This is the first of many articles on ramen. To clarify, we’re talking about REAL RAMEN, not the instant packet variety that college students live off. We’re talking about cavernous bowls of egg-noodles immersed in carefully prepared broth, sprinkled with delightful toppings like braised pork and green onions.
Ramen, the heavyweight champ of Japanese comfort food, is currently taking the world by storm.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, ramen can be prepared in a number of painstaking ways, but there are 4 main groupings: 1) Tonkotsu (pork bone), 2) Miso (fermented soybeans), 3) Shoyu (soy sauce) & 4) Shio (salt).
But today we’re throwing out the traditional ramen playbook and are zooming in on 3 Tokyo ramen shops that have eyebrow-raising, off-the-wall ramen ingredients. Check ‘em out below!
#3 PINEAPPLE RAMEN
@ Papapapa Pine, Nishi-Ogikubo Station
Bringing together a salty shrimp-based broth and sweet pineapples might seem ludicrous…but that’s exactly what Papapapa Pine (パパパパパイン) has done.
The interior of Papapapa Pine constantly reminds that you’re in pineapple territory, right down to the pineapple patterned / colored countertop. Like most ramen shops, it’s an intimate experience – no tables, just the counter facing the chef. You get to see what he’s up to, up close.
This ramen is lighter in the calorie department, since its broth is almost vegetarian. Fish are considered vegetables in Japan. Your mouth might be confused at first – the cool slices of pineapples almost melt in the seafood flavored broth, providing that saltiness with an unfamiliar tropical twang. In summary, I like this ramen!
On a side note, the area around Papapapa Pine is terrific if you’re looking for a bit of Tokyo that’s frozen in time and off the beaten path. You’ll find little wooden drinking establishments in narrow alleyways, with business types and plain clothes civilians enjoying yakitori and beer at their tables.
Address: Plaza Building 108, 3-12-1 Suginami-ku, Nishi-Ogikubo, Tokyo
Train Station: Nishi-Ogikubo (Chūō Line – Rapid & Chūō-Sōbu Line)
Shop Hours: 11:00 – 20:00 (Closed on Wednesdays)*
#2 CHEESE RAMEN
@ Tsukumo Tonkotsu Ramen, Ebisu Station
Tsukumo Tonkotsu Ramen (九十九とんこつラーメン) has the odd (or awesome?) distinction of making their ramen with parmesan and gouda cheeses. If you like carbs and cheese, this is the place for you. You’ll notice the large plateau-shaped block of parmesan cheese on top of the broth. Breathtaking.
The dish in question is their “Marukyu Cheese” Ramen (元祖○究). It’s advertised as using “Hokkaido Tokachi Golden Gouda Cheese”. Hokkaido is Japan’s dairy heartland and the town of Tokachi is right in the middle of it. So the cheese in the broth is of high quality, made from 100% fresh Tokachi milk – milk that they have ripen for 6 months.
I thought I tasted miso and sure enough, the broth includes miso, alongside tonkotsu. It’s quite a challenge to finish a whole bowl, unless you grew up on a farm. But this Marukyu Cheese Ramen is worth the trip.
The light-colored wood everywhere makes it feel like you’re in a cabin in Northern Japan, except you’re not slurping up soba. There’s a table outside too, for when the weather is nice. An even bigger bonus is that they’re open until 5 am!
Address: 1-1-36 Shibuya-ku, Hiro, Tokyo (東京都渋谷区広尾1-1-36)
Train Station: Ebisu (Yamanote Line, 1 stop from Shibuya)
Shop Hours: 11:00 – 05:00*
#1 TEQUILA RAMEN
@ Menya Kouno, Nakamurabashi Station
Every ramen on Menya Kouno’s (麺や 河野) menu is your standard fare. Except for the “R-20 Tequila Ramen”, tucked away at the bottom of their ticket vending machine, right next to the button for beer or tequila. In this ramen, they don’t hold back on the tequila. As soon as that bowl of ramen plops on the counter, there’s tequila vapor hanging in the air, sending your nose into overdrive (and perhaps your mind into regret). It’s like dipping your noodles into watered down shots of tequila, but in a refined manner.
The shoyu broth is very salty and the tequila adds a confusing aftertaste, to put it mildly. But let’s point out this shop’s noodles are supreme. The noodles are hand-made – there are still traces of flour and they’re uneven, since the owner attentively cuts them one by one. Like a humongous-sized pizza dough that was folded over many times, the noodles are thick yet al dente-like in texture…like perfect fettuccine.
The pork in the ramen bowl was a surprise – not like chāshū, but tasting more like spiced ham. As to the other toppings – the cilantro helped offset the tequila somewhat and the lime placed at the edge of the bowl made me want a Corona.
After finishing the bowl, I was still hungry. I staggered out of my seat and from the vending machine bought a ticket for shoyu ramen. I have to say their shoyu ramen is great – perfect noodles, bite-sized green onions, and an egg that’s soft all around, with a perfectly creamy center (半熟味玉).
So my recommendation would be to order this tequila ramen to pregame and then finish off with a bowl of shoyu ramen.
Menya Kouno is a cozy little spot – you’ll feel right at home. Bear in mind that you have to travel deep for this one, all the way to Nakamurabashi Station, which sounds like it could be a train station in Kyoto.
Address: 3-13-10 Nerima-ku, Nakamura, Tokyo (東京都練馬区中村3-13-10)
Train Station: Nakamurabashi (Seibu Ikebukuro Line, 9 stops from Ikebukuro)
Shop Hours: 11:30 – 14:00 / 17:00 – 21:00*
* Shop hours are as of June 2015 – taken from respective homepages
There is plenty more bizarre ramen out there…so there will be a PART 2! Let us know if you know any ramen spots with some strange ingredients!