|Tonkotsu gyokai ramen|
Friday, March 18, 2016
I'm totally missing Japan and its amazing ramen. Don't get me wrong; we have great offerings here in Sydney too. But it's the variety that I miss. Japan has opened my eyes and tastebuds to the styles like niboshi ramen, burnt miso ramen, and even green curry ramen! Variety is the spice of life afterall.
Chef Kazuteru Oh (the man behind Osan Ramen in Chinatown, Haymarket) is on a mission to help widen the ramen range here in Sydney. Chef Oh-san has opened Wok and Noodle Bar on Llankelly Place in Potts Point. It's a casual noodle bar where you can enjoy home-style Japanese dishes and of course Ramen! I went and tried their ramen.
First up was a chef's special ramen called Sydney Black ($15). It was reminiscent of what I've had in Gogyo back in Kyoto where hot caramelised lard is incorporated into the broth. Here, Chef Oh used hot caramelised black garlic oil that is incorporated into a triple soup blend of pork, chicken and seafood. The broth was also spicy with a light to medium density. The noodles were just a tiny bit soft than what I would prefer but still good. The toppings consists of menma (pickled bamboo shoots), yam, broccoli, onion, leek, shallots, chilli, mushrooms and parmesan cheese with crispy bits. Overall, it was a really good bowl of ramen and pretty innovative too! With a few adjustments and probably some meat, this ramen can be even more awesome.
Next up, we tried a special ramen that won't be available until winter, which is their tonkotsu gyokai. It's ramen with pork bone and fish double soup broth that is quite popular in Tokyo at the moment. I really looked forward to this ramen as Chef Oh makes one of the best tonkotsu broths in Sydney. It did not disappoint! It was pretty damn amazing! I could taste the perfect balance of pork and smoky fish full of umami goodness. The broth had a medium level density that slightly holds on to the noodles with each slurp. The noodles were slightly firm just the way I like it! Toppings included are chashu, soft boiled tamago, menma, onion and leek. The marinated chashu as expected was nicely caramelised, fatty and super tender.
I admire Chef Oh's pursuit of innovation and to give Sydney more ramen offerings. I can't wait to go back and try the other ramen and homestyle dishes that they have! Word is that their fire wok miso ramen ($16) and black tonkotsu ($13) are pretty delicious too!
Ramen Raff was invited by Wok and Noodle Bar as a guest
Wok and Noodle Bar
Corner Llankelly Place and Springfield Avenue
Potts Point NSW
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 12pm to 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Hi folks! Sorry, it's been a while since my last post. Those who follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter would know that I was in the awesome land of Japan in the last few weeks! I've had some of the best ramen in Japan in those weeks. Visiting Japan has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Eating ramen at its birthplace was a surreal experience. While the dish may have been influenced by the introduction of Chinese noodle soup in Japan (hence its other name, Chuka soba), the ever innovative Japanese have reinvented it and made ramen their own. It's always been known to be a bowl of perfection and harmony. Some say it should be Japan's national food! But over the years and even after the ramen boom in Japan, it continued to evolve. Ramen no longer has to follow tradition to be authentic. Its authenticity now lies on how well it's executed and that it actually works as a whole. Japan was like Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory for me. Actually, more like a wonderland! I may have not been able to hit up all the famous ramen-yas in Sapporo, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo but I was able to try some of its best. There are four categories of ramen-ya in this post: The current popular shops, the classics, the randoms and the hidden gem. Let me take you on a journey and a recap of my ramen adventures. ITADAKIMASU!!!!!
Hokkaido is known for the following: amazing seafood, the best dairy and miso ramen! We went and visited its capital Sapporo.
We visited Sapporo during the Winter Festival week. On our first night, we visited the touristy ramen yokocho in the Susukino district. It was conveniently close to the Susukino Ice World ice sculptures!
We tried to visit the ramen joint that Anthony Bourdain featured in his No Reservations show but a tour group already booked it out. So we went up and down ramen alley and ended at a tiny joint called Kumakichi. Hence the kawaii bear (kuma) image at the shop entrance. As soon as we entered we were greeted with a joyful “Irashaimase!!”
