Hi all! Where the hell have I been? Well...
Could we? Could we?
Of course we could.
So before good sense and practicality could kick in, we found ourselves on a plane to Narita, digging through English-language Tokyo food blogs and guide printouts.
I should be able to find a more elegant phrase for this, but...Tokyo is awesome. Jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly grand. There is just no way to encompass the scale, the vastness, the juxtaposition of the modern and the sacred, of blazing pop culture and well-ingrained gentility. I am floored, and only sad SSFL and I couldn't afford to stay longer.
And the food...oooooh...the food. It's everywhere, in pristine markets and side-street stalls, French bakeries and single-dish mom-and-pop counters, ramen joints and Michelin-starred giants. New Yorkers fancy themselves foodies, but for the peeps in Tokyo, the phrase is meaningless, because everyone is a foodie.
The only thing they like better than good eats is waiting for niche good eats in long lines. (And warm toilet seats. Tokyoites have decided that it's their God-given right that every john be electrically heated. Bless them.)
There are department store basement food courts/markets (depachika) that span entire city blocks; The Food Show in Shibuya makes Bowery Whole Foods look like the Circle K. (And speaking of Circle K, their convenience stores kick the crap out of ours, too!) Never in my life have I experienced food overwhelm, but let me tell ya, I did in Shibuya. ("OMG! We CAN'T GET OUT! I CAN'T EAT EVERYTHING! Heeeeeeeeeelp!!!") More on that later.
We didn't have to go far. Not even half a block from us, a friendly young man greeted us warmly, and slid the door open to an empty little ramen-ya. We let him and the incredible umami fumes wave us in.
Sorry I didn't get a pic of this, but for a lot of these ramen places, you do your ordering/paying right up front on a push-button machine that gives you change and generates your ticket for the kitchen.
Luckily, this one had pictures, so it was a little bit less of a crap shoot than it would have been with straight-up characters. We chose 2 bowls and a side of gyoza, and sat at the counter in drooling anticipation.
We looked at a few ramen blogs to vaguely acclimate ourselves with this city's noodle-soup fetish, but honestly, I don't think either of us have a practiced enough palate to distinguish between good Tokyo ramen and bad.
But I can easily say I've never had any noodles this good in any fancypants ramen place in NYC. SSFL and I were stunned as we seeped in the steam from our bowls.
Meet Hakata/Tonkotsu ramen: Thin, perfectly al dente noodles, milky pork-bone broth, pork belly, charsiu, menma (braised bamboo shoots), and a custardy slow-poached egg. Seems simple, but deadly rich, and absolutely savory and comforting.
Second bowl...my best guess is that it was Kumamoto/Toroniku ramen:
She had a lighter-looking broth, but it was tricky--there was a good 1/4-inch of pork fat/garlic oil on top of that lovely soup. Topped with raw cabbage, charsiu, more pork belly and menma, soft egg and a few wonton skins, this blonder bowl was a force to be reckoned with.
Each bowl was (I think) about 700-800 yen, so just about $7-8 USD. HELL yes.
To our shame, neither of us finished, but not from lack of desire. We looked mournfully at the remaining noodles, conceded defeat, thanked the sweet ramen-men profusely, and made our way down the street.
A most fortuitous beginning to our trip!
Being gaijin, I'm not sure of the name, but here's 'tis on a map:
View EF in Tokyo! in a larger mapHappy hunting! Will be back with the edible aquatic wonderland, better known as the Tsukiji Fish Market. Stay tuned!