekoya, pronto.

Salivation, salivation, salivation is here.

My next ramen discovery had been sitting next to my home station of Nakamurabashi the whole time, but I had never been courageous enough to enter the small, homely shop before. Also, it had been closed most of the time. I don’t even know the name of the place. Faithful to my ways, I ordered the tonkotsu bowl with double chashuu slices and dug in. Although the food was enjoyable, the shop could not keep up in quality with the more famous ramen restaurants. The chashuu was straight from the refrigerator and tasted like anything I could have found in the nearby Seiyu supermarket. The broth was quite salty and the noodles were closer to the instant variety than fresh ones. All in all a decent bowl of salt and grease after a night out, wouldn’t return for taste.

Full speed ahead, captain.

Returning to the midsummer weekend, one of the Finnish attendees who had lived in Japan for north of 10 years told me about a famous Hakata ramen chain called Ichiran. Supposedly “the best”, Ichiran takes the antisocial aspect of ramen eating so far that restaurants give a small walled piece of counter to each visiting enthusiast. Functioning in a way similar to horse blinders, the visual and physical seclusion from the outside world ideally allows for people to concentrate solely on the greatness of ramen. The idea intrigued me.

Yesterday, during my afternoon exploration walk in Azabu-Juban and Roppongi, I eventually realized I was close enough to the local Ichiran branch that I could try finding it without a map. Long story short, you don’t find stuff in Japan without a map. What did happen, though, was that I walked past a very appetizing noodle shop called Kohmen. I thought it was a tsukemen shop, but what I ordered, the 熟成光麺(jukuseikohmen) with all toppings, was something I can’t quite define. Noodles in a standard ramen broth, with all toppings set aside on a separate plate. Kohmen’s homepage qualifies the place as a Chinese style noodle shop, which basically translates to ramen. Only the presentation was different. And since I just shoveled all the toppings straight into the broth bowl anyway, the difference was limited to Kohmen dirtying one extra plate.

本格中華麺

As a disclaimer, I was pretty damn hungry. The light, salty broth and thin, curly noodles tasted excellent and fit perfectly together. The plate of toppings included half of a 味付け卵 (seasoned egg), two thick slices of fatty chashuu, bamboo shoots, spring onion slices, a sheet of nori and some crisp, oil-cooked garlic slices. I was also allowed to choose one additional item from a service menu and opted for an extra egg. Other choices included an extra serving of noodles, a small bowl of rice, a small dessert or something weird that was sold out but had been left on the menu to make children cry. I could still have used more toppings, but the quality of the meal coupled with its reasonable price (¥990) made me a believer. Upon leaving I also received a ¥100 coupon to make sure I return to Kohmen. That would not have been necessary.

Ramen.

-Antti

Paradise Awaits

The sunken city of R’lyeh

The shinkansen arrived at Hiroshima station sometime after 11, and having checked the itinerary to the assigned location beforehand I chose to trek the remaining 2 kilometers instead of looking for the right train. With all my luggage, feeling like a heavy weapons guy was unavoidable.

My observations from two years ago were still valid; Hiroshima is a rare Japanese city where one can actually find something similar to espace verts, and in addition, the streets are wide and pleasantly organized. The initial joy I drew from the physical aspects of the city was quickly lost as I realized that the internet at my special outpost was non-functional. One conbini lunch and a lot of cursing later, I managed to get everything connected and was actually able to begin working. Besides the challenging start, the rest of the day at the empty office was dull and uneventful.

Wide Island

After checking in at ANA Crowne Plaza and checking out the gym thereof, I opted to try the casual dining buffet of the hotel. It was very reasonably priced at ¥3000. A well kept secret among westerners with a huge appetite is that the energy & micronutrient / yen ratio is always superior at a tabehoudai or buffet, given that the stomach capacity of the attendee exceeds a certain level. There is a very complicated mathematical formula for choosing the optimal place to eat, but tonight I clearly made the right choice.

Truth be told, since solving the internet issue at the makeshift embassy right after my arrival, I’ve been all smiles. Smiles, that, once again, I have utterly failed to conceal. I was grinning to the elevator mirror on the way to the restaurant before noticing the security camera watching me. Someone at the other end had probably already began suspecting that the Joker was still alive.

There's wild Pokémon in the tall grass!

Quand l’appétit va, tout va!

When in a hotel, do as the rich people do. Eat. And never stop. All things considered, the buffet was sublime. I began with several servings of different salads and cold entrees, after which I quickly discovered a huge bloc of parmesan cheese and a young chef grilling sasebo style steaks in a corner where nobody dared venture. Don’t ask me what a sasebo style steak is, I have no idea. But it was delicious. I didn’t initially believe my luck so I needed to confirm with the chef whether these really were part of the buffet menu. His nonchalant answer allowed all hell to break loose.

