I woke up at 4 am to take those pictures I promised yesterday. With the sun about to rise in the distance, I witnessed Asahikawa's morning come alive. The road was slick with ice from last night's rain and the temperature was struggling to get back above freezing. It was cold, but it was so refreshing. Just being here felt like a dream. Rather than take the first train out to Sapporo, I stuck around to see more of the city and eventually made new friends. Asahikawa is a great place. I will be back someday.
I didn't plan on trying Santouka, but curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see how it compared to the version we see in the States. Plus, they were open at 9:30am and I couldn't resist an escape from the cold. I ordered the Shio Ramen with an Ajitsuki Tamago. Both were indeed better than any other Santouka I've tried. Unfortunately their toroniku wasn't ready this early, but the regular chashu was 10x better than back home. It would have been nice to try the toroniku as well.
Asahikawa's Ramen Village (らーめん村) is a bit detached from the main city. There's not really an easy way to get here unless it's by car. And since all the ramen-ya's featured have main hubs within the city, there's also no reason to come unless your shopping at the nearby Costco-like stores. Or if you're just plain crazy like me and want to say you've been there. The round trip taxi ride cost me about $40. I planned on trying Aoba, but they were closed. So I basically spent $40 bucks to go buy a couple key chains...it was so worth it! Haha!
After returning to Asahikawa Station, I walked down to Aoba's main location and contemplated entering. I was thinking about saving my stomach for Sapporo, but after a few passes back and forth I finally decided to step in. Aoba is the oldest ramen-ya in Asahikawa. It's been around for 63 years. Their classic soup is a clean and refreshing shoyu made with ingredients from the mountains and sea. Upon finishing my bowl, I was approached by Murayama-san, the owner, and we ended up talking for an hour. At 75 years young, he explained how his father first opened this shop and passed it on to him. His son recently built his own shop in Singapore and today just happened to be opening day. Murayama-san was a very, very nice person. And that's a huge understatement. Talking with him felt like I was talking to my own grandpa. I can't reveal what else we talked about, but it eventually led to an invitation to stay at his home the next time I'm in town. Can you believe it? How cool is that!
After reluctantly leaving Asahikawa, I was on the express train back to Sapporo. Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan and it shows immediately after stepping off the train. It's very similar to Tokyo in it's pace and there are many places to see and many ramen to eat. Precisely why I'll be spending two nights here! I'm staying in the Susukino district where one of the best attractions on this side of the world exists...
The Ramen Alley!! ラーメン横丁！A block south of Susukino station, this alley features 17 ramen-ya's in a row! 17!! Two nights are not gonna be enough. There's also a New Ramen Alley one block North, but that only houses 5 ramen-ya's. With a ramen-ya on virtually every corner, I think I've finally arrived in ramen heaven. I've heard stories but I never imagined it to be like this. I'm overwhelmed...haha.
Without a clue on which one was best, I decided to just step into the first shop on the left from the south entrance. It was called Aji No Karyu. Sapporo is famous for their Miso Ramen so of course that was what I ordered. My first sip was full of excitement. I instantly understood why many people say how Sapporo has the best ramen. Although I won't be too quick to make that claim myself, this miso ramen definitely had a hypnotizing effect. With plenty of moyashi, it also tasted very healthy.
Time to get some rest. I'm not leaving Sapporo without visiting the Sapporo Beer Garden and Museum either. So tomorrow may be one helluva day! Ramen then beer!