Noodling Around Tokyo
Keika Ramen This was random ramen, my first proper meal (7-Eleven doesn’t count) in Tokyo. I managed to order what seemed to be tonkotsu ramen and beer by vending machine photos, though I couldn’t discern what set apart minutely different ramens with different prices on the first row, and considered this a success. This bowl was like $6. I don’t think I encountered a bowl more than $10 even at nicer places.
Nogata Hope The soundtrack at this sort of modern ramen-ya near my airbnb (English menus, lots of wood–actually, wooden slabs and tree trunks were used all over Tokyo restaurants and bars) was one of many auditory quirks that I will continue to document. So many restaurants played incongruous music. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember who sang “More Than Words” and my pocket wifi (such a great invention) ran out of a charge. Duh, Extreme. I was also introduced the concept of byob (bringing your own bibs), as a father donned one he whipped out of his suitcase while his son slurped, earphones on, as well as being asked whether you want your broth fatty or not. I did. This place also had personal garlic presses on the table and pickled, chopped red chiles that seemed more Chinese. The ramen was unctuous–all that fat and chile oil–and great. The gyoza just seemed like Trader Joe’s.
? This ramen was just ok, not horrible at all but less punchy and rich than I had elsewhere, but we chose it for likely the same reason as most of the tourists (Asian, by the way) who’d wandered in from the Senso-Ji shrine: English menus. However, the gyoza were better than Nogata Hope.
Afuri is totally something different due to a citrusy chicken broth that I wasn’t convinced I needed to try until in addition to reading English language odes and recently arrived in Portland press ($14 a bowl! My hometown is officially gone nuts), my good friend’s visiting-from-Japan Tinder date from 1.5 years ago that she brought to my Kentucky Derby party even though it turned out to be platonic and he didn’t speak English that I met for yakitori showed me a photo of Afuri on his phone and said it was good. Ok. And wow, it was. I didn’t have the classic shio (also above) but yuzu ratanmen, skinny noodles, spicy with chile oil, garnished with mizuna and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The nitamago (eggs) were always so perfect everywhere. This was filling, but not gross filling–in fact, I still had room for a pancake-soufflee afterward. In NYC this would be a shitshow, but the lines are orderly (I just beat the line and only had one woman in front of me), you use a vending machine, hand your ticket to a cook behind the bar seating, stand around and feel no stress to assert your position even though there isn’t a hostess to keep track and yet it all works. Only once did I see someone think it was a free for all when a diner got up, and a cook/kind-of-host called the rightful next-diners over. Counter stools (always with a place to store your bag underneath) and coat hooks prevent clutter. Cooks start preparing your ramen as you sit down. This ramen was $8. Seriously.
Itteki Hassen-ya I really prefer udon to ramen. More chewy, more diverse. I wanted to go to TsuroTonTan on my last night but it the last order was 8pm on Sunday and I couldn’t get it together in the rain. Shin, plan B, had a line, other places at eye level in Shinjuku were empty, seemed like chains (yes, TsuroTonTan is a chain) none were promising, so I took a chance on an upstairs venue, no English name (but brought to it by Yelp based on a distance search–Yelp was helpful in that way, more so than Google explore) menus, or speakers, all cigarette smokey, and it was a great send off. It might of seemed unorthodox to order a cold udon on a cool night (the chef warned me) but I’m always hot and I wanted tempura. Ebi ten bukkake was no joke.