Tag Archives: tonkotsu

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.


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.



Hiroshima へ

Morning of the Journey

Waking up at 5 am is rarely a treat, yet this particular dawn it all felt like a necessary evil that would prove well worth my while in the long run. Or even the immediate run, depending on your perception of time. Not even staying up until 3 watching the 4th season of the Big Bang Theory could have deterred me from jumping up unprompted at the first rays of sunlight to scavenge the fridge for anything of value in order to prepare me for the long train ride ahead. This great nutritional treasure hunt included two packs of natto and the humble remains of the only reasonably priced full fat yoghurt I’ve ever found in the land of the rising sun. Also coffee and butter. Don’t ask.

The streets were relatively quiet at that ungodly hour, but similarly to last week’s Tsukiji visit, both the Seibu Line and Yamanote Line consisted of man’in densha from as early as 6 in the morning, an epiphany that made me cringe, though silently. At Shinagawa after buying the shinkansen ticket, I noticed that the potassium iodide pills from April had completely disintegrated inside my wallet, forming something not completely unlike cocaine both in color and texture. I should know, I have cocaine in my wallet all the time. The remnants of the pills had to be disposed of, rendering me vulnerable once again to the exaggeratedly deadly winds of Fukushima. A few moments later I boarded the train while making sure to avoid the smoking car, a skill I had learned through trial and error a few years earlier. Nothing compares to paying ¥18000 for a 4-hour smoke-in-your-face experience.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Nozomi shinkansen bound for Hakata.

To be perfectly honest, it only took the sentence above to divert my thoughts from the original target city and contemplate continuing all the way to Hakata, Kyushu, in order to sample the eponymous thin noodle tonkotsu broth ramen in its natural habitat. And not only for the ramen, either. It turns out that despite having lived in different parts of Japan for well over a year in total I still haven’t set foot outside of Honshu. Luckily, the responsible side of my brain, which is noticeably small, was able to stay in control. Thus, I soon relented and continued the journey to Hiroshima as planned. Old MUCC songs collected from my ex-roommate as well as the more recent Fairy Tail soundtrack kept me company.

Camaraderie, adventure and steel on steel. Or rather, EMIT on control point.

In non-local news, there is now less than a fortnight left before the traditional Jukola orienteering event and I am currently gathering anxiety in relation to the fact that I’m unable to attend possibly one of the most legendary sports events of (not) my life. Marko has been able to whip the team into shape and get people to commit at a level I could never have dreamed of, so clearly there is much to yearn for. Hopefully the deer in Miyajima will help me overcome this loss. I hereby refer everybody to the valiant adventures of Team HeiaHeia.com, the most versatile tongue-in-cheek yorozuya sports team in the world.



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.


“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.




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.


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.



Suddenly, Ramen – Part I

I began compiling this post originally in mid-February, but never managed to properly finish it before something quite unexpected happened. This led to other things triumphing over the enjoyability of swallowing  wheat flour in different forms as a writing topic. By now I’ve managed to lengthen the original ramen compendium so much that offering it as one wall of text would be nothing short of disrespectful towards the readers.

This first post will concern the disappointments I’ve experienced when visiting a couple of the most highly touted noodle shops on the web. The shops weren’t on the web though, only the touting.

Ramen Jiro ラーメン二郎

Ramen Jiro, originally located next to Keio University in Tokyo, is an institution. It’s a place that I have planned visiting since I first began preparing a trip to Japan circa 2004, and if I opened, the ancient notepad file would still say something along the lines of “Jiro: Epic ramen place, gotta visit.” Right. Instead, 7 years later, it crushed my dreams. I’ll admit that I didn’t go to the original ramen shop in Mita yet, something I’ll have to do in order to confirm my doubts about the franchise and reach the ultimate status of food critic critic.

The one and only Ramen Jiro Mita Honten

My point is, that each and every ramen connoisseur (I hate writing that word because it feels wrong) whose report I have read so far have blogged about the Jiro experience as some kind of holy grail. In addition to fully explaining the eating procedures and acting like the go-to besserwissers in the field of gaijin ramen eating, they have without exception emphasized two things that I cannot agree on in a million years:

-The serving is huge and eating it is a challenge -> take it slow -> it’s like a marathon -> you might die

-The experience is beyond precedent -> best ramen ever -> worth the half hour + queue,  etc.

The bear is right. Listen to the bear.