I tried their tonkotsu ramen. The noodles were firm and the broth was milky with enough pork flavour to keep a tonkotsu lover happy. The chashu was nice and tender.
|Hokkaido special miso ramen|
The main reason for this visit is to try their Hokkaido special miso ramen (¥1000). The miso ramen here is a typical Sapporo one where the base of the broth is miso stir-fried with the toppings like crab and scallops. It is then also topped with chashu, corn kernels and butter. Yes butter! It has already melted in this photo as the ramen came out piping hot. The whole bowl sounds outrageous but it works! Sapporo's quality seafood is highlighted, the stir fried miso gives body and strong flavours to the broth, the corn and butter adds character.
Address: Ramen Alley Susukino 北海道札幌市中央区南五条西3-8 元祖
Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Minami 5 Jonishi 3-8
Hours: 12pm to 2am
Remember when I mentioned a hidden gem earlier on? Kerby Craig of Ume Restaurant has recommended that I try a ramen-ya in Susukino that does black ramen but opens up late. After some extensive research and walking around Susukino, I found that this place is just behind the hotel that we stayed at.
I'll provide you the address but to be more specific, it's the building one street behind the Tokyu Rei Hotel. It opens at 10pm and closes at roughly 6 to 7am in the morning (you read that right).
I ordered their popular item, which is the Sapporo Black (¥800). The broth is shoyu based with black garlic oil that had a great depth of flavour with smoky notes. This is by far the best ramen with black garlic oil I've had. The black garlic was enhanced in the wok stir-fry process. The noodles were thick, nice and firm. It was also topped with tender chashu, green onions, menma and silky sweet black fungus. This place is a true gem! Try to go before 10pm to beat the queue.
Address: south 5 – west 5 – 21, 2 Kyukankou Building 1F, Minami ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Hours: 10pm to 6am
Just like Tokyo, Osaka is also considered a food haven in Japan! There are many ramen joints around but I only had my mind set on two classics!
I will forever hold Gumshara as my favourite ramen place. It's what made me fall deeply in love with ramen the first time I’ve had Mori-san’s pork sparerib ramen. So when we were in Osaka, we visited the ramen joint that started Mori Higashida on his journey to become a ramen chef and open up Gumshara in Sydney. Muteppou in Osaka got him hooked on their ramen the same way I got hooked on Mori-san's ramen.
There was a super long line the first time we tried and the wait was too long. So we decided to return the next day and queue up at 10:30am which is 30 minutes before opening time and we were second in line (score!). 10 minutes before opening time the shop owner and head chef Mr Anai came out to greet us and escorted us inside as there was apparently a phone call for me. To my surprise, it was Mori on the other line! He rang to ask the staff at Muteppou to help us order ramen. We went back to our spot in the queue, ordered our ramen shortly from the vending machine and escorted to counter seating near infront of the kitchen. I noticed a familiar set-up similar to Gumshara (Gumshara is part of the Muteppou group after all).
I tried their chashumen with tamago (¥1050). It's basically a tonkotsu ramen with multiple slices of chashu and soft boiled tamago. The chashu was just like Gumshara's, which were tender, fatty and tasty. The egg was perfect where the egg white has just set and the yolk was slightly runny. The difference with Muteppou and Gumshara is that at Muteppou, the broth is a gravy-like consistency! It was just like having pork but in a runny gravy form. Though the broth texture was hectic the flavour on the other hand was full but not intense. Along with the sweet notes from chopped green onion, the broth was amazing! The menma (bamboo shoots) compliments the broth. The noodles were perfectly cooked.
The other ramen started as a chashu ramen and about half way, Mr Anai transformed it to a tonkotsu gyokai ramen for us. Hot damn it was awesome!! The broth was less dense with the most perfect balanced pork and smoky fish flavours. It was truly a special ramen. Do try their tonkotsu gyokai ramen when you visit them!