Relinquishing all sense of shame I returned to the steak counter 4 times and tried most of the other foods in between these cherished beef moments: hakata gyoza, crab korokke, beef tendon, shrimp sushi, roasted chicken, horse mackerel, mozzarella tomatoes. This is really beginning to resemble the diary of a hedonist, which it is. I felt like going on forever but decided to quit while I was ahead and chose one funny looking piece of green tea spongecake along with a dangerously large espresso to close the deal. My only cause of distress was that I left my phone and only camera in my room on purpose, thinking “I’m just gonna eat, no point to immortalize anything”. How wrong I was. I would label the whole evening as epic if it didn’t involve paying the jar. And tomorrow’s dinner venue calls the kimeta rule function.

-Obélix

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m drifting

Every so often I feel like reminding myself that I no longer am 14. The proper assessment method is to pull an all-nighter for no apparent reason and realize once more that such initiatives should never be considered in the first place. What may once have been a feat of strength at LAN parties with other guys sporting long, unkempt hair, is nowadays nothing more than a measurable burden. Speaking in scribbles, wondering whether one is asleep or awake and especially passing out at a family dinner while leaning on your own fist are all occurrences that should be left in the past. For a reason.

But what choice did I have? We went drinking with the Embassy Trainee Squad (ETS) on Friday. As Friday turned into Saturday and I woke up at 5 in the afternoon, I realized that it would be quite difficult to come back from the admittedly self-caused predicament. The only sensible way I could think of was to play Rift until dawn and pull an all-nighter Sunday night in order to then “get up early” and go straight to Tsukiji for some world class sushi first thing on Monday. Plan set in motion.

You can't really miss the general fish market area.

Whoop Whoop!

Sushi Dai is a renowned and ridiculously small sushi stand at the Tokyo Tsukiji fish market that has been given rave reviews online. Upon arrival it became clear that the store appealed more to foreigners than locals, immediately setting off my tourist trap alarm. The clock dinged 6:45 when I arrived, yet I still had to queue for around 45 minutes for my early breakfast sushi. I was too tired and hungry to take any pictures of the meal, and since other bloggers with better skills and tools have done it before, I refer you to EdEdition and Paul’s Travel Pics for lengthier illustrated reviews of the place. I really can’t be bothered at this stage.

La queue (queque)

I do agree with most reviewers that the sushi at Sushi Dai was definitely the best sushi that I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, due to the immense hype surrounding the place, I was pretty much expecting to get raptured while my taste buds sang songs of praise. That didn’t happen. The problem wasn’t in the quality of the sushi, but merely in the experience as a whole. It is also possible that I found my limit as a sushi lover.

The place has 12 seats, and queues of 1-2 hours to get inside are not uncommon. Those two things combined create a barrier that effectively prevents people from enjoying Sushi Dai as a lengthy social experience. Maybe with the exception of people who happen to like the queue simulator. ¥3900 for a dozen pieces of excellent sushi after and hour’s wait in a remote location is not entirely worth it, at least more than once. The sushi was excellent, but I’ve had excellent sushi at other locations which offered additional perks. The slight increase in quality does not justify all the fame surrounding Sushi Dai, merely some of it. But since freshness is such a selling point and there are 50 other sushi stalls at Tsukiji, there should not be that big of a quality gap between Dai and all of the rest. The next time I venture into Tsukiji, I’ll try to find a cheaper, less gaijin-infested sushiya. I’ll also try to sleep the night before.

-Stark Dålig

Motor Crazycycle

Mille Bornes

One more workweek over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at the workplace. I managed to save more money on travel costs than ever before by cycling to work for five days in a row. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and ¥3300 less to pay to the private railways. After now having zigzagged between cars for over a thousand kilometers during my first three months here, I’ve thoroughly began to enjoy the peculiarities and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. Five days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles, though, so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After a long week of sitting in front of a screen for no purpose, I awarded myself with finally deciding to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick yelp of “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo dashed to the counter confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian Traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the fillings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specified in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for people who judge take-out pizzas based on how they are cut.

À emporter

Take away (or one of the other options) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was ¥1700 (->¥1360), affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their peak and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seats or tables in the restaurant which is more reminiscent of, or veritably is just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

It's dangerous to go alone, take this.

