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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dream Ramen Journey of 2009 - Recap

28 days, 21 cities, 55 bowls of ramen. Wow! Even I'm shocked. A part of me can't believe I survived. I guess a diet of REAL ramen won't kill you after all. Anyway, I've already said how amazing this trip was, so let me leave you with some thoughts about the cities I visited. The most relaxed city was Kushiro mostly because nothing was going on. The weirdest city was Tenri because everyone was wearing the same thing. The most tourist friendly city was Hakodate. The most foreigners I saw in one city (aside from Tokyo) was Hiroshima. The least tourist friendly city was Tenri. The best ramen-themed town was Kitakata. The city that everyone should visit at least once for their ramen would be Hakata. The most inspiring city was a tie between Onomichi and Wakayama (although it would have been nice to see Kagoshima without all the ash). The city I can see myself living in the most (aside from Tokyo) would be Asahikawa (Hiroshima a close second). And last but not least, the best ramen in Japan comes from...everywhere!
Whether it be ramen-related or not, feel free to contact me if you would like more information on these cities. I've saved all my maps and the routes I took to get to them and I'd be more than happy to share them with you. One word of advice: Wear a good pair of shoes! And if you really do decide to go, good luck and have fun! Soak and slurp it all in!!

To be continued...(someday)...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 28 - Going home...

I'm back in LA without incident. Overall, I'd say it was a very successful trip. I'm extremely thankful for everyone who helped me out...you know who you are. I definitely couldn't have done it without you! And thanks to everyone I met along the way for making this a special experience I'll never forget. Lastly, I'd like to thank all my readers for actually showing you care about some geeky nerd traveling around slurping ramen noodles. You helped me push through those hard days when I just felt like giving up. Being able to share my stories daily really helped to cope with the issues of traveling alone in a foreign country where I can barely speak the language. (No really, my Japanese skills are pretty weak.) As this dream is officially coming to an end, it has opened the door for a new one to follow. Stay tuned and you will soon see what I mean...Thanks again!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 27 - Eating ramen at the Tsukiji Fish Market...

With this being my last full day, you might have thought that I would go on some crazy last minute ramen eating tour of Tokyo. Well...I thought about it and decided not to. I'll be back someday so no need to rush things. Plus, I think I've had a pretty successful trip. So instead, it was just one bowl and the last chance for great sushi. Then it was off to celebrate my niece turning two...

I'm now at a loss for words. I don't want to leave but know that I must. Next stop...Narita airport. See you in LA!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 26 - Ramen Round Table...in Japan!

After spending way too much money on instant ramen at the Raumen Museum earlier in the day, it was time to meet up with two prominent Tokyo ramen bloggers for dinner: Nate from Waseda Ramen and Brian from Ramen Adventures. It was a good night of slurping ramen, having a few drinks, sharing our own ramen stories, and dancing like Kusanagi in the park. Wait, maybe I did that last part by myself...haha.

I have one more full day left in Tokyo, but I've already realized my trip has come to an end. I'm not sure how I'm gonna go back to work on Friday. It's gonna be tough...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 25 - Back to Tokyo I go...

I can't believe I just traveled to 21 of the 28 or so ramen cities in Japan. I only wish I had another month to do it all over again. Now, it's time to unwind in Tokyo for the next few days. One thing is for sure, I'm gonna sleep in as long as I can tomorrow. I spent the day meeting old family friends in Shizuoka that I haven't seen for years and it was great to see them again. One of them asked me how many bowls of ramen I've eaten already and I couldn't give them an exact answer. I really haven't been keeping count. Have you? It's gotta be over 30 right? I don't know. I'll do the count later. Anyway, Fujisan was cloudy all day so I couldn't really get a good shot. But if you want to see some amazing pics, check out Gaijin Bash's post last weekend. Lates. I'm out!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day 24 - The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

After browsing rameniac's site the other day, I decided to rearrange my plans in order to visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. Unfortunately, that would mean I wouldn't get to spend much time in Nagoya, if any at all. With the rain pouring outside, I set out to make it to both regardless of how drenched I got. And in the end, I was sitting in deep relaxation at the onsen in Atami looking back at it all...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 23 - The Alchemist must live in Kyoto...

