Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kyushu Jangara Ramen

Kyushu Jangara is a chain of ramen shops throughout Tokyo. At the end of December 2009 while our friend, Will, was staying with us, one night we decided to hit up the Kyushu Jangara shop in Harajuku. Apparently the shop takes up two floors in the Harajuku location, but the stores are not connected inside. Therefore there are ramen chefs on the first floor and the second floor, creating soups specifically for the floor they're working on. We climbed up to the second floor and were greeted by a small line, maybe three groups of people waiting to be seating. From what I've read, one should be prepared to wait in line before being seated due to the popularity of this shop. While we waited, we were given copies of the menu to figure out what we wanted to order. The menus were in Japanese and English as well as two other languages. About 10 minutes later we were seated, a round of beers and three bowls of ramen were ordered and the beers were promptly delivered to our table.


As the name suggests, this ramen finds its roots in Kyushu, thus it is Hakata style (straight thin noodles instead of the wavy regular thickness.) I ordered a "Kyushu Jangara". It's ramen with tonkotsu broth that comes with everything! Most ramen comes with one or two slices of chashu (barbequed pork), menma (bamboo shoots), negi (spring onion), and maybe a soft boiled egg. A "Kyushu Jangara" bowl of ramen comes with all that as well as two additional large lengths of fatty pork, a scoop of mentaiko (spiced pollock roe), kikurage, and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.

A "Kyushu Jangara"

Will ordered the same as I but without the mentaiko. Unfortunately, he was served mentaiko nonetheless. The waiter realized the mistake when serving us our ramen and told Will that his bowl would be on the house, so good for Will, free ramen! The offending mentaiko was scooped out of Will's bowl and delivered to Micah's karabon ramen. Although the karabon ramen is listed as the spicy ramen at the shop, Micah found its spiciness to be tolerable, nothing to write home about. The karabon ramen comes with everything my Kyushu Jangara ramen came with.

The spicy karabon ramen!

Although the ramen is served in shallower bowls than most other shops stock, the bowls themselves are wider, so you are not being served any less ramen. The three of us went to town on our bowls and conversation hit a lull at this point. What I found most noticeable about the toppings were the two lengths of fatty pork. The fat seemed to melt in your mouth and the pork itself was very tender and had a great flavor. This pork is not for the faint of heart, I do not think I can really emphasize exactly how fatty it is! The flavor is great, but two lengths seemed to be one too many for this ramen loving girl! Kyushu Jangara was also the first time I've had mentaiko in ramen. It adds an interesting spicy kick but its flavor is not for everyone and strikes me more of an acquired taste. A tasty bowl of ramen, the tonkotsu broth does not seem to be the showcase but rather the mellowness that binds all the flavors together.

Gouchisousama deshita!

We let the ramen settle in our bellies as we finished off our beer. The steady stream of customers was drying up as the evening wore on so we felt no rush to leave immediately. When we did leave, we had to explain to the man working the register that Will's ramen was free and eventually our waiter came up to confirm this. We settled our tab, our hunger satisfied and made our way back to Harajuku Station for the train ride home.

Kyushu Jangara
1-13-21 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Mon-Thu 10:45am-2:00am; Fri 10:45am-3:30am; Sat 10:00am-3:30am; Sun/Holidays 10:00am-2:00am
Click here for map

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ajigen Ramen

My favorite ramen shop in Tokyo is Ajigen. Ajigen is a tiny ramen shop that specializes in Hokkaido ramen. Ajigen has locations in Shibuya and Nerima but I only go to the shop in Ikebukuro. Ajigen is about a five minute walk from Ikebukuro station's west exit around the corner from Marui City, which we like to call "oi oi" because of the giant neon ○I○I atop the building. Keep going down the street Ajigen is on and you'll reach Rikkyo University.

Micah getting settled at the bar

Ajigen in Ikebukuro is one of those hole-in-the-wall type establishments. If we didn't walk past it when we walk home from the station, we would probably have never seen it. With bar counter type seating, Ajigen can hold about 11 or 12 customers. Dinner hours seem to be their busiest times. Though I've never seen a line for Ajigen, there have been a couple times when Micah and I were unable to get seats because the place was full. During lunch hours, the place is much quieter. So if you want to go in a group of three or four, lunch time would be the best bet for your group to get seated together.