Once I had received my dinner, I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, returning the occasional baseball to the neighborhood kids playing nearby. The Italian Traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike all other pizzas in Japanese restaurants till the end of time, this one managed to both look and taste like a pizza, never mind the millefeuille crust. It was so appetizing, actually, that as I let my vigilance level drop for only a few seconds, a huge crow appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong. As did the crow. We quickly exchanged a couple of Finnish curses and the crow was on his way again. I did most of the talking.

Gym? What’s a Gym?

The real challenge of the day was still looming ahead. Following a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the Nakamuraminami gym, finally carrying the only proof I had for living in Nerima, my new and shiny Alien card. The lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go down the stairs to the training room area. I was instructed to fill in some sheets about general contact information and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then, the gym guide guy (GGG) proceeded to present me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard bench press. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed a measly five kilograms each.

Thus, every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit down and lock yourself up as to prevent people from pulling off any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell on themselves AND DIE! That meant that there were going to be no squats, no deadlifts, no lunges, no pull-ups and no bench presses, ergo no possibility of doing anything I would’ve wanted to. What they did have was a free blood pressure measurement with the GGG offering to keep statistics of the results, so that was a positive surprise. They also had two of those Japanese… rodeo… machines that make you look mental when you ride them. They may or may not be of any use. The gym costs ¥200 a pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Obviously. Despite its self-explanatory shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying ¥13,900/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and force myself to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.

-Antti

 

One more workweek is now happily over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at work. I managed to save more money than ever before on travel costs by cycling to work every weekday. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and 3300 yen more in my pocket instead of the railway system. After having zigzagged between cars for over 1000 kilometers during my first three months I’ve now thoroughly beginning to enjoy all the peculiarities of and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. 5 days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles though so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After the hard week of sitting in front of a screen I awarded myself by finally going to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo ran from the backroom confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox. (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the stuffings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specify in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for someone who judges pizzas based on how they are cut.

A emporter

Take-away (or take-out for all you native English speakers) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was 1360, affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their max and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seat or tables in the restaurant which is actually just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

Once I had received my pizza I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, occasionally returning the odd baseball to kids who were playing nearby. The Italian traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike pizzas in Japanese restaurants, this actually was one, millefeuille crust or not. It was so delicious, actually, that after concentrating for 5 secs to throw a baseball back to some kids (far too hard as well, poor fellows had to run to the other side of the park to get it and I was the one who ended up apologizing) a huge crow had appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong.

What’s a GYM?

Yet the real challenge of the day was still ahead. After a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the gym with my new and shiny Alien card, which proved where I lived and the info of an emergency contact so someone could save my if I die exercising. At the local gym, the lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go to the training room area. There, a linguistically challenged but friendly guy made me fill information sheets about general stuff and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then he proceeded to introduce me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard benchpress. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed 5 kilograms. Every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit as to prevent people from pulling any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell over themselves AND DIE! That meant that there was no squatting, no deadlifts, no pull-ups, no benches and no lunges, ergo no possibility to do anything I would’ve liked. They had free blood pressure measurement which they keep statistics of though, so that was interesting. And also two of those Japanese rodeo machines that make you look relatively daft when you ride them.

The gym costs 200 yen / pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Despite its obvious shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying 10000/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and learn to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.

Glxblt

Entries have been a little rich in gaming and ramen stories lately, so let’s start with something else; noodles will follow soon enough. With Golden Week nearing its end, I proceeded to do something extravagant on Saturday, and went out to a Sakurahouse Fiesta in Ikebukuro in order to socialize. It was about time as well. Nothing makes you realize you’ve been deprived from civilization too long like putting cooked sausages in a coffee mug due to all other dishes being unavailable. Or biting off a chunk of butter for cooking purposes with your teeth because the knife was almost out of reach. These are fictional examples and I definitely, definitely didn’t behave that way.

The problem with going to meet lots of new people is that I tire quickly. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of good friends, and while they are not here with me at the moment, I tend to get slightly complacent. To quote the great Peter Cook, I’m very bad at being interested in people. And if the new people I meet happen to be uninteresting, I have a very hard time concealing my boredom. Booze does help though.

Despite all my fears, the evening proved quite a pleasant one. The earthquake was a major topic of discussion, as were different nationalities and awkward gaijin situations in Japan. As a bonus achievement, I was able to communicate in Japanese extremely efficiently after eight beers, much like speaking Italian only requires a moustache. I returned home before the last train and was in high enough spirits to buy a box of half-priced sushi at the station Seiyu and enjoy some midnight fishy goodness.

