Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Chocolate Instant Yakisoba

In case you’ve somehow forgotten, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day which means it’s once again time for Japanese food companies to make their best (or, in some cases, their worst) effort to capitalize on the season.  Case in point:  This limited edition chocolate-flavored instant yakisoba.

Now, I’m told that this particular strange food concoction was also in circulation last year but I evidently didn’t notice or at the very least didn’t care so it’s all new to me. Continue reading

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Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Clam Chowder Cup Ramen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these but while I’ve neglected the whole try-weird-Japanese-food-product-and-talk-about-how-zany-it-is thing, it hasn’t been for a lack of Japanese food companies throwing odd things at the wall to see what sticks (or, probably more accurately, get free publicity from people going “isn’t this weird?” online).

But then, a few weeks back, I started hearing about 7-11’s newest special “LIMITED TIME ONLY” cup noodle creation, a “clam chowder” ramen developed in collaboration with every aging American urban hipster’s favorite chain ramen restaurant, Ippudo.  The clam chowder, they claimed, was a speciality brought over from the New York outpost.

Being a guy desperately trying to find things to write about that won’t bring me the wrath of my corporate overlords, I decided to give it a try.img_8008

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Stephen Eats Japan: Rokurinsha, Tokyo, Japan (六厘舎)

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As seen in multiple posts before (like here), I take particular delight in eating tsukemen, ramen’s less well-known (at least in the states) brother.  As seemingly hundreds of thousands of international television programs and publications and snobby know-it-alls on the internet would like to tell you, the be-all, end-all must-try tsukemen is that of Rokurinsha, preferably that of the crowded Tokyo Station basement location because everyone knows food is only good if you’ve waited an inordinate amount of time to eat it.

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Matsudo Ramen Orgy, Part Two: The Best Tsukemen in Japan (とみ田)

With my belly (temporarily) full, I still had a full hour-and-a-half to kill before my seating at Tomita, the tsukemen haven that had brought me to the city of Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Matsudo is a bedroom community located in the greater vicinity of the Tokyo metropolitan area, funneling tens of thousands of salarymen and students to and from the capital city everyday.  This, of course, means that there’s not particularly much to do in the city of Matsudo proper that you can’t really do anywhere else in Japan. So I pretty much just wandered the streets for a few hours, no doubt freaking out dozens of pensioners on the street with my hulking foreign presence and having to climb lots and lots of stairs.

Finally, 4:30 came around and I meandered back over to the relatively humble storefront.  Finding myself immediately instructed to wait by one of the nice dudes working at the shop, I sat down at the head of a long row of chairs jammed unceremoniously between the wall and some space heaters.  I only lasted about two minutes before it felt like my legs were about to melt, mostly because the heater was approximately five millimeters away from my calves and was apparently cranked up to roast.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, as the rest of my seating group (in order to ensure the maximum amount of quality control per bowl, Tomita seats its customers in waves, filling the cramped shop with customers, serving each and every one of them, wiping down and cleaning up, and then starting the process all over again) had all arrived right on cue, no doubt having been anticipating their meal for the past several hours.

I got seated in a relatively unexciting wall seat, pretty much coming face-to-face with a portrait of the (recently deceased) originator of tsukemen, which in terms of dining companions ranks somewhere between an actual person and a bare concrete wall in terms of being entertaining.

My dining companion.

My dining companion.

With my dining buddy for the meal being completely unresponsive (faded framed pictures generally don’t say much), I settled in and braced myself for an experience I’d assumed would be somewhere between face-meltingly amazing and alien ghosts implanting happy emotions into your brain good (that one was for all you Scientologists out there).  It was a relatively short wait until my food was placed before me.

I know you guys have come to expect a lot of words and sardonic turns of phrases from me but for this one, I’m just going to let the pictures do most of the talking. Continue reading

Matsudo Ramen Orgy, Part One: Tonikaku and waiting for Tomita (兎に角 & 中華蕎麦 とみ田)

Some times on my weekend, I get bored.  And when I get bored, I like to eat.  I know, not necessarily the healthiest of time-killers, but I like food, dammit.

This Thursday (my Saturday), I decided to take a bit of trip to a veritable tsukemen Mecca located but an hour and a half by train from my current home base of Mito.  Ranked number one by just about everyone as having the best tsukemen in Japan (and thus, barring unforeseen circumstances, the world), Tomita, a small-ish restaurant located in the Tokyo “suburb” of Matsudo in Chiba prefecture routinely draws hour long waits thanks to a constant stream of revelers aching to take in the glory of a good bowl of noodles and soup.

I'm not lying when I say that 50% of the "hub" train stations in Japan look EXACTLY the same.

I’m not lying when I say that 50% of the “hub” train stations in Japan look EXACTLY the same.

I arrived in Matsudo at around 2:30 in the afternoon and head for Tomita(とみ田), but a short five minute walk away from the main train station in town.  Since I was arriving after the lunch rush and on a weekday to boot, there had to be a good chance that I could get in and eat my bowl in a reasonable amount of time, right?

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Takano in Tokyo, Japan. 多賀野

Last week I found myself making a fortuitous trip to Tokyo for a quick business meeting and with time to spare over the weekend (At least, my weekend).  As anyone who has ever seen me can tell you, I enjoy eating and, while in Japan, enjoy eating ramen in particular.  And eat ramen, I did.