Muteppou was my most anticipated ramen place to visit and it met my expectations and beyond! Address: 〒556-0013 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 浪速区戎本町1-5-21
Hours 11am to 3pm
Closed on Mondays
Nearest station: Daikokucho Station
Tenkaippin is a ramen chain that originated in Kyoto. But now you can find it most major areas in Japan as there are over 200 restaurants around. Since we were going to be in Kyoto for only a short time, we decided to try Tenkaippin whilst we were in Osaka. The old school Japanese diner-style feel of the place adds to the awesome dining experience.
|Chashu kotteri ramen with extra tamale|
We ordered their chashu kotteri ramen with extra tamago (¥972). I was asked by the waiter in Nihongo how we want to our broth, which I assumed was "Thin, medium or thick". I replied with "Osusume kudasai", which means "Whatever you recommend". What came out 5 minutes later was a beautiful bowl of glistening slices of fatty pork, nice firm noodles, menma, soft boiled tamago, green onions and a thick soup. So it seemed that their thick soup was the recommended consistency. For a chicken broth, it packed a lot of flavour and it almost had a creamy bisque-like density. This is a bowl you shouldn't miss!
Address: 3 Chome-10-18 Shikitsuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 556-0012, Japan
Nearest station: Daikokucho Station
Hours: Daily 11.00am to 1:45am
I was in Kyoto mostly for sightseeing. But I was still able to squeeze in time to visit a ramen joint that started in Kyoto called Gogyo.
At first glimpse, Gogyo appears to be a contemporary comfy izakaya. It reminded me of Ippudo restaurants. Little did I know that Ippudo is actually Gogyo’s parent company. So what’s the difference? Whilst Ippudo specialises in Hakata tonkotsu ramen, Gogyo does Kogashi or burnt ramen. Ladles of lard tossed into a fiery wok and the leftovers are poured onto the broth giving the broth the wok hei element. It is then seasoned with either miso or shoyu.
|Kogashi miso ramen with extra chat slices|
I ordered their famous kogashi miso ramen with extra chashu (¥1130). It came with thick egg noodles, five slices of chashu, naruto, nori, half soft-boiled egg and some greens. The chashu here is fatty and tasty. Noodles are cooked perfectly but the broth here is the star. The broth consistency is close to medium thick range scale, which was rich, bold and had a lot of smoky goodness. It’s now up there with my favourite ramens. For lunch, you can upgrade to a larger size ramen for free!
Their Kogashi shoyu ramen (¥880) is almost the same except the broth has more subtle flavours while still containing a lot of smokiness.
We ordered ramen’s best friend which is gyoza! There was actually 7 pieces on the plate but I got too excited and forgot to take a photo of the full set. It was one of the finest gyozas I’ve had! A perfect balance of pork and ginger flavours.
If you miss the chance to have a Kogashi ramen from Gogyo in Kyoto, they also have two more shops in Tokyo: Roppongi and Ginza area.
〒604-8121 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyō-ku, Jūmonjichō, 中京区柳馬場通蛸薬師下る十文字町452番地
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am to 3pm, 6pm to 12am
Sat 11:30am to 4pm, 5pm to 12am
Sun 11:30am to 4pm, 5pm to 11pm
Near: Nishiki Markets
Tokyo Prefecture is known for many things. One is the numerous ramen-yas. You will find all types ramen here but it was the classic Tokyo/shoyu ramen, niboshi ramen, tsukemen, abura soba and tonkotsu ramen that I was after. In middle of our sightseeing and shopping, I made sure that we find time to visit some classics, the current popular kids on the block and some amazing randoms.
Shinagawa Japanese Soul Noodles by Basso Drillman
These guys do niboshi ramen for lunch but the house specialty that is served for both lunch and dinner is a classic chuka soba. Their parent restaurant Basso Drillman are known for their tonkotsu gyokai ramen and abura soba, but here the classic shoyu broth shines. It's a small humble looking joint with counter seating (like most ramen restaurants in Japan) and of course, a vending ticket machine. The staff were nice enough to show me the right button for their classic chuka soba . Just before they got started on my ramen, I remembered that I wanted extra chashu and what the chashu button looks like (look for this チャシュー) and I swiftly bought a ticket to add extra protein into my bowl.
