Tamawarai: Soba so good

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Soba with chilled fresh tofu and shaved bonito flakes yum!

For a lazy Saturday lunch, Kevin found this little gem of a soba place, Tamawarai (玉笑) which earned a spot on revered Tabelog’s (#1 foodie review site for restaurants in Japan and totally trustworthy) Top 50 lunch places. After climbing up a slope-y Harajuku backstreet in the blistering summer heat, we were more than happy to park our behinds on a chair in Tamawarai’s cool interior and bury our hands and faces in the cool towel offered (and also say a BIG THANK YOU LAWDY that there was no queue at this intimate and zen little place which says chotto… to reservations).

They’ve a pretty limited menu, which focuses mainly on soba and small bites. Given that we were in the midst of summer, Kevin and I decided to go for cold soba. His choice of Zaru soba – simple cold soba noodles cooked to chewy perfection and served with wasabi + spring onions + a delicious soy dipping sauce – was a nice reminder that sometimes less is more :) They even provided broth at the end of his meal to dilute the dipping sauce so that he can drink it like a soup. Apparently this is pretty common, but it still got me going wowww none of the good stuff’s wasted!

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My chilled soba with freshly-made tofu (1,700 JPY) was honestly one of the best sobas I’ve ever had. The noodles, cooked and chilled perfectly, was a melange of cold and delicious tastes and textures. The freshly-made tofu was so fresh it tasted like a slab of Mascarpone cheese made from spring and sweetness. The mix of flavours – fresh sweet tofu, salty soy sauce, savoury bonito flakes, freshly-chopped spring onions – with each mouthful of chewy soba was a pretty amazing experience… and proof that a simple bowl of fresh noodles can indeed bring lots of happiness :)

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The portions here are Japanese-sized portions but I was surprisingly full after (buckwheat does fill you up pretty quickly!). For the higher than average prices charged here  – soba dishes range between 1,000 to 2,500 JPY – it’s certainly justified by the freshness and quality of the noodles and toppings. Also definitely worthy of the 1-Michelin star bestowed upon it in 2013 :)

This place is a little hard to find, as it’s seriously buried in one of the small streets off Harajuku. Google Maps does a pretty decent job of getting you there, just keep a lookout for a restaurant with a wooden exterior and white curtains billowing above it with 玉笑 written on it. I’m already eyeing their tempura soba, and will be back v.v.soon…

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Tamawarai 玉笑 (map here, ~8-10mins walk from Meiji-Jingumae station)
5-23-3 Jingumae,
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Tsukemen mission: Menya Musashi Kosho

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While starving/ fasting for a gut-wrenching 18 hours for a medical check-up, all I could think of was where I should go stuff my face post check-up at Midtown clinic. Halfway through mentally sorting out the options around Roppongi, I developed an intense craving for Tsukemen. SO BADLY I ALMOST CRIED. And then I remembered Menya Musashi Kosho in one of Roppongi’s side alleys was a recommended joint to hit up and put that Tsukemen craving to rest in a delicious cocoon of silky noodles and piquant dipping sauce.

Once the check-up was done and dusted, I practically ran (as fast as I could in a low-sugar almost-starvation mode) to Menya Musashi Kosho, popped some coins into the order machine and waited for the bowl of life so so hungrily while being serenaded by blues-ey tunes in the background.

AND IT FINALLY ARRIVED AND MADE ITS WAY INTO MAH TUMMEH! The noodles were cooked to silky al dente perfection with a nice chewy bite, and they were thick and chubby like wantan noodles yay! Broth was shoyu (soy sauce) based with a healthy handful of negi (spring onions) tossed-into it and a chunk of fatty pork mmm. It was a tad salty, and definitely tasted better after swirling some of that yuzu (citrus) vinegar – placed on each table – into the broth to mix it up a little with some tangy flavours. The big fatty pieces of roasted pork. OH MY GOD. Meaty and tender on the inside, with a deliciously caramelised burnt edge. It was like having a mini pancake made entirely out of char-siu.