As this journey nears its end, I found the perfect place to reflect upon the past three weeks. It's been amazing! Virtually unbelievable! So with only four full days left, I set out to make up for lost time. Today was crazy. I started out at Kyoto with the intent to see as much as I could in 2 hours. With so many places to choose from, I only had time to visit Kinkakuji. I had been here several years ago, but I really wanted to show all of you its breathtaking visual. I think the pictures say it all. I even met a deaf mute man that gave me a taxi ride I'll never forget. Then it was off to Tenri where everything moved slow and didn't open until night. I must have walked for at least an hour in search of the elusive Tenri Ramen. Seriously, the nearest ramen-ya to the station open for lunch was roughly 2 miles away. After a quick slurp and quick retreat from Tenri, I made the 2-hour train trek back to Wakayama. I wasn't gonna leave until I ate at Ide Shoten and man was it worth it! Finally, it was back to Osaka for the night where I decided to enjoy a 280 yen Yoshinoya Gyu-don. Don't ask me why. It just felt like the perfect ending.

Clockwise from top left: Tenka Ippin, Saika Ramen, Yoshinoya, and Ide Shoten. This is what I ate for the day. It's probably not a diet recommended by mom or your doctor, but damn was it good! Haha. And please...eat at your own risk. :)

So without further ado, I give you the daily slide show. Next up Nagoya and the hot springs of Atami...oooh yeah.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 22 - Wakayama's Castle in the sky...

I woke up this morning feeling like crap. My body ached, my head hurt, and my nose would not stop running. I missed my morning train out of Hiroshima and contemplated staying one more day. Nope! I wasn't gonna let a little cold ruin this trip for me...or you! So I finally left Hiroshima around noon with Shin-Osaka in my sight. And after a quick check-in at my hotel, it was off to Wakayama.

Thursday is probably one of the worst days to visit Wakayama. For some reason almost everything closes on a Thursday. As luck would have it, today was a Thursday. I've been eagerly awaiting to try the famed Ide Shoten for days now and of course it too was closed. Perhaps I should have stayed in Hiroshima.

But I did manage to find one place that was open--Marutaka Chuuka Soba. It wasn't as popular or famous as Ide Shoten but it represented the Wakayama style very well, a tonkotsu-shoyu ramen with a deep, distinct flavor. You don't know how good this ramen made me feel.

So after a satisfying meal, I decided to walk the streets of Wakayama when I turned the corner and saw this amazing castle floating in the sky. It was an unexpected sight in the middle of an urban street. The park around it was so peaceful. Walking around it proved to be a fitting end to a rather tumultous day. Have I ever thanked you for reading my blog? Thank you...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 21 - Swaying in the Cool Onomichi Breeze...

Onomichi is technically still considered part of Hiroshima, but it is home to an entirely different breed of ramen. As you'll see in the pictures, the soup is clear aside from the island bits of fat floating on the surface. The people are genuinely friendly and will do whatever they can to help you enjoy your stay. It's a romantic artsy town located along the Seto Inland Sea. Another day here and I might have been inspired to write a book...

I'm back in Hiroshima for the night. I thought I'd get this post out a little early so I can be free to roam the town and eat okonomiyaki. Tomorrow I'm off to Osaka, which will be my hub for the next two days. I'm hoping to branch out from there and visit Wakayama, Tenri, and Kyoto. There's not really an "Osaka Ramen" but I may just consume a bowl for the sake of it. Only 7 days left...let's not even think about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 20 - Experiencing Peace in Hiroshima

If you haven't been to Hiroshima, I recommend that you try. It's a very historical city that will grab you by the heart and show you what makes it beat. I have history here as well. My father was born in Hiroshima and was 3 years old when the bomb was dropped. Luckily, his family lived on the other side of a hill that shielded them from the blast and radiation. Everybody, at least once in their lives, needs to visit Hiroshima and its Peace Museum. I first came when I was nineteen and it changed my life forever.

As you may have seen in the slideshow, I visited three ramen-ya's today and one crazy izakaya. The first was Ichimasa, which is run by the old owners of Ebisu Market in Fountain Valley back when it was just a market. [Many thanks to the Doi family for taking me out tonight!] The other two are staples of Hiroshima Ramen. I'll give full reviews when I get back home, but Suzume was some of the best tasting shoyu-tonkotsu I've had yet...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 19 - Hakata Ramen...need I say more?

