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On Eating Michelin-Starred Roast Goose in Hong Kong

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong KongOne of the things Hong Kong is known for is its various roasted meats — goose in particular.  I checked out a couple of goose joints that happen to have a Michelin star.  Yeah, they take their goose pretty seriously here.

The first one, Kam’s Roast Goose, was easily the most popular of the two.  It draws some pretty intense crowds, with a 40 minute wait on this particular evening.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose here was seriously tender with a really great flavour, though the skin wasn’t nearly as crispy as you’d hope.  It was quite good, but probably not worth the crazy wait.  The Michelin star seems like overkill.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The second place was called Yat Lok Restaurant; it definitely wasn’t as slick as Kam’s, but I think it was the better of the two.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose was equally tender and flavourful, and the skin had that amazing level of crispiness that you’re hoping for (though getting it in noodle soup — while delicious — probably wasn’t the best idea, because it quickly sogged up that great crispy skin).

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

A Face-Punch of Flavour

Hanamaruken in Osaka, JapanOne of the many (many many) things I love about ramen is how much variety you get from bowl to bowl.  There are so many different styles and types and varieties of ramen that what seems like it should be a simple dish (it’s just noodles and soup) has so much to offer.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

There are some bowls of ramen that are subtle and light; on the other end of the spectrum is the bowl of slow-cooked pork rib ramen I just had from Hanamaruken in Osaka.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

The broth here is unctuously, mouth-coatingly rich (though it thankfully never crosses the line into gravy soup territory).  It’s also intensely flavoured, with a seafoody punch rounding out the in-your-face porkiness.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle here; the flavour grabs you by the collar and screams in your face.  And yet it’s not overbearing or one-note.

But what really makes this ramen noteworthy is the slow-cooked pork rib on top, subbing in for the typical chashu.  It’s a big old hunk of deboned ribs that’s been slow-cooked until it’s so tender you can just pull chunks off with your chopsticks.  It’s also browned on the griddle to give it some additional flavour/texture.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

It’s so incredibly tender that even the cartilage has rendered down into a delicious, porky goo.  And yet the meat itself still has texture — it’s not mushy at all, which can sometimes happen with slow-cooked meat like this.

Feels Like the Very First Time

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, JapanThis is actually my second time in Osaka — the first time was about ten years ago.

While walking around Dotonbori, I came across a ramen joint with a giant cartoon dragon on the outside, and I suddenly got hit by a freight train of nostalgia.

Not only had I eaten here on my previous trip, but — and I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’m fairly confident — this is where I had my first bowl of real, non-instant ramen (you have to remember that the explosion of ramen joints in Toronto has only been in the last few years — rewind to a decade ago, and ramen was much more of a rarity in the GTA).

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

Though ramen is one of my favourite dishes now, it certainly wasn’t at the time, and this restaurant failed to ignite any sort of love for the dish.  Did I just not know how to appreciate a good bowl of ramen?

Nope, it’s pretty lousy (as you’d expect from a place with a big cartoon dragon mascot in the most touristy part of town).  The noodles were actually pretty good, but the broth was just one-note salty, and the pork was dry.

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

Still, the nostalgia!  Plus, how often to you get to revisit the place where you first tried one of your favourite meals?  Totally worth it.

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.

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.

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.