Menya Musashi Kosho’s Tsukemen definitely put that Tsukemen craving to rest, albeit at a pretty pricey 1,000 JPY (though it did come with generous chunks of delectable roasted pork). Would I deliberately seek out the streets of Roppongi at night to hit this place up for Tsukemen? Probably not (ok I lie. Ask me again after a night out in Roppongi). But if I happened to be in the R ‘hood and craving a bowl of Tsuekemen, I’m coming your way Menya Musashi Kosho.

PS: They also serve ramen in broth, which comes with wantans! It’s pretty decent but not the best in class. Save your tummy for their Tsukemen instead…

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Menya Musashi Kosho (map here. At Roppongi station, take the exit towards Roppongi crossing)
東京都港区六本木4-12-6
Roppongi 4-12-6
Tokyo, Minato-ku

Abura Soba: Toss it like it’s hot

Abura

I discovered ramen in Tokyo doesn’t always translate to firm, chewy noodles simmering in a delicious soup base brimming with robust porky/ fish flavours which never fail to recreate the most epic dreams of your first ramen crush. Rather, it can take the equally delicious form of noodles tossed in a wonderfully spicy sauce which give an addictive zing with each bite. This, is essentially what makes us so dangerously addicted to Abura Soba.

At Abura Soba (translated literally as “oil noodles”), the noodles are served dry with a spicy, oily base at the bottom and chilli flakes thrown in for that extra kick. But wait, it gets better because you can add vinegar, chilli oil, pepper, chilli paste and a mound of chopped spring onions to the mix (it sounds way better than the description here, trust me!). Toss the noodles well in this spicy piquant mix along with the strips of seaweed and bamboo shoots. Coat the fatty marbled pork strips evenly with this mixture. Take a bite of the mixed noodles + melt-in-your-mouth pork strips + slivers of seaweed + a crushed handful of spring onions, and babyyy you’ve just walked into another form of ramen heaven!

Sauces

Abura soba with all the condiments ready to dive into the hot mess

Insider tip: Get the karai (spicy) miso ramen when ordering, as it elevates your abura soba experience to a whole different devilishly spicy level (WHICH I ONLY DISCOVERED AFTER A YEAR OF RELIGIOUSLY EATING AT ABURA SOBA!). Apparently you can also get an order of mayonaise to go with your spicy miso ramen for that extra layer of smoothness on top of the spiciness coating your ramen.

Signing off with a video of me making a hot mess of my abura soba. Super fun and delicious, and feels as though I made my own meal :)

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

So, Abura Soba has branches all over Tokyo (yup, Japan proves that chain restaurants can actually be delicious!). Best to do a quick Google search for the Abura Soba branch nearest you. I usually go to the branch at Hiroo which is smack in the middle of the Hiroo main shopping street, and walk off the deliciously addictive noodle carnage after…

Chomoranma: Kickass dan dan mein

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Spicy dan dan mein party going on

First time I stepped foot into Chomoranma – then known among us as chubby gyoza spicy dan dan mein place – there was no turning back. I thought I knew my dan dan mein, but dayummm these guys at Chomoranma own it. The broth is a kickass concoction chock full of Sichuan peppercorns and fiery red chillies, with a hint of sweet miso to temper all that heat *foooh*. Throw in thick juicy beansprouts, spring onions, and minced meat into the mix, coupled with a spoonful of chewy fat yellow noodles, and you’ll be singing the dan dan mein anthem.

Their party trick is *wait for it*…the different levels of spiciness. The beginners level a.k.a ddm for wussies comes in a mild white/ black pepper broth, and is a perfect palate opener for your tastebuds to climb to the next level of spiciness.

Black white pepper ddm

They up the ante next, with actual spicy dan dan mien (opening pic of post) which leaves a tingly spicy after taste from all that extra peppercorns tossed in.

