Welcome to my ramen dream... Currently being interpreted in Ramen Burger Land... Looking for a good slurp? Email me ! - Keizo

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ramen Farewell: Sayonara Tampopo - Rowland Heights, CA

I first began this blog almost one year ago exactly and my very first post just happened to be Tampopo in Rowland Heights. I'm not sure why I chose Tampopo to be the first--perhaps because they were also new and about to embark on a mission to feed the world with ramen--but it does make me a little sad to see them also be the first of all the ramen-ya's I've featured on this blog to close. Sunday June 1st will be their last day of operation so if you happen to read this in time and live nearby, you may want to bid them a ramen farewell.

I was the first one to arrive for lunch today and the sign above just said it all. It's unfortunate to see them go, but I have a feeling that the owner Tajima-san will be opening again in a different location relatively soon. After speaking with him for a generous amount of his time, he told me how he owns the Tampopo name and its recipe and briefly explained his plans to franchise the company. We both agreed that a more compact ramen-ya in an easily accessible area (Diamond Plaza is a traffic nightmare) would be a better experience for everyone. Hopefully Tajima-san won't wait too long to reopen. A world with one less ramen-ya is a world that I don't like being in.

One of the reasons why Tajima-san is closing this location is due to the increasing operating costs. Since tonkotsu ramen (their specialty) takes over 10 hours to cook everyday, the cost of the gas alone has increased ~$400 a month. After hearing that, I don't blame him at all.

So my last bowl (unless I go back again tomorrow) was the tonkotsu based Mabo ramen. I usually prefer the Mabo ramen with a shoyu base, but I just wanted something familiar yet different. I first fell in love with their Mabo early last year and would frequently hop in at lunch time for a quick satisfying bowl. This Mabo was no different. A thick, rich taste with excellent noodles and just enough spice to tingle your tongue.

I also got a half order of chahan to aid in moving the thick Mabo soup down my throat. Today's chahan was the best that I've tasted from all the other times I've ordered it at Tampopo. Perfectly fried without being overly greasy.

With that said, I reluctantly got up from my seat, bowed and shook hands with Tajima-san, gave him my regards, left the waitress a nice tip (she won't have a job after tomorrow), and swiftly exited Diamond Plaza most likely for the last time. Sayonara Tampopo!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

池袋大勝軒 特製もりそば つけ麺 - Ikebukuro Taishoken Special Morisoba Tsukemen

My recent reviews of instant nama ramen fittingly end with Yamagishi Kazuo-san's famous Morisoba tsukemen. Initially wanting to try this first, the expiration date (like before) has coincidentally led me to save the best for last. Are you ready?

The contents include:
  • 大勝軒 もりそば スープ (Taishoken Morisoba soup)
  • メン (noodles)
  • メンマ (menma/bamboo shoots)
  • チャーシュー (chashu)...yes I said chashu...I was surprised too!

Only one word can describe these noodles--perfection. I can't believe an instant ramen in a little box can contain such amazing noodles. Just holding them in my hands before boiling them felt like I was caressing royalty. They were softer than usual and free of all clumps, like every fresh noodle should be. And after a three minute bubble bath, they were ready for some skinny dipping.

I normally don't follow the directions when it comes to how much water I need to add to the soup, but since this was tsukemen I decided to use the precise amount. But wait, there's a problem: How do I measure 250cc? Since I left my graduated cylinder in science class long ago, I turned to everyone's best friend--google.

I'm not used to soups being this strong, but after a few dips I couldn't stop and was hoping that my bowl of noodles would never end. The soup was tangy with a strong fish essence that coated everything it touched with instant marination. The chashu was also amazing. As soon as I took it out of its airtight package, it began to break apart like all genuine slow-cooked chashu should. And it practically evaporated in my mouth. I'm still shocked that this box even contained chashu. This can't be real...I must be dreaming.

The menma was also surprisingly fresh. Chewy yet crunchy and brought to life by this soup.

So that's it for instant 生 ramen for awhile. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. Hopefully I'll be surprised by another package like this again soon. Especially since I have to find something to replace my weekend bike rides. Btw, my motorcycle is still missing and I've now considered lojack to be useless and a complete waste of money!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

桑名 (Kuwana) とんこつ Instant Ramen - さっぽろ 生ラーメン

Tonkotsu ramen from Sapporo may seem out of place, but lately it's been the norm as the different types of ramen have migrated throughout Japan. Kuwana's tonkotsu ramen is a prime example that can hold its own against the originators in the south. The owner even claims that the dreams of his small shop will ultimately reach the skies. And in order to let the ramen reach your soul, you must drink all the soup!

The contents include:
  • 桑名とんこつラーメンスープ (Kuwana tonkotsu soup)
  • 特製ガラスープ (Special Gara Soup)
  • 桑名調味油 (Kuwana Seasoned Oil)
  • メン (noodles)

So smooth. This ramen could pick up the ladies without lifting a noodle. It's truly a pop star! The extravagant hint of garlic and subtle sensation of sesame elevates this ramen to the heavens.