Ota ja Nauti

By accident, I woke up at 5 in the morning on Sunday, the only goddamn day when the Tsukiji fish market is closed. Then Murphy did something, and my internet connection went down as well. Around 9 I finally stopped caring about the router and walked to the station to enjoy the sunny weather accompanied by some curry bread and one of those awful cold canned black coffee things. There was “best” written on the can, but it must have been for irony.

The weather was perfect for cycling, and thus lunch was had at Tetsuya Ramen near Koenji station. I had been passing the shop on my way home from work for three months now, and it had lately become very difficult to refrain from stepping in, so it was ultimately a good thing to get that over with. I don’t really even know what I ordered. Somethingsomething tonkotsu was the name on the ticket dispenser, but weirdly enough the broth tasted more like fish, making me immediately think that something had gone wrong during the ordering process.

Mother's Day Lunch

Unlike Kiraboshi, though, the broth had a pleasant fishy taste. The noodles were really nice and chewy and the neatly placed chashuu slices were excellent as well. The ajitamago (egg) cost extra, rendering the meal as a whole relatively expensive at ¥1290. A serving of rice would have been available for free, but rice is not exactly a rarity in these parts of the world, so I passed. By the end of the meal, the intense saltiness of the broth had began slightly bothering me, but I was satisfied on the whole. This won’t mark my last trip to Tetsuya, as the renowned shop offers several other types of broth (miso, shoyu) that I need to get to try later.

-Antti

“Say ‘Nevermore,’” said Shadow. “Fuck you,” said the Ramen.

The “early to rise, early to sushi” plan ended up in a disaster twice as I don’t really enjoy waking up in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, the hopeless attempts will resume when Tsukiji reopens.

In other news, ramen. I’ve tested three new places during the first half of Golden Week and a two thirds can be labeled as worthwhile visits. Right after leaving the One Piece Dome Tour I stumbled into a noodle chain that I had pre-scouted and was aching to try. Garufu Ramen (我流風ラーメン) had been mentioned in a couple of ramen blogs earlier as a Kagoshima-style ramen shop with a tonkotsu broth and high-quality pork. I have a very pragmatic approach to ramen, and therefore have no idea what Kagoshima style really incorporates, but tonkotsu and pork are the few requirements that need to be filled for me to start frothing. It really doesn’t take much.

Scorch pork slices -> ??? -> Profit

The place had a small queue, although there was clearly a lot of space at the counter, so I guess they were just busy. Once seated five minutes later, I ordered the tonkotsu ramen with extra slices of aburi chashuu. Aburi chashuu appeared to be high-quality fatty pork that had been slightly grilled in some way (later investigation points towards the use of a blowtorch). The noodles were pretty standard-sized straight noodles and the broth was really bland tonkotsu when compared to Muteppou, but then again, so is every broth. The true substance of the meal was clearly the chashuu, although it did not completely justify the ¥1280 price tag. Garufu remains, however, a positive experience as a whole.

After failing to wake up early on the 30th and in order not to waste the day completely I devised another culinary adventure, this time to another highly touted noodle shop. The very_appetizingly_named Junk Garage was located far north in Saitama, so the lunch ended up being quite expensive. The place is known for their soupless noodles, or 特製まぜそば (tokusei mazesoba), which essentially resemble a pile of leftovers thrown into a bowl.

The most sofisticated looking meal east of Kuopio

I wasn’t fully prepared for the effort, and therefore only managed to ask for fat and garlic as extra toppings, as I both didn’t know what was available and didn’t dare inquire. The older connoisseur next to me ordered all toppings with additional double garlic and gave me a lingering feeling of inadequacy in the process. Although the looks of the meal had earlier been described as “the wrong end of a hangover“, the taste was indirectly proportional to the visual appeal of the meal. The medley of noodles, fat, soy sauce, oil, mayonnaise, chashuu, egg, sprouts, onions and spices really hit the spot. I might not conduct a business lunch at Junk Garage, but that’s more due to the mechanics surrounding business meetings in general than personal preference. Delicious junk.

In preparation for Monday, I had located another supposedly delicious ramen shop in Nakano. Kiraboshi Manten (きら星満天) had been specifically recommended to me by the tenin of Muteppou when I had complained about the latter being closed on Mondays; expectations were high. The weather could best be described as ideal and the cycling distance of roughly five kilometers served as a sunny, appetite increasing hors d’oeuvre.