The ultimate test, hold on tight to your tummies, is their super spicy dan dan mien which comes in a bowl filled to the brim with glistening whole red chillies which bury all the noodles. The broth is an angry deep red, and it’ll leave angry deep red marks on your tummy if you dare bravely consume it – vouched for from a friend’s first-hand account! It’s so spicy that it immediately leaves a numbing sensation on the first bite/ slurp. Not really an enjoyable experience, but do give it a try if you dare :)

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Here’s Brando the brave eating THAT ultimate spicy ddm, and emerging unscathed…

Besides dan dan mein, this place serves the chubbiest gyozas I’ve ever come across, and normal-sized gyozas with delicious fillings/ toppings such as ma-po and yuzu. The crisp, juicy dumplings go perfectly well with the spicy noodles, and I’m a total fan of double dippin’ it into the deliciously flavourful broth :)

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Oh! They also serve the crunchiest and juiciest karaage which comes with a generous handful of spring onions, deep fried garlic, and a drizzle of soy sauce for that extra kick.

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In short, Chomoranma (which reads as Mt Everest in Japanese) is the perfect place to drop by post work for great spicy dan dan mein, juicy karaage and chubby gyozas in a fun and cozy izakaya setting. They are very reasonably priced too – a full meal inclusive of drinks never seems to cross the 2,000 JPY mark! Come eat, drink and be merry here, and go for round 2 at the numerous awesome bars scattered throughout Ebisu, like bar Tram or Trench :)

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Map: here

Address:
Chomoranma
4丁目-9-5
Ebisu, Shibuya, Tokyo

Kyushu Ramen-athon: Shin-Shin

When a NYT writer mentions that she learnt the art of slurping ramen at this joint called Shin-Shin, the FOMO piglet in me screams “I’M. ON. IT!” So off the sis and I went on our last day trippin’ round Fukuoka.

This was attempt #2, as first attempt was thwarted by the fact that they observe Golden Week holidays seriously and actually close on those days. Painful lesson to learn when you are half-starved and dash like a mad person across Tenjin area’s sidestreets, only to find your delicious dreams of tonkotsu ramen dissolve in a mirage with the doors firmly shut in your face. With a big “CLOSE” sign, in case you didn’t get what closed doors mean in Fukuoka :(

Anyhoo, we made it in this time woohoo! It’s a cosy little joint which come night time could totally turn into a raucous sake/beer fueled free-for-all. Yeah, otsukare-sama bebeh!

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Wall of autographs, courtesy of Shin Shin groupies!

Let’s get down to serious business:

Tonkotsu

Tonkotsu ramen: All ’em reviews give THIS tonkotsu baby so much cred. I was so so so excited to taste this porky little wonder! After all the hype and rave…it honestly tasted ok only to me :( The broth was standard flavourful pork bones stewed and blended with the sensei’s secret technique, but it lacked the buttery, velvety oomph which makes people do wonderfully obscene O-faces at the table. What the broth lacked, the multiple pieces of char-shu made up for it. The char-shu was nicely smoked, tender, not too fatty. There was seriously tons of it. Like as though a never-ending char-shu wishing well existed in that bowl woahhhhh.

She liked it, I don't geddit

She liked it, I don’t geddit

Fried mentaiko noodles

Mentaiko fried noodles: Mentaiko is supposed to be one of the famed food beauties of Fukuoka, so I knew I need to get me some mentaiko lovin’ before leaving! This was pretty delicious, and tasted just like fried wonton noodles in pork broth with sprinkles of savoury pinkish mentaiko tossed in between and crunchy bean sprouts/negi topping it off nicely.

All in all, not quite the ramen-slurping temple of worship * sad face*. But! This is a place to check off your tonkotsu craving if you are hungry, happen to wander around the Tenjin area, and longing for a bowl of noodles in hot broth. They serve Nagasaki champon as well! So if you are Nagasaki nostalgic, Shin-Shin will fix you up right.

