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Gravy Soup

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, JapanI didn’t think it was possible, but I may have found a bowl of ramen that’s too rich.  Because I just went to a local chain called Tenkaippin that specializes in an incredibly hearty chicken-based soup, and yowza.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

It’s the heaviest bowl of ramen (or any soup) that I’ve ever had.  It really did taste like a bowl of gravy with noodles in it.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

I don’t know if you can tell from that picture, but the soup was clinging to the noodles like alfredo sauce on fettuccine.  It was nuts.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it — it was actually quite good.  But it still probably falls under the category of “too much of a good thing.”  I don’t think a bowl of ramen has ever left me feeling so full.

Gogyo Ramen

Gogyo Ramen in Kyoto, JapanAfter eating several bowls of ramen in Japan — most of them amazing — I wasn’t sure I could still have my mind blown by the dish.

Well, clearly I couldn’t have been more wrong, because I just went to Gogyo Ramen, and my mind?  Blown to smithereens.

Gogyo Ramen in Kyoto, Japan

They specialize in burnt ramen — I had heard that the burnt shoyu ramen was the thing to order, so that’s what I did.

I’ve never had anything quite like it.  The broth is inky black, and I won’t lie — I was skeptical.  Was it going to taste… well, burnt?

Gogyo Ramen in Kyoto, Japan

No — it tasted amazing.  It was kind of like the flavour you get from the grill on a perfectly barbecued piece of meat, only distilled down into a soup, and without even a hint of bitterness.  It was remarkable.

Gogyo Ramen in Kyoto, Japan

There was more stuff in here than the typical ramen — bits of cabbage, onions, and ground pork, which all perfectly complimented the intensely flavourful broth.  The noodles were satisfyingly firm and chewy, and the standard sliced pork on top might have been the best version of that I’ve ever had — addictively delicious, and so tender that the fat just melts in your mouth like butter.

Is ramen my favourite food?  Because I’m starting to think that it’s my favourite food.

That Ramen is on Fire! (No, literally, it’s on fire)

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, JapanThere’s a very distinctive ramen joint in Kyoto called Menbakaichidai that serves what they call “fire ramen.”  It’s essentially ramen flambé — they finish your bowl of ramen with a small inferno of burning oil that goes up in a spectacular burst of flames.

It’s a popular place — I showed up at around 2:00 PM assuming there’d be some kind of mid-afternoon lull, and I still wound up waiting about half an hour.  They have a system where you take a number and then can wait in a heated tent, though even that was packed.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

Aside from the various side dishes, there’s just one thing on the menu here: the fire ramen, which is a basic shoyu (soy sauce) ramen topped with slices of pork and a whole bunch of green onion.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

You’re not allowed to take pictures of the flambéing — they had a series of phone-holders hanging from the ceiling, which allowed everyone to get their own video of the fire (most people took them up on this, including me).

They also make you wear a full-body bib, and insist that you lean back with your hands behind your back during the flame-application; I just figured they were trying to make a bigger show of the whole fire thing.  But no, it’s basically a mini explosion in your face, so if you were leaning forward and trying to take a picture, a hospital visit would be in your immediate future.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

And after all that?  It’s fine, I guess.  I’ve certainly had worse ramen, but the flavour of the broth was pretty basic, and the noodles were just average.  I’m really not sure that the fire does all that much, though there is a pretty big pile of green onions on the soup and they had a really mild flavour; I’m guessing the mini inferno very quickly burned away the rawness.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

Still, it’s pretty clear that this place gets by mostly thanks to their gimmick.  It’s a pretty great gimmick, though.  It’s a hell of a show.

Post-Monkey Noodles

Enza Cafe in Nagano, JapanThe bus going from the Jigokudani Monkey Park to Nagano station isn’t super frequent, so after getting my fill of monkey business, I had a little bit of time to kill.

Enter: Enza Cafe, a small restaurant that specializes in ramen near the beginning of the monkey trail.

Given its proximity to such a well-traveled tourist spot (and its status as one of the few restaurants in the area), I didn’t have high hopes.  But since I didn’t have anything better to do while I waited for the bus, I figured sure, why not.

Enza Cafe in Nagano, Japan

I ordered the basic ramen, which they make with chicken broth rather than the more standard pork, and it was shockingly good.  It wasn’t quite up there with the best bowls I had in Tokyo, but from what you’d think would be a tourist trap, it’s amazing: rich, flavorful broth, springy noodles, and perfectly cooked egg.  It was the perfect capper to a very memorable morning.

Best Ramen Ever?

Hayashi in the Shibuya district of ToykoRemember when I mentioned that the eel at Hashimoto was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten?  Well, I’ve got another dish to add to that list.

Tokyo is a magical place.

I love ramen, but apparently the ramen back home is garbage, because the bowl I had at Hayashi in the Shibuya district of Toyko was life-changing.  It’s almost implausible how good it was.  Like, did that really happen?  Did I dream it?

No, I have photos.  It happened.

It’s a tiny little restaurant, and like most ramen joints in Tokyo, you order from a machine by the door and then hand your ticket to the person behind the counter.

Hayashi in the Shibuya district of Toyko

A lot of ramen places will have condiments on the counter; not here.  You don’t need them.