The dark speckles in the soup (it's not flea dirt) were from the seasoned oil that contained the key ingredients. If it weren't for this oil, this ramen would be far below average.

The noodles were softer than what I'm used to, but anything mixed with this soup becomes god-like.

Here's a little video of the soup showing its other worldly behavior. It almost seems to replicate the turbulent atmospheres of nearby planetary gas giants. Perhaps this is what the chef meant by reaching the skies.

すみれ (Sumire) Instant Ramen しお味 - 札幌ラーメン

My motorcycle was stolen today (ToT). My brand new 2008 sportbike...gone. In broad daylight from the apartment complex where I live...unbelievable. So naturally I turn to ramen for comfort. (Sorry if this is too much personal info, but it's just been a strange day.) Anyway, on to the review!

Having already tried Sumire's instant しょうゆ味 (shoyu) ramen and then their famous miso ramen at Mitsuwa's Legendary Ramen Fair shortly thereafter, the time has finally come to experience しお味 (shio). And if it's anything like the previous two, it shall not disappoint.

The contents include:
  • すみれ しおスープ (salt based soup)
  • 香油 (perfumed oil)
  • メンマ (bamboo shoots)
  • メン (noodles)
  • and a picture of their original shop with cooking directions on the back.

Slurp, slurp...slurp, slurp...aaaah. Ramen is the best comfort food and Sumire's Shio Ramen is pure Japanese soul food. The shio flavor (with hints of chicken, pork, and mirin) was amazingly light and refreshing, even on a hot day. The menma had a soft crunch that was remarkably fresh for having just traveled ten hours on a plane. No jet lag for this bowl!

As I expected, the noodles were excellent! Their firm, chewy texture made me daydream of a place where the best ramen-ya's are on every corner and where motorcycles never get stolen. Oh if life were only that good.

Although the feeling of having something taken from you sucks, I'm just glad it was only a motorcycle and not a friend or family member or a reader like you. If the police can't find it, insurance will take care of it--no big deal it can be replaced. I just hope they catch those bastards!

Monday, May 19, 2008

千歳王将 (Chitose Oushou) Instant Ramen

In the city of Chitose (near Sapporo), there lies a ramen-ya named Oushou and their famous 赤味噌 (Aka Miso) ramen. In the words of the chef, the soup feels so good going down your throat that once you give it a try you'll never be able to erase it from your mind. Those are some strong words and I have no doubt that his soup will live up to them.

The contents include:
  • 赤味噌ラーメンスープ (Red Miso Ramen Soup)
  • 特製ガラスープ (Special Gara Soup)
  • メン (Noodles)

It's not everyday that I can enjoy something solely exclusive to Japan while living here in Southern California. And even though it was reaching 100+ degrees today, I couldn't help but crank up the stove and start heating it up some more.

This Aka Miso ramen didn't taste like your average miso ramen. Could it be the chicken soup stock? Or the chef's secret miso recipe? Whatever it is, the soup's smooth earthy flavor was strong enough to ignite the senses. It tasted like royal blood pumped directly from nature's veins. And the chef was right! I won't be forgetting this taste anytime soon.

See how the soup stains the noodles as if to give them life. The texture of these noodles were outstanding and its sponge-like characteristic made them that much more enjoyable. I hope to someday visit Oushou in person.

Friday, May 16, 2008

青葉 (Aoba) らうめん Instant Ramen - 旭川ラーメン

Direct from a ramen-ya that's been around since 昭和22年 (1947), Aoba Raumen has a soup that's filled with history and claimed to be "the one." It contains a "perfect blend" of ocean and mountain ingredients that merge into a healthy soup with a deep, distinct flavor.

The contents include a pack of 生 ramen and a pouch of their Miso 味 soup. The unique part of this soup is that it's not from concentrate so there's no need to add any water. It comes straight as the chef intended.

A close-up look at the noodles before they get cooked. Can you see the freshness?

Similar to those instant curry packs, the soup pouch is heated by dipping it into a pot of boiling water. The directions say to begin cooking the noodles 1 minute after you drop the soup pouch into boiling water, but I made sure the soup was piping hot well before I started with the noodles.

And presto, Miso-aji ramen from Asahikawa city. I wish I could share the aroma of this soup with you. It is amazing! Who knew that combining the ocean with mountains would smell so good.

Similarly to Keyaki from neighboring Sapporo, this Miso ramen had a sweet and spicy flavor that makes your heart melt. The flavors are crazy! I'm not exactly sure what's in here, but they attack from every direction. And the best part about this soup is that it really does taste "healthy." I think I'm truly becoming a fan of miso.