|Chuka soba with extra chashu|
Out came a classic chuka soba (¥850) with nicely cooked noodles, sweet marinated menma, two slices of chashu, pieces of poached chicken meat and green onions. It's ¥200 for extra chashu which is about three slices. Most of us are used to the richness of tonkotsu broth. I personally would always pick tonkotsu broth over shoyu when I visit ramen-yas. But they say that a well-executed shoyu broth for Tokyo-style ramen is insane and life changing. This broth was insane and life changing indeed! The consistency was light yet it had such great depth and it a lot of umami for a shoyu-based broth. The green onions added sweet notes to the broth. The chashu slices were so buttery and tasty. I could have this like every day and not get sick of it. No wonder the Basso Drillman group is such a popular ramen group in Tokyo. I have found new love for shoyu ramen. I would love to come back and try their niboshi ramen when I return to Tokyo.
Address: 4-19-14 Nishi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Closest stn: Kanamecho
Hours: 1130am-330pm and 5-9pm
Menya Shichisai Hatchobori
Menya shichisai is a popular ramen shop in Tokyo Station's Ramen Street. Recently, they decided to expand to the Hatchobori.
Tokyo has gone through a sardine broth boom in the last year or so. Menya Shichisai's Hatchobori is one of those restaurants that does an excellent niboshi broth. Not only is their broth special, but also the noodles here are handmade to order.
I ordered their Kitakata niboshi ramen with egg (¥970). This ramen is a labour of love especially because a lot of work goes into the kneading and cutting of the noodles. They are so soft and flavoursome. The niboshi broth has a nice depth and it bursts with umami along with hints of smokiness in the sardine fish flavour. The menma is nice and sweet, the tender chashu was flavoursome and the ajitsuke tamago was so nice.
This was definitely a great introduction for me into the world of sardine broth. The noodles are some of the best I've had.
Address: 2-13-2 Hatchobori, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest station: Hatchobori
[Sat, Sun, Holiday] 11:00-21:00
Closed: 3rd Tuesday
After an afternoon at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, we decided to visit a Tonkotsu ramen place nearby. We decided to skip the place due to a long queue. Just a few doors down, we saw a random ramen place. Photos of their ramen looked good so we decided to give it a shot.
The place has a rustic old school izakaya-ish interior. After purchasing our ramen ticket from the vending machine and handing them over, we noticed that the place is actually a popular ramen joint called Bankara Ramen!! Recently, they have expanded and opened up a shop in Melbourne.
|Slab of kakuni|
Their house signature ramen is the Ramen Bankara (¥990) was nothing short of excellent! It is a Tokyo-style shoyu ramen with seabura back fat and slabs of kakuni. The noodles were cooked well and the menma was nice and sweet, and the slabs of kakuni were super fatty and tender with a flavour sweet soy flavour. The shoyu broth had a nice depth and the added back fat gave it body. You can try a version of this at their Melbourne Shop too!
|Niboshi dipping broth|
But my favourite here is their niboshi tsukemen (¥850). It was all kinds of awesome! The noodles thick and bouncy and it came with a twice cooked tempura tamago. The tamago still retained a slightly runny yolk and the tempura-like coating has a nice light crispy texture. The broth was the best tsukemen dipping broth I’ve had to date. Why you ask? The gravy-like consistency was just perfect for noodle dipping as it nicely hugs onto each strand. The broth was flavoursome indeed with well-balanced sweet and smoky fish flavours. The chunks of fatty chashu pieces worked a treat. I still dream of this tsukemen to date. I may to plan a trip to Melbourne soon so I can satisfy my cravings.
Akiba Ramen Ichihana
Ichihana was not on my radar prior to the trip. It was raining heaps when we visited Akihabara and as we searched for cover, this place appeared in front of us like an oasis in the middle of a desert. It’s a humble ramen joint in the middle of the busy electronics and anime town. We ordered their abura soba and signature Tokyo-style chukka soba with seabura.
