Since I arrived in Tokyo last week, I've been on a minor ramen frenzy. I'm guessing many of you have only had instant ramen in a styrofoam cup. As I wrote before, I love them, and the Japanese voted the instant noodle the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century. I agree. That said, real well-made ramen is a thing of beauty and way, way better than the instant stuff.
Like many good things in the world, ramen comes from China originally (la mein in Chinese). Then, like many other good things in the world, the Japanese took someone else's idea and made it really great. It was all I could do this week to not drag my family and friends to ramen for every meal (it turns out the Japanese have other good food too...)
I've written about these guys before after I went last summer. This time, I went to two different locations. The first was in Akasaka near the Live Search team's office. This was much smaller than the Harajuku location, with just a few seats. My foodie colleagues and I actually went after the team dinner, even though we were totally stuffed, just because we wanted to eat the yummy ramen. This time I had the Bonshan ramen, an even richer, whiter pork broth full of tongue coating collagen and deep flavor (they claim that it's good for your skin too!). It's really simply luscious. I think it's even better than the signature Kyushu Jangara. Like a junkie, I actually went back to the Akasaka Jangara after the next night's dinner, but cooler heads prevailed this time. (Wimps.) I later reprised our summer visit to the Harajuku Jangara with Michelle, the boys, and my cousin Jessica, who is working in Japan. The line was long, but it was worth the wait. They have English menus, and the staff handled my English/Japanese/pantomime ordering with ease.
My colleagues Jill, Helen, and John outside the Akasaka Jangara Ramen.
A bowl of Bonshan ramen at the counter. (Sorry for the lousy pic.)
We chose Testugama mostly out of convenience since it's close to our hotel in Roppongi Hills. Like Jangara, it's Kyushu style (so pork-based soup) but theirs are lighter tasting. Like many ramen places, you actually order at a machine first, putting in money and then pushing buttons for the things you want. You get a stack of little tickets which you then hand to the waiter.
I ordered the spicy soup with hard noodles. (You can order hard, medium, or soft noodles. This isn't a statement about the doneness of the noodles; rather it's about the type.) This was so good Michelle claimed eminent domain and took the bowl. I enjoyed her shio (salt) based ramen instead. Their gyoza (dumplings) were also delicious. We really liked the feel of the place -- very friendly. I'm sad we discovered it so late in our trip; I'm pretty sure we would have gone back again otherwise. They do not have English menus, but the waiter did a fine job pointing out the major things we might want on the order taking machine.
Michael (8) in front of the order machine.
My (soon to be Michelle's) spicy ramen. (I started eating before I realized I should take a photo, so the lovely presentation is a bit messed up.)
I should also note that we had a great soba dinner at Restaurant Kurosawa, another repeat visit from our summer trip (I didn't write about it that time, mostly out of laziness.) Kurosawa makes handcut soba with great buckwheat texture and taste. It's really different from the ramen noodles I mentioned above. Michael (8) loved the cold soba (dipped in sauce) so much that he ate half of another order. They also have other delicious dishes including a simple yet amazing tomato salad. For a noodle joint, it's not cheap, but boy, it's good. They have English menus.
Roppongi Restaurant Kurosawa storefront
The amazing tomato salad
I want to go out and eat more now...