From left to right: chashuu on rice, fishy ramen and hidden kara-age

Difficulties began upon entering the shop. Although the ticket-dispenser offered a bowl of tonkotsu ramen together with one piece of kara-age as a cheap set, there was no apparent way to order additional slices of chashuu. I was left with the next best option, chashuu in a bowl of superfluous carbohydrates that the Japanese so love, rice. On the positive side, the price of the meal was acceptable at ¥1050 (830+220) and the large piece of kara-age was incredibly tasty. The problem lied herein: the tonkotsu ramen was accompanied by a dollop of grey fish paste that left the entire bowl with an intensely salty and fishy taste. In addition to not being exactly the flavor I was looking for in a pork bone broth, the shop itself was swimming in this pungent odor. While certainly effective as an insect killer, it also somewhat made me lose my appetite. Out of all the ramen I have eaten to this day, Kiraboshi Manten offered the first iteration of something that was clearly not devised for my taste buds. I would return there to feast on the kara-age, though.

Ramen.

-Antti

 

Suddenly, Ramen – Part Deux

The world of ramen should be a nice place, so in order to make up for lashing out last time I’ll focus this post on praising a couple of my favourite noodly entrepots. Well, only one, really.

Muteppou was an incredible find. I stumbled upon it during my not-so-short exile in Osaka. Not physically, though, I found it on Google Maps, which isn’t quite as romantic. Yet little did that change the ultimate outcome of my first visit, which led me to falling in love with the place. After initially locating the venue, I moseyed there only to find a queue of people standing in the street for no apparent reason. I walked past a few times looking like an idiot just to make sure they were doing the exact thing I was frightened of, queuing for my noodles. That was not a euphemism, by the way. I was more curious than hungry at the time so I queued for half an hour and eventually enjoyed slurping the best noodles in my life so far. I left the premises stuffed, burpy and wondering if I would ever feel like going there again. Then I repeated the procedure on the following day. And the day after that.

かため、こってり、ねぎおおめ

My visits to the Muteppou in Osaka were all quite interesting. At the time I had just began getting over my flu, and therefore my nose was slightly less clogged up each day, leading me to gradually get a better taste every visit before eventually going back to Tokyo.

It’s also quite ridiculous that there is exactly one Muteppou in Osaka and one in Tokyo. The one in Osaka was next to my hotel in Nipponbashi, and the one in Tokyo is on the way home from work, in Egota. These cities can’t really be classified as the smallest in the world, either. It’s like winning the tonkotsu-lottery. Twice. I know if something like that did exist, I’d be the first – and probably only – one to participate.

Muteppou offers a tonkotsu broth that is, for lack of a better word, rich. This is partly explained by the restaurant using 300 kilograms of meaty pork bones for broth each day. As you sit at the counter you can observe the huge vats of raw pork bones in their kitchen for kicks. The result of this grotesque amount of bones is that the broth at Muteppou is so thick and rich that it’s far closer to gravy in consistency than to standard ramen broth. And this is not an exaggeration but an objective observation.

The stores function in exactly the same way in both locations. There is a vending machine at the entrance for picking the desired meal. Once you have ticket in hand to submit for your favorite noodle feast you will be asked a question in three parts. The inquiry goes “how would you like it?” and refers to the chewyness of the noodles (katame = al dente / normal / yawarakame = overcooked), the richness of the broth (kotteri = rich / normal / assari = bland) and the amount of spring onions you want thrown in. Because apparently the broth isn’t meaty and greasy enough as is, they also throw some pork back fat on the top for good measure. Exquisite. I’ve found heaven, too bad there’s a queue.

Close-up of spring onions and fat at Egota. Actual noodles are well hidden underneath

My personal favorite and coincidentally the only one I’ve ever tried, the chashuu tonkotsu ramen, costs ¥900 in Osaka and ¥1000 in Tokyo. It includes a large bowl of  meaty pork bone broth, around 12 slices of chashuu (they count them, not me) and a normal serving of noodles. Kaedama (extra serving of noodles) cost ¥100 per serving, or ¥150 with some added chashuu. The taste is exactly the same at both shops, and the advantage of Tokyo is that until now I have not yet encountered a real queue.

In addition, one of the ten-ins at Egota is slightly too enthusiastic and wants to make sure that the gaijin curiosity fully enjoys his meal. He repeats the performance with every customer to some extent, but he actually follows me out in the street every time to ask for feedback on how the broth tasted on that specific visit. I guess the remote location doesn’t really attract foreigners, especially in this day and time. He also seemed quite impressed at my limited knowledge in famous tonkotsu ramen shops as well as flattered by my repetitive praise of their noodles. It would be more difficult for me not to praise them. It is by far the best noodle broth combination I have eaten anywhere. The shop clerk actually asked me if I’m not beginning to get tired of the taste. I retorted that two visits a week is perfect. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

Ramen.

-Antti