I will hereby debunk these exaggerations accordingly, starting with size. On my first trip, I went to Ramen Jiro Ikebukuro, hungry enough to eat a side of cow. I was starving at that point, and while the queue at the Ikebukuro shop was manageable, I still had to wait about 20 minutes before being able to enter the premises. That made me both angry and frustrated, leading me to contemplate ordering the 大 (large) serving, which, according to different sources, would be retarded. I was losing confidence in the normal size being able to satisfy my hunger but eventually put my trust in random internet writers and decided the standard size would probably be large enough.

Although I did order it with W 豚, or double pork, arguably the only positive aspect of the evening. Double pork, for the only time in Japanese history, adhered to the idea that there was actually meat in the food. I would estimate a good couple hundred grams of pork meat. No chashuu, just plain, boring, non-fat pork. I’d rather have fat than pork in there but actually being able to experience eating meat, as opposed to just being teased by the idea of seeing five grams of meat in the bowl, was a novel experience in a ramen shop. I also ordered the にんいくましまし (extra extra garlic) which basically meant that people in the same car on the train were not going to be very happy that night. Or the next morning.

Picture shamelessly stolen off a Japanese site until I can find mine

When I finally received the bowl, it became apparent that the serving was large for ramen shop standards, but calling it a challenge is a travesty; it’s an offense to ramen as food, to challenges as a concept and to me as a binge eater. I rolled my sleeves up, dug in and about 15 minutes later the bowl was on the counter, the table wiped clean and a tall gaijin sneaked out of the door full, but disappointed. I understand that the bowl might be tough to finish for a Japanese high school girl, but if eating is such an ordeal for self-proclaimed “ramen lovers” , I can only suggest for them to avoid Jiro altogether. Or eating, for that matter.

Off to the second point, taste. Boring. Just. Really. Boring. The broth was not up to par with some other とんこつ pork bone broths I’ve had, the garlic made everything taste like garlic, which was not necessarily bad, the pork was non-fat and bland and the noodles simply too thick to taste like anything. I knew beforehand that the thickness of the noodles could prove to be my demise as I don’t really get the point of udon or other tasteless wheat products.

The entire experience could best be summed up as nothing special.


Because of the elongated timeline during which this blog post has been written and in contrary to a paragraph further up, I did manage to go to Jiro Honten in Mita later on. さすが三田本店, it was slightly better than Ikebukuro. I once again ordered the double pork version but this time only a regular amount of garlic and あぶらましまし (extra extra fat) instead. I know the general expectations of Jiro shops never circle around cleanliness or hygiene, but I still failed to appreciate the fact that my bowl was overflowing with broth and fat in such a ludicrous way that my hands were dripping once I had moved the bowl down from the counter and to the table. They could probably use larger bowls.

The broth was tastier at Honten, which could be partly caused by the extra fat I ordered, the やさい (vegetable topping) did not only consist of sprouts but also included cabbage, and the pork was really fatty and tastier in general. Compiled thoughts about the Honten: The price is right and the food is enjoyable, but most of the hype is unnecessary and the 40 minute queue is hardly worth it more than once. The previous review still stands.


Another interesting and supposedly unique ramen experience was Tukumo in Ebisu, a ramen store renowned for their cheese ramen. Allow me to explain the premise: Cheese is my muse. Cheese is what keeps me happy in this world. Also, the left side of my brain is cheese, though the doctor may have made that one up. I made the doctor up. Lost my train of thought there, back to the story.

Anyway, in Japan, cheese is a rare commodity and by consequence, I’m constantly suffering from cheese busoku. I was delighted when I heard that there is a place bold enough to combine cheese and noodles into some kind of master dish that can shatter palates and destroy the minds of the weak. Imagine my disappointment when the cheese was only there for show and the miso-based broth tasted like nothing. The extra toppings (chashuu and aji tamago) did their best to compensate for flavor but were quite overpriced. For those who absolutely want cheese in their ramen, it’s either Tukumo or DIY, though.

Cheese? In my Ramen? It's more likely than you think!

While the above reviews may seem harsh and an unnecessary attack on two renowned ramen shops, I can assure that they are still both worth visiting, if only once. They merely do not live up to the hype in my books. And because the hype, especially concerning Jiro, goes to preposterous heights, I had to exaggerate accordingly the other way. Some internationally less known and better alternatives will be presented in Part II.