I bet if I took a bath and soaked my body in the tub for 12 hours, I'd end up with some pretty astonishing tonkotsu soup. Sorry about the visual, but after consuming four bowls in less than ten hours you probably know what I'm talking about. I set out to try 2 bowls max today, then I don't know what happened. There's something addictive about the ramen here. It's hypnotizing. I'm still craving it as I write this. I'm doomed, yet totally satisfied. Between the collagen and the fat, I think I'm on pace to be the prettiest heavy person alive.

When I first arrived at Hakata Station and grabbed a copy of the local ramen map, a taxi driver saw me fumbling through it and asked "Oi nani sagashitenno (What are you looking for)?" When I told him I was looking for the best ramen-ya in the area he then told me to just ride with him for the day and he'd take me to all of them. Thanks but no thanks. Sounds like fun but that would probably cost me a fortune. He then said "Ichiban ume~ no wa Ganso Nagahama da yo. Ajinomoto tappuri irete suge~ oishii." Basically, that translates to 'go to Ganso Nagahama cuz they use a lot of MSG and it's damn good!' So I went and...it was damn good! In Japan, ajinomoto is your friend. If anything, it makes you feel happier.

I had dreamt about coming to Canal City's Raumen Stadium before. So I guess you can call this a dream come true. But then again, I always dream about ramen and this whole trip has been one big dream come true. Anyway, I felt like something different but still considered Hakata. So I ordered the tsukemen from Hakata Gensuke. It definitely didn't feel like Hakata, but I guess I can now say that I've tried Hakata-style tsukemen at the Raumen Stadium 2. Sweet!

After checking into my hotel and taking a short break while watching the rain soak the street below my window, I finally decided to go get out and get wet myself. So it was back to Canal City, but this time I headed for the basement. I had heard about Ichiran and its private stalls before but never experienced it first hand. The ramen was great and the experience was one-of-a-kind. Although I did miss being able to observe the hustle-and-bustle of a ramen-ya.

I then set out to find the yatai Ichiryu in honor of a true rameniac, but it wasn't where it was supposed to be. I spent about an hour walking around Nakasu, asking just about every conbini and they all pointed me to the same direction. But I swear, it wasn't there. So after my 5th time walking by, I finally just settled with Hakata-Nagahama Ramen Yamachan. It probably wasn't the greatest ramen in the area (though it was the most crowded), but there's something about just being there that makes it special. The whole mood of sitting at a yatai at night next to a river in Hakata is unfathomable, yet very explicable. It's gonna be hard to fight this addiction.

I leave you with the rest of my pictures from my day in Hakata. As I much as I don't want to leave, I've been looking forward to tomorrow for a very long time. I hope to see you then. Oyasumi!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day 18 - Driving through Kumamoto then Kurume

I'm staying at a friend's house in Fukuoka without an internet connection and I have been trying unsuccessfully for hours to borrow someone's wifi. I finally found one but it keeps cutting me off so I'll make this quick. I left Miyazaki this morning en route to Fukuoka and stopped at Kumamoto and Kurume along the way. I wish I could have stayed longer but I guess that's just how things turned out. Tomorrow will be fun in the sun in Hakata! At least I hope so cuz there may be rain in the forecast. Anyway, sorry I can't write more. Both bowls I ate today were very good. Enjoy the slideshow.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Day 17 - Miyazaki Ramen and the Ogre's Washboard.

Miyazaki is a mythical land with beautiful flowers, temples, islands, bridges, rivers, monuments, and food. The ramen plays second fiddle to the more popular udon, but it still stands out in my mind. Like Kagoshima, the Miyazaki accent is thick and sounds cool but is very hard for me to understand. They say the two are different, but I can't tell. Anyway, today was the longest day of my trip so far. It definitely helps when people you know have a car and can drive you all around the city. I was very lucky. So instead of continuing to babble, hopefully you'll enjoy this day in pictures.

Ramen Hibiki is probably the most popular ramen shop in Miyazaki right now. I'm not sure if it's the best, but they claim to serve authentic Miyazaki Ramen so that's good enough for me. A light tonkotsu with a dab of shoyu, the soup is smooth and will instantly change your mood. The chashu was a little tougher than I expected but the hanjuku egg made up for it. All in all, it was very good.

I initially expected to try only one ramen-ya in Miyazaki, but fate led me to Ramen Kimura and I couldn't escape the urge. The soup here was a tad lighter then Hibiki, but the chashu was incredible. I can't even describe how good it was. I never was a big fan of tonkotsu ramen, but I have a feeling this trip might change things.