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Shin-Shin
3丁目-2-19
Tenjin, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka,
Fukuoka Prefecture 810-0001, Japan

Kyushu Ramen-athon: Ippudo

Homaigawd ramen chains in Japan are abso-frickin’-delicious..and convenient as they open till wee wee hours of the morning! Two of the most popular chains – Ippudo and Ichiran – started off in Fukuoka. And since the sis and I were in Fukuoka…must/ want/ should pay homage to these godfathers of tonkotsu ramen in their homeland!

We actually stumbled across an Ippudo restaurant along nishi-dori in the Tenjin area in Fukuoka. There on the front door was a big poster advertising this month’s special: tonkotsu ramen ala pork-chicken broth! HOLY MOLEY…WANT! After numerous bowls of sinfully fatty tonkotsu ramen across Fukuoka, my arteries were crying for a respite…but the tummy said stuff it and eat on. So Ippudo’s pork-chicken broth ramen which was much lighter and cloying than the usual pork-on-pork tonkotsu ramen was an awesome compromise!

Condiments

The wide array of condiments at every table – Kimchi bean sprouts and root vegetables, tangy pickled red ginger, sweet pickled kelp-like thing with sesame seeds, and whole slices of garlic! There’s actually a garlic crusher (accidentally cropped from pic whoops) which you can pop garlic slices into and out comes fresh minced garlic to stir into your ramen. Way cool, #onlyinJapan!

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It’s here! It was lust at first whiff and sight. Tender slices of succulent char-siu, crunchy cabbage slices, tender chicken meatballs seasoned with the most delectable hint of yuzu, crunchy tempura-like bits for that pop with each bite..all swimming in a deliciously light chicken-pork broth. The broth might be less heavy and rich than a full-on porky tonkotsu broth, but what it lacked in heaviness it more than made up for with wholesome, light flavours. And when you also have burst of yuzu from each mouthful of the chicken ball, mixed with crackling tempura bits…oh babyyyy heaven is a place on Earth!

Up close

Up close of each delectable morsel..if only you were a neverending refillable bowl of ramen *wistful*

Eating

TOTALLY ECSTATIC THEY USE FAT RAMEN NOODLES!!! Hakata style ramen favours long and skinny (why why why), but I’m a die-hard lover of the long and chubby (noodles), so thank you sweet ramen lord for listening.

Done!

Done and slurped almost every single drop of deliciousness!

Pork-chick tonkotsu ramen, you gonna be my #1 choice when I pay my respects next at Ippudo. I really (*10000000) hope that they have this in Tokyo too. Forever and ever. And ever ever.

–Sulsuls

Kyushu Ramen-athon: Champon chompin’

With less than 12 hours in Nagasaki, the mission was very clear – must eat champon before boarding the train back to Fukuoka!

Why the champon obsession??? I googled “must-eat in Nagasaki”, and it was THE #1 raved about food in Nagasaki! Good ol’ Wiki defines Champon as ” Champon is made by frying pork, seafood and vegetables with lard; a soup made with chicken and pig bones is added. Ramen noodles made especially for champon are added and then boiled.”  Uhm I’ll take everything thankyouverymuch!

All Google searches keep pointing to Shikairo, which holds the honour of inventing the first ever champon during the middle Meiji period (early 1900s). This granddaddy of champons was packed to the brim when we arrived, and overflowing with tourists uh-ohhhh. But our tummies growled at us to NOT LEAVE, and so we did and waited for a good 30 mins before being seated. Service was quick, and hot steaming noodles were before us in a jiffy woohoo!

Champon YES

Champon

Champon – the house’s signature. The broth was thick and flavourful from all the seafood and pork bones…and lard hah. It somehow reminded me lots of Cantonese noodles in superior seafood stock (seong tong mein) – rich with plenty of kickass flavours from boiling all the delish types of seafood together for hours. The veggies provided a nice crunch amidst all the rich soupiness. Trick is to finish this up while it’s hot and nice, or the broth turns all gruel-ly and nasty if left out cold for too long.

