Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kita no Daichi

The entrance to Kita no Daichi

On an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon, Micah was helping our couchsurfing guest with her temporary mobile phone as I perused the 2011 issue of Ramen Walker, looking for a recommended Shinjuku shop we hadn't already tried. For no particular reason, other than the bowl featured looking tasty, we decided on Kita no Daichi, a Hokkaido ramen shop in east Shinjuku.

Kita no Daichi's interior

The inside of Kita no Daichi is like many other ramen shops with bar seating and a couple tables. It's capacity is probably about 15 people, so I caution against going with larger groups. Actually our group was five people so I felt quite lucky for all of us to get seats together at the bar.

The specialty of this Kita no Daichi is the "Cheese and Mushroom White Miso Ramen"

Going with the specialty of the shop, I ordered the Cheese and Mushroom White Miso Ramen, as did my couchsurfing friend. Micah ordered the Karami Katsu: spicy tonkotsu broth with tonkatsu. The two other guests both ordered miso ramen, I think! After about 10 minutes waiting, we were all served our ramen!

Micah took this shot of our group

The Cheese and Mushroom White Miso Ramen!

The Cheese and Mushroom White Miso ramen came with a little bit of moyashi, a healthy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a handful of shimeji mushroom. With grated black pepper on top and a slice of chashu on the side, this bowl rounds out to the perfect heartiness. The miso flavor is noticeable, though with a lot more fat globules floating on top than your average bowl of miso. It's a strong taste, a bit salty and not for a person looking for a lighter flavor. The cheese and mushroom combination is certainly interesting, unlike any other ramen I've ever had. The Parmesan cheese melts into the soup, changing the flavor from straight up miso to a bit of a cheesy miso. The noodles are a bit on the soft side, so if you're a fan of firm noodles, then this shop is not for you. However Kita no Daichi knows how to make a good bowl of ramen!

The Karami Katsu Ramen

The Karami Katsu ramen boasted to be spicy. As a regular consumer of Nantsuttei: Misoya Hachiro Shoten's gekikara ramen, the Karami Katsu ramen was not so spicy, but it was spicier than Micah expected. In the center of the bowl was a dollop of spicy miso paste that needed to be mixed up to give a uniform spiciness. The katsu was juicy, not dry at all, and the breading wasn't too thick. The breading was softened by the broth but not to the point of mushiness. Micah says the chashu was not super fatty but flavorful nonetheless. There were plenty of noodles and although Micah often feels ramen needs an egg, he said this ramen was fine without one. Overall it was filling, all parts were flavorful in their own way but mixed well together.


Gochisousama deshita!

Ramen Kita no Daichi

Phone: 03-3357-0056
Address: Tokyo, Shinjuku 3-28-2 Shinjuku 160-0022
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 23:00 ~ 16:00, 17:00 ~ 11:00 Holidays 11:00 to 21:00

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ramen Jiro: Shinjuku

Ah, Ramen Jiro, a staple amongst the ramen chains in Tokyo. What ramen blog would be complete without the inclusion of at least one Ramen Jiro, which boasts over 30 locations in Tokyo? When I first became interested in ramen in Tokyo I learned of Ramen Jiro, specifically the Takadanobaba branch. I was told it was a favorite amongst young men, not the cleanest place, but certainly filling.

My previous two posts were on Nantsuttei Misoya Hachiro Shoten and Tatsunoya, both of which are in the same neighborhood as this Shinjuku branch of Ramen Jiro. I've frequented both Nantsuttei Misoya Hachiro Shoten and Tatsunoya but had never tried Ramen Jiro, often due to the fact it was full or there was a line of people waiting for seats, which seems par for the course for many Ramen Jiro throughout Tokyo. Micah and I met in Shinjuku a little before noon and headed to Ramen Jiro, hoping we'd be able to get seats despite it being lunch time, usually a very busy time for ramen shops in Tokyo! As soon as we entered we spotted two empty seats, but not together. However, once we had our jackets hung up and our ramen tickets bought from the vending machine, another man was leaving, opening up two empty adjacent seats, which the two of us quickly swooped upon.