The stock is a combination of pork and seafood — I haven’t had anything quite like it back home.  It’s magical.  There’s a very distinct seafoody (but definitely not fishy) flavour, which is complemented perfectly by the rich pork base.  Also, this was so subtle it might have been my imagination, but there was a hint of smokiness there.

Hayashi in the Shibuya district of Toyko

It was kind of insane how flavourful and complex it was; it felt like I was discovering something new with every mouthful.

The noodles were perfect — they had the perfect springy, chewy texture, and just the right amount of thickness.

And I mean, look at that egg.  The yolk was set, but just barely, with a delightfully creamy texture.  So damn good.

The slice of pork was the bowl’s only weak point.  It was fine, but it was a bit dry, and nothing particularly special.  But the rest of the bowl was so insanely good that it really didn’t matter.

Ramen Makes Everything Better

Ramen in Tokyo, JapanI had a hell of a time getting from Narita airport to my Airbnb in Tokyo.  I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong — I had the stops for each of my transfers written down, and it all seemed straightforward enough.  But somehow it went horribly awry, and I found myself staring at the almost comically complex criss-crossing lines of the Tokyo metro, wondering where I even was, or where I needed to go.

I’m still not entirely sure that I understand what’s what, but I think there’s actually more than one company that runs trains in the Tokyo metro, which means not all maps will have all the lines, and that it’s possible to buy a ticket for the right destination but the wrong line.  It’s ridiculously confusing.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

But I did eventually get to my Airbnb, where I discovered that there’s a ramen shop just steps away — so of course I went and got a bowl of ramen, and it was like all of my worries evaporated into the ether.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

Ordering couldn’t have been easier — there’s a machine by the door, and you just pick what you want, insert your money, and you get a ticket that you hand to the guy behind the counter.  You sit at the bar, and a few minutes later, you’re handed a steaming bowl of noodlely, soupy goodness.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

It was amazing.  The noodles were chewy and perfect, and the broth had an amazing richness and a downright impressive depth of flavour.  It was so good that I temporarily forgot how hot it was and wound up burning my tongue pretty badly.  Totally worth it.

Plus, though I’ve never quite understood the point of the nori sheets in ramen (other than as a decoration), these ones were heartier and more flavourful than what they serve at home, and actually complemented the ramen quite well.

Souping it up in Souptown

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South KoreaOne of the specialties in Busan is a soup called dwaeji gukbap — pork and rice soup.  There’s a whole stretch of road in the Seomyeon area of town that features nothing but one restaurant after another that specializes in the dish, so yeah, it’s a big deal here.

I picked one pretty much at random (I did have a recommendation, but the signs were all in Korean, so I had no idea which was which), and went in to get my soup on.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

They love including pictures in their menus here, which is a boon for clueless travelers like me, because I can just point to what I want to eat.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

The soup is an elaborate affair, coming with several bowls of condiments (and the requisite kimchi, of course).  It’s a bit bland at first, but once you start adding the various pastes, vinegars, and add-ons, the soup really comes alive.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

It’s incredibly hearty, too, with a ridiculous amount of very tender, thinly-sliced pork, and a heaping amount of rice.  It’s a really satisfying lunch.

Delicious (Not Seafood) Stew

Stew in Busan, South KoreaAfter visiting the Jagalchi Market, I was walking along the nearby vendor-festooned alley looking for something seafoody to eat.  When you visit a country’s largest fish market, you’ve pretty much gotta eat some seafood.  It would be weird if you didn’t.

I eventually found a stand with a few benches set up that had three big vats of stew they were serving up.  There were a couple of ladies eating something that looked quite hearty with noodles, so I sat down, pointed at their bowls, and I was off to the races.

Stew in Busan, South Korea

The owner of the stand got a bowl, filled it with some noodles, topped it up with stew from one of the bubbling pots, then finished off the bowl with a heaping spoonful of some kind of chili paste, and another spoonful of minced garlic.  She added a bit more broth on top, and then handed me the bowl.

Given the proximity to the Jagalchi Market, I had assumed this was going to be a seafood stew of some sort. It was not.  My disappointment quickly faded away, however, when I realized how delicious it was.

The stew was filled with huge chunks of ultra-tender beef brisket, blood cake, leeks, and the aforementioned noodles, all in an intensely flavourful, sweat-inducingly spicy broth.  It was so good.  And for only 4000 won (less than five bucks Canadian), it was a pretty amazing deal.

Pretty Much Just a Bowl of Melted Cheese

French onion soup from Au Pied de CochonNever mind what I said about the käsespätzle in Germany being the cheesiest thing I’ve ever eaten — it’s already been superseded by this insane bowl of French onion soup from Au Pied de Cochon in Paris.

This is a sentence I never thought I’d say, but this bowl of French onion soup might have been too cheesy.  I know, impossible, right?  But the layer of cheese was a solid inch thick.  It was nuts.

French onion soup from Au Pied de Cochon in Paris, France

It was so incredibly cheesy that, about halfway through, I realized that I was going to run out of soup before I ran out of cheese.  So I started eating enormous mouthfuls of pure cheese just to try to balance things out.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still quite tasty — in particular, the broth had an addictively intense flavour — but I think the phrase “too much of a good thing” probably applies here.