The menu

Ajigen specializes in Hokkaido ramen. While Hokkaido is mostly known for miso ramen, miso is in fact specific to Sapporo, hence the first bowl listed on the menu is Sapporo Miso ramen. Asahikawa city in Hokkaido is known for its shoyu (soy sauce) ramen so next up on the menu is Asahikawa Shoyu. Beneath that we have Hakodate Shio (salt) ramen and if you've been paying attention you've already deduced that Hakodate is a city in Hokkaido famous for its shio ramen. Hakodate ramen uses a slice of squid instead of chashu but I don't know if Ajigen does this. Interestingly, the description for the Hakodate ramen says "とんこつさっぱり食べたい", which says something along the lines of "a refreshing tonkotsu meal", so I guess it's a shio and tonkotsu mix?

Left to right: garlic paste, black pepper, red pepper

Two of the three nights I was in Hokkaido I ate ramen in Sapporo. At both ramen shops, on every table or counter was a jar of garlic paste. You could add a dollop of garlic to your ramen if you wished for it to have a stronger garlic flavor. At Ajigen in Ikebukuro, you can also find jars of garlic paste lining the counter. I haven't seen this in most ramen shops in Tokyo, which makes me wonder if this is specific to Hokkaido. I'm a huge garlic fan but I never use it when I order ramen at Ajigen because the broth tastes perfect as is. I wish I could say the same for other shops that don't offer garlic paste because sometimes I find their ramen in sore need of an extra kick of garlic!

Sapporo miso ramen!

Ever since I started going to Ajigen I've only ordered one thing: Sapporo miso ramen. Micah has ordered just about everything on the menu and he says it's all delicious but for me, there's no need to order anything but the Sapporo miso. The broth looks to be made from white miso; it has no hint of red miso that I can taste. It's much creamier than miso soup and it tastes as if it's been blended a bit with tonkotsu broth. Although creamy, it doesn't appear to be too fatty. The amount of grease fat floating on the surface in Ajigen's typical bowl of Sapporo miso ramen is far less than I see at many ramen shops. Ajigen's Sapporo miso has ruined me for miso ramen at most other shops. Either the miso taste isn't strong enough or there's too much goma (sesame seed), the miso flavouring is just simply subpar to Ajigen's Sapporo miso.

Micah's orochon ramen

Micah ordered from the right side of the menu. There's miso orochon, kimchi ramen, and tekamen (red hot iron noodles is the literal translation.) It took a lot of digging around on the web but it appears that orochon refers to a fire festival that takes place in northern Hokkaido. At other ramen shops you can choose how spicy you want your orochon ramen, but at Ajigen the orochon is miso flavored and has only one level of spiciness. A huge tantanmen fan, Micah is unfazed by the spiciness of this ramen. However, he is a fan of its flavor and he recommends the tekamen if you want something truly spicy.


Ajigen is a shop whose ramen I never fail to finish, noodles, broth and all. The noodles are slightly more firm than cheaper establishments and are quite delicious. The Sapporo miso ramen comes with the basic toppings: a pile of moyashi (bean sprouts), a liberal handful of chopped negi (spring onion), a slice of chashu (barbequed pork), and wakame (a type of seaweed, different from nori.) While not the biggest wakame fan, I find its flavor does not sully the ramen here, so don't let that deter you if you don't like wakame. The amount of moyashi and negi they put in your bowl is heaped on in generous portions so if you leave Ajigen hungry, it's not the chef's fault!

Good to the last drop!

Ajigen in Ikebukuro is the perfect place for dinner on a cold winter's night. It always keeps Micah and I warm on the 20 minute walk home from the shop. It's location is pefect for us and altogether convenient. It's actually also around the corner from a tsukemen shop that was featured in the latest Ramen Walker although the name escapes me now. Stop by for lunch or dinner, you'll get a great bowl of ramen at any time.

Take the left past the Marui City, Ajigen is on the left side of the road before the Sunkis convenience store
11am-6am, I think...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kohmen Ramen

If you picked up the latest issue of Ramen Walker magazine, you'll see Ikebukuro has quite a few ramen shops. Living nearby Ikebukuro, this is very advantageous for my taste buds (but quite detrimental to my weight!) Like a moth to a lamp, I can never resist the siren call of the many ramen shops dotting Ikebukuro. One ramen institution will be celebrating its 10 year anniversary come December this year. That ramen chain is Kohmen Ramen, though it is often spelled Komen as well. Kohmen's first shop opened on the south side of Ikebukuro though I haven't tried this shop yet, I have eaten at the Kohmen on the west side of Ikebukuro Station, which opened shop in 2002.

Kohmen's menu is in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English, making it a convenient place to eat at for those who find Japanese isn't their strongest suit. A copy of their menu can be found here. The English used is interesting as it seems it was put through a computerized translater or a native English speaker did not do the translation. My favorite is the translation of tantanmen: "painful ramen of sesame flavor." I ordered the tonkotsu ramen (or as the menu puts it "pig's bone broth ramen") and Micah ordered the tantanmen.