The noodles were very fresh and chewy. I'm starting to believe that Hokkaido has some of the best noodles in all of Japan. But I won't give them that distinction just yet.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chibakiya - Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair

5/15(Thu) - 5/18(Sun) Torrance

Mitsuwa Marketplace
21515 Western Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 782-0335

So after driving from Costa Mesa all the way up to Glendale to sell my bro's car, I quietly coaxed my ride home into stopping by the Torrance Mitsuwa for a "scary surprise." Little did I know that the "scary surprise" was an $18 ramen! $18 good lord that's a lot of money!! This better be worth it.

Shark's Fin Ramen: I still can't believe this ramen cost $18. Can you? I'll just get straight to it. It was good, but to me not worth the $18. Don't get me wrong, the soup was delicious, although its とろみ was a little strange and disturbing for ramen. It tasted just like Shark's Fin soup I've had at the local Chinese Restaurant only it had noodles. I'm not sure how authentic it really is, but I felt a bit guilty eating it. The toppings (shark's fin, bok choy, hints of crab, onions, and probably some other stuff) were fitting for this ramen. For $18 though, it could've used a bigger bowl.

I wonder how shark's fin ends up looking like this...nevermind I don't wanna know.

The noodles were really good. I would pay $18 for a case of these noodles.

I took some takoyaki home and they were well worth it! Highly recommended!

For more info on the rest of the Torrance vendors you can read a detailed review of fellow blogger ExileKiss here.

Kujiraken - Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair

5/15(Thu) - 5/18(Sun) Costa Mesa

Mitsuwa Marketplace
665 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-6699

So I decided to ditch work (the perks of being self-employed) and head out to Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa for opening day of the Umaimono Gourmet Fair. I arrived sharply at 11:30 and circled the parking lot
for the next 20 minutes like a killer くじら (whale). I finally managed to squeeze into the smallest spot in compact row (you know...the row behind Ango Tei) and as luck would have it, I noticed another car's paint scratched across my bumper when I got back (it was actually my bro's car that I ended up selling later this afternoon so no worries). Anyway, I can't imagine what the parking will be like this weekend so you should probably go early or meet up with friend's at a different location and go in one car.

Kujiraken is from Kanagawa and "the sophisticated yet pronounced flavor of their soup is somehow nostalgic." I love Kanagawa. It's about an hour and a half south of Tokyo and I only know this because I have some good friend's that live there. Some of my best memories from Japan come straight outta Kanagawa and surprisingly enough, none of them involve ramen. But let's see if Kujiraken can still invoke some of that nostalgia that makes us scream なつかしい~~!

Shinasoba Ramen: Okay, so it's not as good as Shinasobaya, but it still felt refreshing to taste this Shinasoba from Kanagawa. Somewhat oily and extremely hot, this assari ramen, although delicious, was very difficult to describe. I'm not sure if I really liked it, but I know I didn't hate it. The noodles were slightly overcooked, but that could have been due to the time it took for me to get my camera working (I'll let it slide). The toppings (a roast beef like chashu, menma, negi, naruto, and nori) were delightfully different. Overall, I think it could have used more flavor. I may have to go back and try it again this weekend.

The thin noodles could have been firmer, but like I said above it was probably my own fault. I must go back again this weekend. Plus, that beef tongue looked really good. I'll have to try it.

It looked like the takoyaki from Takoya Kukuru was the most popular item from the fair. That line was at least 25 people long.

For more info on the rest of the Costa Mesa vendors you can read a detailed review of fellow blogger ExileKiss here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hachiya Instant Ramen - Reunited At Last!

I told you I would eat one tonight. Since these all expire in a few days, I think I'm in for a crazy weekend. Remember Hachiya? Remember their instant ramen? Well it's back and it's better than ever. I'll try to keep this short since I've already reviewed it so sit back, relax and imagine the perfect blend of fish and pork overtaking your sense of smell in the truest Asahikawa style.

A pack of noodles and a packet of soup. The noodles smell incredibly fresh!

Oh man...that is some good stuff! Can you taste it?

I need Kaedama!

Dark from afar, but clear from up close. Mmmm...


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Holy Shinachiku!! It's Ramen!

I got home from work today and noticed a strange package hanging out by my front door. Airmail? From Japan? What could it be?

Holy Shinachiku!! It's Ramen! Direct from the ShinYokohama Raumen Museum in Japan! I don't know what to say. It's like Christmas...in May!

Between the Umaimono Gourmet Fair and all this incredible 生 らーめん, it looks like I'll be in for a busy ramenlicious weekend. Mmm...I can taste the Hachiya and the Fukuchan and the Taishoken もりそば. I just might have to begin tonight after I get back from playing basketball. Be on the lookout for the reviews! If you can't wait, then maybe this will help. Hmm...maybe I'll even save one for a lucky reader to try...

Thanks go out to my bro and sis-n-law back in Tokyo for the shipment! Keep them coming!!