I’ve wanted to try an abura soba (¥770) since arriving in Japan. It’s basically dry ramen dressed with seasoned sesame oil and normally topped with soft boiled egg, chashu, menma and occasionally sautéed vegetables like carrots and onions. Their abura soba had all of that minus the carrots. The noodles were nice and firm. Upon mixing the ingredients, the sesame oil blend dressing that sits at the bottom of bowl glazes all the ingredients and gives out a beautiful nutty aroma along with a nice garlic flavour with each slurp. It was a simple perfection in a bowl where each topping including the soft chashu is highlighted. The bean sprouts added a nice crunchy contrast to the rest of the soft ingredients.
The Kanjuku shoyu ramen (¥800) is their signature classic chukka soba with seabura back fat. It didn’t really need the bean sprouts but I didn’t mind it. Everything else from the noodles to the toppings were perfect especially the super tasty slices of chashu. The broth was lighter compared to bankara broth but just like Japanese Soul Noodles, it had nice depth and umami. I guess the back fat added to that umami but it was more so for textural purposes. Do try this as well if you ever visit Ichihana.
Address: 4 Chome-6-1 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0021, Japan
Hours: 11am to 11:00pm
There was no way I was leaving Japan without trying Ichiran! It’s known for its comforting tonkotsu ramen and individual cubicle-like seating. Ichiran near the JR Shinjuku Station east exit is open 24 hours. There was a queue as expected when we visited this well-known establishment but the wait was not long.
First was the ticket vending machine stage, followed by a slip where you fill out and state how you want your noodles, broth flavour intensity, broth consistency and extras. You take your slip to your cubicle and a polite staff member on the other side of the wall mat in front of you takes and confirms your order. In about 5 or so minutes, your ramen comes out.
I went with firm noodles, strong flavour, rich consistency, with sliced pork, thin green onions and no garlic. Out came my ramen and I was not disappointed. I really liked the firm noodles and the chashu. The broth had enough porkiness in the flavour with slightly on the salty side. I should have ordered medium instead. Overall, it was a satisfying bowl and it came out fast! The whole bowl of tonkotsu ramen with tamago was ¥910.
I also had a matcha pudding which was delicious and perfect after comforting tonkotsu ramen.
Ichiran may not be the best I’ve had but it was still a great bowl of tonkotsu ramen. It is everywhere in Japan and a nice introduction to tonkotsu ramen for those having it for the first time.
3 Chome-34-11 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Hours: Open 24 Hours and 7 days a week.
Closest Station: JR Shinjuku (take the east exit)
This was one of the places I’ve been looking forward to visiting. That’s not a Bossanova typo, Bassanova is the actual name of the shop. It’s a combination of the owner’s old ramen shop name Basaraka and favourite music Bossanova. Ramen blogger Keizo Shimamoto of Go Ramen worked here and earned the title ramen chef many years ago. Remember the original ramen burger from New York? Yep, he's the same dude! His blog is one of my go to blogs for ramen and highly recommends this place. Especially for their green curry ramen!
The green curry ramen (¥1000) was created during the time that Bassanova was a café by day and they had a Chef from Thailand working at the café. The green curry ramen at some point was born. Don’t be taken back by the green curry part as it was nothing but next level deliciousness! The ramen noodles were nice and bouncy and acted as a good carrier for the green curry broth. The broth is a well-balanced and well-crafted marriage of green curry and wadashi broth. It was in between milk and creamy with a subtle green curry taste and quite addictive. The protein in this bowl was perfectly poached chunks of chicken thigh fillets.We were also supposed to order their Tonkotsu gyokai ramen but by accident we ended up buying a ticket for their tom yum ramen (¥1000). It did not disappoint either. It came with thinner noodles, chunks of chicken thigh fillet and a broth that was sour, tangy and slightly spicy with a bit of body in its consistency. It’s a blend of tom yum and wadashi broth.
|Green curry level up|
I also ordered three slices of chashu (¥360) on the side. Folks, this is a must! By far the best chashu I’ve had to date. It’s a thicker cut than usual and very flavoursome with a perfect sweet caramelised surface. The chashu is torch-seared just before it’s served. It tastes almost like kakuni. When I think of Bassanova now, I think of “innovation”. If I lived in Tokyo I would have the green curry soba more often!
