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Funnily enough, one of the best things I’ve eaten in Bangkok isn’t Thai at all — it’s Chinese, from a Michelin-rated restaurant in Bangkok’s Chinatown called Nai-Ek Roll Noodles.

As you’d expect from a place that’s cheap and Michelin-approved, it’s quite busy.  But the line moves fast, so within ten minutes or so, I was in.

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

The menu is fairly extensive, but “Roll Noodles” is right there in the name.  I got a bowl of noodle soup that came with minced pork, sliced pork, and crispy pork belly, along with some organs — stomach, liver, kidney, and tongue (plus, they don’t mention it in the menu, but there were also intestines in there; it was quite the cornucopia of pig innards).

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

It was really, really good.  The soup had a bit of a kick, with a nice peppery flavour.  And the noodles were kind of like a Chinese version of penne pasta.

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

Plus, the pork belly managed to stay crispy even in the soup, and all of the various organs were prepared perfectly — no off flavours here at all.

Obviously I wasn’t going to leave Vietnam without having pho.  I’m not a crazy person.

I didn’t know this before getting here, but there are actually two types of pho: there’s the beef version, called pho bo.  That’s the one that we’re more familiar with back home.  There’s also a chicken version called pho ga.

I tried both, of course.  Again, I’m not a crazy person.

First up is pho ga, the chicken version, which I had at a restaurant called Pho Lam Nam Ngu in Hanoi.

Pho in VietnamTopped with green onion and some sliced chicken, and served with a very generous amount of slightly mushy noodles, this was quite tasty.

It’s essentially the platonic ideal of a bowl of chicken soup; it had an exceptionally clean, simple (and delicious) flavour.  It’s tasty on its own, but once you jazz it up with a spritz of lime and a bit of the chili sauce they’ve got on the table, it really starts to sing.

Pho in Vietnam

I wish the noodles had been a bit firmer, but all in all this was a satisfying bowl of noodle soup.

The second restaurant was called Pho Gia Truyen.  It’s super popular.  The first time I showed up, the place was an absolute mad house; I came back the next day right when it opened, and there was still a line, but it was a bit more reasonable.

Pho in Vietnam

It’s packed for a reason.  The soup had such an intensely satisfying beefy flavour — with just enough spicing to compliment it but not get in the way — that I didn’t even bother putting any chili sauce or any of the other condiments on the table.  I didn’t want to mess with it.  It was perfection.

Pho in Vietnam

It was topped with a surprisingly generous amount of thinly-sliced beef; that beef was bananas.  It was super tender, with a shockingly rich flavour.  This was obviously some top-shelf stuff, because it tasted good.

Pho in Vietnam

The noodles were pretty great, too.  It’s easily the best bowl of pho that I’ve ever had.

Pho in Vietnam

I think I might have actually ruined pho for myself, because I’m never going to be able to find anything this good back home.  Oh well.

When I sat down to eat fish noodle soup (a Vietnamese dish called bun ca) at around eleven in the morning, I started to wonder: is this a mistake?  Maybe eating a potentially very pungent fishy soup for breakfast isn’t a great idea?

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

Well, it turns out it absolutely was a great idea, because the bun ca that they served at a placed called Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi was phenomenal.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

The broth, in particular, was something special: it was mildly seafoody, with a zingy, almost sour flavour that was given some added depth thanks to the fresh herbs, particularly dill.

The chewy noodles and crispy veggies worked great together, and there was a very generous amount of fried fish chunks.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

They must have fried the hell out of those things, because they somehow managed to retain their crunchy exterior right down to the last piece.  And yet the inside was tender and flaky.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was pretty amazing.

One 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

It’s kind of insane how much variety you can get with something as seemingly straightforward as noodles in soup. I just came from Japan, where I ate a ridiculous amount of ramen (a ridiculous amount. I wrote about nine of the bowls I ate on this blog, and there were many more bowls I ate that I didn’t bother posting about. I’m a fan of ramen, in case you couldn’t tell).

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

And yet the wonton noodle soup that I just ate at Mak’s Noodle couldn’t have been more different from ramen. It’s like comparing risotto with bibimbap; it’s the same basic idea, but executed in a radically different way.

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

Mak’s is famous for their shrimp wonton noodle soup, and it’s very easy to see why. The broth has a very clean and subtle (but delicious) flavour. It’s kicked up (if you choose) by the fiery chili paste on the table.

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

The noodles are satisfyingly firm — almost crispy — but it’s those shrimp wontons that really make this something special. My word, those wontons. Each one has two perfectly cooked pieces of shrimp, and the contrast in textures between the crunchy shrimp and the chewy wrapper is ridiculous. It’s so good.

One 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.

This 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.

I 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.

After 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.

The 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.