And I wasn't gonna leave without trying the Miyazaki Beef! Oh man, this steak was good. I wouldn't say it was better then Yonezawa, but it was real close. They both had that melt-in-your-mouth feel, unlike any other steak I've had before.

Now it's time to head north! Kumamoto, Kurume, Hakata here I come!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day 16 - The volcanic gloom of Kagoshima

I arrived in Kagoshima after a two-hour flight and a 45-minute bus ride to the main train station only to discover a city full of dust and ash. In recent days, Sakurajima (one of Japan's most active volcanoes) began spewing ash all over Kagoshima City, creating a gloom that masked the normally beautiful harbor. Walking around proved to be difficult without accumulating a bad taste in my mouth. I thought about staying longer, but the air did not agree with my lungs. Time to just get in a couple bowls and head out to Miyazaki.

My first bowl of Kagoshima Ramen came from a place called Wadaya. It was a traditionally light tonkotsu ramen with plenty of fresh moyashi and kikurage. It was definitely interesting to say the least. A tonkotsu flavor that doesn't quite scream Kyushu, but is very typical of Kagoshima.

My second bowl came from a place called Garufu. They had a delicious-looking Kagoshima Kurobuta Ramen that caught my eye as I walked by. With so many ramen-ya's to choose from, I had to make a quick choice. The thinly sliced kurobuta was great and gave the tonkotsu base a rich, heart-stopping flavor. I honestly felt my heart stop as the soup passed through my esophagus. Good or bad, it's gonna be a crazy week in South Japan!

I wish I can elaborate some more on this day, but you know what? I'm just way too tired. Gomen. I finally arrived in Miyazaki and went out to dinner with some family friends that live in the area. They took me to some awesome tempura restaurant called Edokko in the heart of Miyazaki city. Unfortunately, it was a small restaurant frequented amongst the locals and I didn't want to be rude with my camera. Trust me, it was amazing! Anyway, tomorrow should be fun. Miyazaki Ramen here I come!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 15 - Surfing Shibuya and Okinawa Seimen

While surfing the net today for a place to eat in Shibuya, I came across Hayashi on tabelog. Located only 2 minutes around the corner from the Keio Inokashira Line, this ramen-ya is only open for four hours each day. With only three items on the menu, get there early to avoid the long line.

The Yakibuta Ramen is their most popular. With several slices of moist chashu, two-halves of melodically marinated hanjuku tamago, and thick sticks of menma, I can easily see why. It represents the new generation of Tokyo Ramen that's been grazing the top of the rankings in recent years. It's not the best I've ever tried, but it's definitely worth a try. Shops like this are what makes ramen feel so special.

Okinawa Town in Daitabashi is located within minutes on foot from where I am staying in Tokyo. And since I won't have a chance to visit Okinawa on this trip, I thought this might be the next best thing. Syuri Seimen is a ramen-ya that serves Okinawa's version of ramen. With handmade noodles and two types of dashi, you're just one Okinawan sake bottle away from being transported. And oh yeah, they have Okinawan sake too!

The Souki Suba is what they are most famous for. The souki refers to the huge piece of tender pork rib crowding the bowl. For this ramen, I chose the original dashi made with Okinawan konbu, tonkotsu, tori gara, shio, and katsuo. It was somewhat heavy, yet pure.

The Okinawa Suba with the traditional okidashi soup base was a good representation of what Okinawa offers to the world of ramen. So I was told. This simple soup made with fish and konbu, was surprisingly more flavorful than the other dashi with tonkotsu. With two fat pieces of kakuni, it even felt like a complete meal.

Time for the daily slideshow. Now I gotta go pack for Kyushu!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 14 - Hangin' out with Uncle Tan Tan...

My niece asked my brother today, "Why does uncle eat so much ramen?" Then we all just busted out laughing. Haha! It was hilarious, but I guess you had to be there. Hopefully, today's slideshow will make you feel like you were.

I met my brother for lunch in Akasaka today because he swears that he works near the best Tan Tan Ramen shop in Tokyo. And you know what? He may be right! Intense, spicy, hot, sinus-clearing. Those are just a few ways to describe it. Chinese Restaurant Takekuma is a hidden gem waiting to be exposed! They also have a good Hot & Sour Ramen and an impressive Vegetable Tan Men.

Just down the street is Akasaka Ramen and their Pork Shabu Tsukemen Challenge. $100 for anyone that can finish it! Shall I give it a try? Maybe soon but not today...

