Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back in the saddle again - the food saddle, that is!

After reacquainting ourselves with all the lovely food of Midwest America, we are back to our food adventures in Tokyo.

A recent article in the New York Times about ramen, the famous Japanese noodle/soup, recently got our taste buds quivering. It profiles some of the best and most interesting ramen shops in Tokyo, as well as exploring the whole culture of ramen. We have already found some ramen treasures out there, especially the yuzu ramen that Joan wrote about earlier.

We tracked down the closest ramen oasis and made plans to bicycle there to meet Peter, a fellow teacher who lives near the shop. Ivan Ramen was opened three years ago by a New York city chef who had made Japan his home and decided to take on an interesting challenge: could a "gaijin" (foreigner) make ramen good enough to win over natives who consider it a key element of their culture?

Well, after a 45-minute bike ride, the line of 20 people waiting outside the small shop on a sunny Saturday afternoon seemed to answer that question. As we waited for customers to duck into the shop, slurp their big bowls of noodles, and quickly clear the stool seats for the next hungry person, Ivan, himself, came out to say hello. Fluent in Japanese, he greeted everyone and thanked them for their patience. Switching over to English, he eagerly told us his story of how he ended up with a tiny noodle shop on a back street in Tokyo. He also guided us through the menu and made some recommendations. The smell filling the small alley made us salivate.

We finally ducked through the curtained doorway and took our seats, eager to order and get to work.

After a flurry of finger pointing at the menu and "Hai. Hai," one of the five busy guys behind the counter called out our order.

Soon, we received our bowls of goodness. As a change from my normal choice of traditional soupy ramen, I ordered Spicy Red Chilli Men, with a smaller volume of oily sauce on top of sautéed tomatoes and eggplant with a piece of grilled pork.

Joan does not care as much for soupy ramen, so she ordered hers "tsukemen" style, with the noodles served separately (hot or cold) to be dunked in a dish of dipping sauce. She ordered hot, rye-flour noodles that came with a creamy, spicy chilli-sesame sauce.

Wow. Let's just say we'll take you there when you come for a visit. That's all you need to know about how good it was.

And to finish it all off, Ivan followed us out of his shop and stood on the sidewalk with us for over 20 minutes, telling us all about his ramen adventures, especially becoming a TV celebrity on"ramen game shows."

We will definitely be back to try his other offerings, both traditional and not. We are also making plans to try out some of the other shops profiled in the NYT article, especially Basanova on the west side of Shibuya. Their green curry ramen sounds delicious but inconceivable!

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