Kohmen's tonkotsu ramen

When we ordered our food, the waiter informed us that the shop was giving costumers a free gift of food. He showed us a laminated strip of paper with pictures of the three gifts you could choose from: an extra helping of noodles, an extra egg, or a purin (dessert pudding.) Micah chose the extra egg and I opted for extra noodles. The extra noodles certainly made a difference! By the time I finished everything, I felt that my stomach was about to burst!

About halfway done and there's still so many noodles left!

I find the tonkotsu broth to be a cut about most places. It's less creamy than Ippudo's tonkotsu broth, but still quite delicious. The taste isn't too heavy, but it's heavier than cheaper chain ramen shops. The toppings included are negi (spring onions), chashu (barbequed pork), menma (bamboo shoots), and spinach. The spinach is an interesting touch. Kohmen is a Tokyo-based chain which may explain the spinach which is more commonly found in Tokyo-style ramen than the ramen of other regions of Japan. Most notable of the toppings was the menma. Typical ramen menma is rather firm and thin but Kohmen's menma was quite thick and less firm providing a new interesting texture to the ramen.

Micah tastes his first sip of the tantanmen broth.

An interesting thing about the two story ramen restaurant is its setup. All booths come equipped with a TV screen displaying movie advertisements, book reviews, and blurbs on the various other locations of Kohmen in Harajuku, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ebisu, Ueno, Akihabara, and Takadanobaba. The ramen chefs all work on the first floor. A tiny elevator system is installed in the middle of the restaurant to send steaming hot bowls of ramen to the hungry customers on the second floor.

Micah enjoys his tantanmen as the TV plays in the background.

At Kohmen, you can probably get away with spending less than 1000 yen (around $10 USD) for a bowl of ramen. This is about average for the quality you're getting. There are many good shops in Ikebukuro, with its multilingual menu Kohmen is a good starting place for someone new to ramen. Micah and I both left Kohmen happy with full warm bellies, ready to face the cold for the 20 minute walk back to our apartment.

West Ikebukuro
Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-22-6 1,2F
Open 11-5am, Sun through Thurs
Open 11-6am, Fri and Sat, nat'l hoidays

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ippudo Ramen

At the beginning of December, Micah and I were near Ebisu so in the evening we headed to Ippudo, a ramen shop about five minutes on foot from Ebisu Station. Ippudo ramen is Hakata style, which means it originated in Hakata city, northwest on the southern island Kyushu. Hakata ramen usually has a creamy broth and the noodles are whiter, thinner and straighter than typical ramen noodles. Ippudo specializes in tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu ramen is ramen with broth made from pork bones. The tonkotsu broth here was very creamy and a bit fatty, though I've seen fattier!

From left to right: spicy moyashi, karashi takana and gari. In the back you can see the fresh garlic

Ippudo ramen has a small tabehoudai (all you can eat) selection on their tables. There's spicy moyashi (bean sprouts), karashi takana (spicy greens) and gari (pickled ginger) that you can eat on top of your rice or ramen, though I must admit, the spicy moyashi is delicious on its own! Also on the table are flesh cloves of garlic and garlic crushers so you can add fresh garlic to your ramen if you so desire. When ordering at Ippudo, you will be asked how firm you want your noodles. You can get them harigane (the firmest, it means "steel beam", barikata (very firm), katame (firm), futsuu (regular) or yawarakame (soft.) Micah and I both ordered the shiromaru (white bowl), but Micah ordered his noodles to be harigane and I ordered futsuu for mine. Unfortunately, Micah and I were very hungry when we arrived so I didn't even think of taking a picture of the ramen before we itadakimasu'ed! However, you can see plenty of pictures of Ippudo's shiromaru ramen here!

When I finally remembered, it was too late!

This was my first time eating Hakata style ramen and I was very impressed by Ippudo's shiromaru. The tonkotsu broth's flavor lingered on the tongue long after swallowing. The thinner noodles were novel to me but their texture perfectly complimented the broth's flavor. The chashu (barbequed pork) was also quite delicious. Ippudo in Ebisu knows how to make a bowl of soup that will leave you completely contented.

As Micah can tell you, it's good to the very last drop!

If you're in Ebisu and find yourself with a hankering for ramen, be sure to check out Ippudo! I've read that it's not entirely uncommon to encounter lines during peak lunch hours, but around 6pm on a Monday night, the shop was practically deserted, so don't let fear of lines deter you from experiencing an amazing bowl of ramen!

Hiroo 1-3-13
[along Meiji-dori towards Hiroo, just past the post office]
Open 11-4am daily