The view from our counter seats

Unsure as to what to order, Micah asked the chef for his recommendation. The chef called out "Butairi!" and a nice customer at the counter pointed it out on the vending machine with a smile. So Micah and I both ordered the butairi and took our seats. Upon giving our tickets to the chef we were asked if we wanted garlic with our ramen and we answered in affirmative. Ramen Jiro has a reputation for its use of garlic and I was soon to find out exactly why. Something unexpected: the amount of time it took for us to receive our ramen! In the back of the restaurant there are two tables, one cleared out while we were waiting and we were allowed to change from the counter seats to the table, which was a bit more spacious. I suppose we waited about fifteen minutes in total before we were served. I was a bit taken aback by the amount of food in the bowl, the sizable amount of diced garlic on the side of the bowl and especially by the slabs of chashu piled atop it all!

That's a lot of food!

The broth at Ramen Jiro is mostly tonkotsu (pork) with shoyu (soy sauce.) It's a bit thicker and stronger than regular ramen and the salt is palpable. The noodles are thicker than regular noodles, but pretty innocuous as they don't seem to have a very noticeable or unique flavor to them. The toppings of the butairi at Ramen Jiro consist of a generous heaping of chopped cabbage and moyashi (bean sprouts) in addition to about five slices of chashu. The chashu at Ramen Jiro tends not to be as thick or rough as the chashu at many other ramen shops. My chashu had only small amounts of fat in it and reminded me more of the slabs of turkey I'd use to make a sandwich than of chashu. Their texture was a bit dry, like turkey, and without the melty fatty goodness I've come to associate with chashu.

Micah trying the broth

Upon first tasting the broth, Micah let out a laugh and said "It tastes like gravy!" and indeed it definitely had a gravy taste to it, albeit much less thick than your regular gravy. However, in addition to the chashu, I was certainly in mind of a nice gravy turkey sandwich! This image faded as I moved the chashu to the bottom of the bowl and mixed up the garlic, cabbage, moyashi and noodles. I would not recommend Ramen Jiro before a date, as you will consume enough garlic to keep Lestat at bay for a fortnight. As a subscriber to the cooking philosophy "Everything is better with garlic!" I had no problem with this, but I fear my students tonight will not appreciate it as much as I!

Trying to make a dent in the massive pile of noodles and veggies!

Although it had been nearly 12 hours since my last meal, the amount of food in your average bowl of ramen was just too much for me! I marveled at the salarymen sitting at the counter ordering "Oomori!" (extra noodles) and finishing it all down. Ultimately, the offerings of Ramen Jiro were probably only a little over average. It was definitely a unique flavor I haven't experienced at other shops in Tokyo, and an interesting environment as nearly the entire restaurant was filled completely with businessmen on their lunch breaks.

Though I had given up on finishing, Micah persevered!

If you have a big hunger you need to fill, Ramen Jiro is the spot for you. If you have the drunk munchies, I'm certain Ramen Jiro will satisfy. It's not a refined or sophisticated taste, the flavors are not subtle, but it will certainly satisfy those looking especially for quantity over quality. Will I eat there again? Probably, but I doubt it will be often. With the spicy Nantsuttei directly next door and Tatsunoya's Hakata ramen down the street, there are plenty of delicious options in the neighborhood, both of which never have a line as frequently as Ramen Jiro does. Overall, I'm glad I finally experienced a Ramen Jiro, but if you're looking for the ultimate bowl of ramen in Tokyo you're not going to find it in Ramen Jiro.

Cascade Bridge, Shinjuku-dori
7-5-5 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku Ward
Tokyo, JAPAN
TEL 03-3371-5010

Monday through Friday - 11:00AM to 1:00AM
Sunday and holidays - 11:00AM to 10:00PM

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nantsuttei: Misoya Hachiro Shoten

Yesterday Shinjuku saw its first snowfall of the year. There have been cold winds cutting through the city and so the only course of action was to heat it up with some spicy ramen! Nestled amongst a small group of ramen shops (all delicious!) is the Nishishinjuku branch of Nantsuttei, this branch known as Misoya Hachiro Shoten. Step inside and buy your tickets from the vending machine.

On the left you can see the variety of instant ramen you can buy and bring home!