Saraudon

Saraudon – Fried version of champon.  Tastes exactly like champon, but I preferred the champon version with all its soupy goodness

Gyoza

Gyoza – Fukuoka gyoza is supposed to be teppan-fried, which gives it a crispier edge over other gyoza cuzzies around Japan. The gyozas here were so-so, crisp and a little greasy with a semi-decent pork filling. Nothing close to this most amazeballs gyozas we had at a random yatai stall in Fukuoka which was plump and filled with lots of minced fried garlicky goodness in its pork filling!

View

Oh you get a view of the harbour too at this place as it’s near the port. Window seats, no actually ALL seats, are scarce so grab whatever’s given to you!

Pretty happy with my first taste of champon in its birth cityand I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last :)

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Shikairo
4-5 Matsugae-machi,
Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0921

Go forth, and Gogyo

One of the very first things I learnt upon moving to Tokyo – Ramen is a religion. There are streets dedicated to this joyous offering (seriously), so Do.Not.Fk.With.It. Repeat offenders will be prosecuted and not invited to lunch or dindins.

After trying all sorts of ramen – shio, shoyu, tonkatsu, tsukemen and many many more deliciousness – I’ve finally found one joint which hits the spot. Hits it  come night or day or when you are so sick with food poisoning that you have such vivid dreams of this ramen…and wake up countless times disappointed it was just a dream (true story while I was sick like a dog in Africa and survived on dried food only. If  you want instant detox, do India and Africa back-to-back. I’ve tried and tested it on your behalf.)

Anyhoo! MUST FOCUS ON ODE TO RAMEN4LIFE. So, thy name is Gogyo, one and only.

Gogyo’s signature is kogashi (burnt) miso and roasted soy-sauce soup. Burnt whaaaat? Yes siree, this burnt layer of delicious black oil hugs your noodles tight and hot from the top. The noodles are thin and springy (think Japanese spaghetti) and pretty much done just right. It comes with veggies too! Ok, not big leafy green ones but cabbages. Cabbage are pale and hard-faced cousins of them springy salad leaves, but they still count. Spoon all these into your mouth. Imagine an explosion of salty, fragrant burnt miso. Swimming in rich, hot, flavourful broth. With luscious al-dente noodles oozing flavour with each bite. Trust me, it’s solid black liquid gold whispering very delicious things inside your mouth…

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Black beauty in all its hot glory! It tastes much better than it looks..ramen got attacked before I could take a proper pic of it *sad face*

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Cause gyoza and ramen are BFFs. Fistful of juicy little dumplings. Served with a soy sauce dip with spicy yuzu-flavoured paste mmm

Oh! Gogyo does absolutely delish Tonkotsu ramen as well. I’m a recent convert of this porky soupy goodness, and the rich porky flavourful broth here comes with an added bonus of  burnt miso drizzled extravagantly on top. And cabbages and spring onions (yay, more greens kinda!) and little fish cake slices. And….the noodles are thicker and chubbier than the burnt-miso-roasted-soy-sauce ramen. I HEART FAT CHUBBY NOODLES! So yes, Tonkotsu ramen, you are my #1 lover at Gogyo.

My heart skips a beat just by looking at you Tonkotsu...

My heart skips a beat just looking at your milky way, Tonkotsu…

Lookie you, you oishii little ramen! I now see why I need to go for chopstick holding courses gah

If you are planning on getting your ramen fix post night shenanigans, remember it closes at 2:30am! I found out the hard way – when I was first convinced by my friend to trudge 20 mins to a fantastically hidden ramen joint (yep, this one) late one night, only to have them say  “chotto…” when we arrived i.e. GTFO. No Food for you (in very polite tones, of course). But I was back before they knew it! And that, is how this everlasting ramen love story began…

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?
Gogyo
1-4-36 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku;
Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81-(03) 5775-5566