Wednesday, January 13, 2010
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.
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...