Since I was staying with my grandparents on the southside of Tokyo, I hit up Tabelog (the Japanese equivalent of Yelp, except on Tabelog, people don’t give one star reviews because the bus boy looked like their ex-boyfriend or five star reviews because the baby at the next table was really cute) and searched for the best ramen in the neighborhood.  This is what I found.  On Tabelog, anything above a 3.5 rating is usually pretty darn good and anything above four stars as a destination meal.  So imagine my surprise when I came across Takano, a ramen shop but a mere several kilometer walk from my grandparents’ hovel with a sterling 4.05 star rating.  My gastronomical target now in my sights, I laced up my new too-big-for-my-feet Clarks and left for an early lunch.

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So after a fifteen minute walk from my grandparent’s house, I arrived at the place twenty minutes before opening and still found a decently sizable (that’s what she said) line awaiting me.  As it turns out, waiting in line is customary here (as with any other great ramen joint in Tokyo- or the rest of Japan, for that matter).

From the outside looking in

From the outside looking in

Once I actually got inside, I found myself at one of those classic stereo-typical L-shaped counter-only Showa-poi shops with one of those maneki-neko’s waving at me from a shelf over the stove (along with a plaque noting its place in the Micheline guide).  Not exactly stunning decor but the place was clean enough and gave the impression of a place people would actually be semi-comfortable in in a sober state.  I mean, I’m not taking a chick here on a date probably ever but I’d come here with food friends on a weekend.

Maneki

After another ten minutes of waiting (this time seated), my bowl arrived.  And what did I get for my 970 yen?

In case the sodium-laden broth or pork didn't raise your cholesterol, the egg'll do you in.

In case the sodium-laden broth or pork didn’t raise your cholesterol, the egg’ll do you in.

Quintessential Tokyo-style noodles and broth (fishy and salty but not overpowering) topped with melt in your mouth slices of char siu pork and a perfectly cooked agitama flavored egg.  Worth the wait (though I still think waiting two hours is a bit much during peak hours).  I just wish I wasn’t fighting a cold when I went.  Guess I’ll have to come back again.

Rating: 4 and a half Stephens (out of five Stephens)

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Furukawa ふる川 Mito, Ibaraki, Japan 茨城県 水戸市

Been a while as I was busy at work and all that good stuff.  Also I’ve been eating a lot of food and getting fat and all jazz.  One of the chief culprits?  Furukawa, a new-ish ramen shop that opened up down the street from my apartment this summer and has subsequently garnered a lot of buzz online, considering the area in which it’s based.

With my days off currently being Thursday and Friday, there’s pretty much nothing stopping me from hitting up the place once a week and polishing a 1000 yen worth of noodles and the works in a thirty minute whirlwind of gluttony and stress eating.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Whilst in America, we generally refer to ramen as either the kind that comes in a styrofoam cup and will give you a heart attack or the kind you get at a Japanese place, ramen in Japan is itself a discipline with many different schools and styles of preparation and flavor.  (It’s a long story, one that you can at least start to grasp by looking at this link.)

The ramen in Furukawa comes mainly in assari-style salt or soy sauce based bowls with occassional specialities coming in with the changing of the seasons.

My usual go-to is the assari soy sauce ramen (pictured below), silky smooth but still with enough flavor to let you know that you’ve just shortened your life by half a decade. The noodles are thin and firm, actually not entire unlike the noodles in Instant Ramen… except they don’t taste like cardboard and cigarette butts.  A typical bowl comes with a piece of chicken and an almost rare piece of thin chashuu, a slightly more finesse take on what is at times considered a man’s meal. (No sexism intended.)  The price for a normal bowl of filling noodles and broth?  700 yen (or only 60 yen more expensive than a Big Mac set).

Furukawa

Shoyu Ramen. 700 yen

But since I’m a fat person, I don’t just stop there.  Nope, I also have to get my daily serving of rice in a bowl, here topped with a nice portion of sliced chashuu, soy glaze, and mayonnaise.

Furukawa

Chashu-don. 300 yen

Were I a health conscious individual, this would probably be enough for an entire meal.  But I’m not.  Eating the chashu this way is a good way to sample the efforts of a ramen shop when it comes to one of the most crucial aspects of the ramen experience.  And Furukawa, of course, passes with flying colors.  The price of this bowl of goodness?  300 yen.  In other words, an economic success.

Recently, with the advent of Autumn, Furukawa has been offering a hearty special: Butasoba.  Thick noodles in a thick, fatty broth served under a heaping pile of bean sprouts, cabbage, pork and shame.  The price once again?  700 yen.  It’s almost like they want me to eat at their shop at every possible opportunity.

Butasoba. 700 yen.  200 arteries clogged.

Butasoba. 700 yen. 200 arteries clogged.

The only downside of eating an infant-sized portion of this stuff?  The sensation that your stomach may burst open Alien-style immediate upon devouring it in a primal frenzy.

Overall, Furukawa is one of my favorite places to eat in Mito (probably top three, if not number one).  While ramen will never be a healthy food, the bowls crafted here are generally done with enough care and attention to detail that you could probably trick yourself into thinking you’re eating somewhere good for you.  If you find yourself in my neck of the woods, definitely do try to sneak in for a bowl (also, call me).  You won’t be disappointed.  (Unless you hate good things, in which case, screw you.)

Tabelog page (in Japanese)