Hours: 6pm until 2am.
Closest Station: Shindaita
Another random place for ramen that we went to was Kamukura. What started as a hunt for karaage chicken and gyoza in the backstreets of Shibuya, ended up as a chance to try a kick-ass tantanmen!
The tantanmen (¥880) here came with the usual suspects like greens, marinated mince pork and julienned leek. The broth was the main star. It was light in flavour compared to most of the bold tantanmen broths I’ve had. It had an amazing nutty flavour with sweet notes and just a tiny bit spicy. It wasn’t oily as well. The broth consistency was thin to medium thick.
We ordered karaage chicken and gyozas as we were after them in the first place. The karaage chicken was nice too but I wish it came with mayo from the start. The gyozas were delicious too.
Kamukura is a quick and easy kind of joint but they do things really well and exceed expectations too.
Address: Center Gai
29-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya, Tokyo
Rokurinsha, Haneda Airport International Terminal
Last but not least is the super popular Rokurinsha. The tsukemen here is legendary. This place will always get a mention in any ramen aficionado’s recommendations. The main shop in Ramen Street Tokyo Station will always have queues and it gets so crazy that there is also a queue for the queue! I did not go to the ramen street shop as I knew I could try their tsukemen on our way back home at Haneda International Terminal. It is in a food court area near gate 112 after the immigration and customs.
Though they are not really known for their tonkotsu ramen (¥950), we gave it a go anyway. It was actually pretty good but lighter in consistency than what I'm used to. It had a cloudy milk-like density and the pork flavour was not too bold.
To send me off, I had their renowned house specialty tsukemen with tamago (¥1080 regular). I could not ask for a better way to leave Japan than by having this delicious tsukemen. The noodles were thick, bouncy and cooked perfectly. The dipping broth was the perfect secret blend born of pork, fish and vegetables that included tasty chunks of chashu. In the words of David Chang: "These noodles are insane! This broth is insane". I totally agree with him. Never leave Tokyo without visiting Rokurinsha!
Address: Haneda Airport International Terminal, 3F, Gates 112-114.
Hours: Usually 24 Hours
Whether it was thin noodles, the wavy kind, thick bouncy type or rustic handmade kind, there was not one bad bowl of noodles that I’d had in this trip. Maybe it's the whole Holiday mode I was in or it's just that ramen chefs, like most Japanese, take pride and joy in what they do, especially with food. I didn't get to hit up any tori paitan ramen joints or the acclaimed Michelin ramen Tsuta in this trip. But a Japan trip part 2 is not impossible! For now, I suggest that you add visiting ramen restaurants in your future Japan itinerary. It won't be complete without it :)
Also here are some tips:
- Normally, the top left button selection on a ticket vending machine is the house special/signature ramen.
- Never be afraid to ask for help if you don't know which ramen to order and which button to press for it. Always start your question with "Sumimasen", which means "excuse me". The chefs and staff are always more than happy to help.
- When you get asked a question that includes the words "sho", "nami", "omori", it means that they are asking you for how much noodles you want. Sho (small) can be around 200 grams, Nami (regular) 300 grams and omori (large) is around 400 grams. I normally just went with nami.
- They may also ask you something else after handing over your tickets. In most cases it is a question of soup intensity flavour or consistency or how much green onions you want. I would normally just say "Osusume kudasai", which means, "Whatever you recommend". Thanks to my friend Rockahenry for teaching me this phrase!
- In most places, egg is extra and unless you are ordering a "chashumen", you would only get around two slices of chashu. So ask for assistance as to which button is for extra tamago or chashu.
- You don't always have go to ramen places that everyone else recommends or the so-called popular ramen-yas. Explore, be adventurous and just walk into a ramen-ya that looks good. You'll never know what treasure you'll find inside. That's what happened with my visits to Ichihana and Bankara. Long lines don’t always necessarily mean best ramen according to the locals. - For the popular ramen-yas, get there before they open because queues will get crazy long after opening time!