Micah and I both decided on the Spicy Miso Ramen and one small bowl of rice. We handed our tickets to the chef and were asked how many noodles we'd like. We had the option of futsu (regular or normal amount) or oomori (extra noodles!) We were then asked how spicy we'd like our ramen. Nantsuttei has four choices, in increasing spiciness: Standard, Choikara, Chukara, and Gekikara. Micah and I have eaten at Nantsuttei several times, Micah always gets Gekikara (the spiciest option). I've tried Chukara and Choikara. The first time I tried Chukara it was too spicy for me to finish, so I usually go with Choikara, though it's not quite spicy enough for me. Once more, Micah went with Gekikara and I asked for Choikara.

The spiciness chart
Nantsuttei's translation of the chart is as follows:
Want a nose-bleeding, hotter flavor? We offer you four levels of hotness as follows.
-Moderately hot
-Medium hot
-Extremely hot
[For customers who plan to order Extremely hot]
Please refrain from ordering it if you have heart trouble, feel ill, or have a sensitive stomach. Please note that your social status will not be raised if you eat Extremely hot. If you are brave enough to challenge yourself in private, please try Extremely hot.

One chef, doing his thing

Seating at Nantsuttei is all bar seating, with a capacity of about 12 people. So it's not the best place to go to with a large group, but for a few people, it should be fine. When we arrived around 9:30pm on a Wednesday night and the shop was nearly full with only two non-adjacent seats open. However, a chef quietly asked two customers if they'd scoot over by a seat to open up two adjacent seats for Micah and I. About 10 minutes after we placed our orders our ramen was ready! However, when the chef handed me my ramen, she said "Chukara", which leads me to think my order had been misheard. I screwed my courage to the sticking place to brave the unconquerable ramen.

The chukara ramen!

Micah's gekikara ramen!

Both bowls have the same toppings and noodle-style but the only difference is the level of spiciness. The ramen comes with a healthy topping of moyashi (bean sprouts), negi (spring onion), chopped cabbage, two slices of chashu (barbecued pork slices), spicy oil, ground pork and black pepper. In addition to the black pepper, hot spice and garlic oil are also used. Noodles are thicker than average though still the perfect balance between soft and firm.

The gekikara ramen is SPICY! I am a fan of spicy food and I can only handle a few spoonfuls of broth! As Micah puts it, the ramen is immediately spicy and continues to build from there. Drinking the broth by itself is incredibly spicy. The ramen is piled with moyashi (bean sprouts) which provides a brief reprieve from the spicy broth.

Champion of epic spiciness, Micah enjoys his ramen

With trepidation I faced my chukara ramen. With the spiciness level so high, I could not follow my usual method of enjoying ramen. I usually start off with tasting the broth, usually a couple spoonfuls. Then I move on to the noodles. Unable to dive immediately into the spiciness, I first sampled the noodles. Due to the thickness of the noodles, they had a more noticeable flavor than thinner noodles. The taste is great and the noodles soak up just the right amount of the broth. I made sure to take enough breaks via the moyashi and chopped cabbage to keep up with the ramen. As a fan of spiciness and miso, I am very much in love with this broth. It's a bit of a challenge to drink the broth by itself, but in combination with the noodles, it's pretty great!

It's spicy but fun!

Micah and I ate as much as we could but both of us were unable to finish our broth as it was just so spicy! By the time I finished my ramen and Micah had finished his ramen and rice, we were stuffed to capacity! I'd like to note that the jump between chukara and gekikara is huge! While I was able to finish nearly my entire bowl of chukara, I know that I would not be able to get past a third of the bowl of gekikara. Its spiciness just builds and builds and builds! The chukara had some tears running down my face near the end, but was still delicious and bearable. I definitely would not recommend anything higher than "Standard" for anyone who isn't confident in their ability to handle spicy food!

The chukara is on the left and the gekikara is on the right, check out how much redder the gekikara is!

Are you ready to challenge the spicy ramen of Nantsuttei: Misoya Hachiro Shoten? If you like miso and spiciness, Nantsuttei is sure to satisfy!

102, Plaza Nishishinjuku Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Japan 160-0023
TEL 03-6304-0420 FAX 03-6304-0421