Today was mostly about hangin' out with my nieces. They are so damn cute! Future ramen geeks better watch out!

Got another day in Tokyo tomorrow until it's off to Kyushu. Can't wait!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 13 - Sano...another small town, another long walk.

Sano is another city that claims to have great water, which ultimately translates to great ramen. Like most small towns, the best ramen shops lie far, far away from the station. Some too far to even think about walking. But I, being a sucker for a little adventure, will walk anywhere and everywhere in search of the best. After all that's part of the fun. Luckily, I didn't have to walk as far as I first thought I would. 20 minutes one way was all it took and I still made it back in time to catch my reserved train to Tokyo.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you THE BEST GYOZA I've ever eaten in my life! Hands Down! Ever!! They come from a place called Tamuraya--a ramen-ya that hand makes their noodles and gyoza skins on a daily basis. And they are stuffed (and I mean STUFFED) with some of the freshest ingredients on this Earth, at least they tasted that way.

The Shoyu Ramen was also sensational! They only use a small dab of shoyu tare, which gives it a light, refreshing flavor. It actually tastes more like shio ramen with a hint of shoyu. The thick, flat noodles are probably top 5, if not the best so far that I've had on this trip. Sano Ramen has definitely left an indelible impression. If you're in Tokyo, I highly recommend that you go. It's less than two hours away by train and very, very, very worth it!

I'll be back in Tokyo for a couple days to unwind and prepare for the rest of my trip. I'm not sure what I'll be doing or where I'll be going, but rest assured I'll find something.

I'm meeting Brian again in Shibuya tonight, so look out for some additional ramen pics in the slide show very soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 12 - Kitakata, Shirakawa, and the snoring salary man.

Like Yonezawa, Kitakata is a small mountain town that specializes in shoyu ramen. The only difference: Kitakata IS just a ramen town. It's almost as if a ramen park took over the city! There's so much to choose from, each with its own flair, and a ramen guide you can pick up at the station tells you everything you need to know. With my backpack feeling like 300 pounds and blisters ripening on my feet, I almost decided not to come. But since I'm doing it for the love, my choice to come was definitely rewarded.

The first ever ramen-ya to make Kitakata Ramen famous was Gen Rai Ken. They feature a Kitakata style shoyu ramen made entirely with chicken stock. It was damn good!

Shirakawa is a town best known for their pure mountain spring water. It's so pure that every ramen-ya in the city makes their own noodle with it. After a long walk through the wilderness (don't ask), I finally settled upon Menshou--a rare restaurant that stays open even on Mondays. Similar to Kitakata style, this assari-kei ramen is made from both tonkotsu and torigara.

This is the dude I ended up having to sit next to on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. All I have to say is thank goodness for ipods. I don't know what I would have done without it.

I'm starting to get sleepy like that guy above. I think it's time to get some zzz's. I still have one day left on my rail pass so it'll be off to Sano in the morning. More local trains! Hopefully it'll be as easy as today.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 11 - Last call for crab. Bring on the beef!

I wasn't about to leave Hokkaido without trying some of their fresh seafood. And after spending a restless night in a haunted hotel, I couldn't wait for the morning market to open. Luckily, I found a place that let me in early. Hakodate is definitely a place for seafood, but don't you dare pass up the ramen either.

Four trains and six hours later, I finally arrived in Yonezawa. I thought it would be cold due to the higher elevation but it was actually quite hot. So hot that I had to change into a pair of shorts when I got to the hotel. Anyway, Yonezawa is a quiet, peaceful town that's similar to the town in Initial D. Although it's not Gunma, I bet there's a Fujuwara Tofu Shop somewhere close by. It also seems like every teenager drives a WRX. If that doesn't scream drift town I don't know what does. Yonezawa is most famous for their beef. Supposedly, it's better than the beef from that other city, but I wouldn't know. The town is also quite misleading. Don't ever trust the station map because everything here is further than it seems.

Although Ryushanhai is not typically refered to as being "Yonezawa Ramen", it wasn't something I wanted to pass up. This ramen is soulful and sinful with all the best intentions. The Karamiso is just incredible! I love this trip!

Yonezawa's traditional type is Shoyu. Sort of like this Shoyu Ramen from Ramen Wakou. It's very similar to Tokyo's Chuuka Soba, but has a distinct flavor from all that pepper. It's very light and absolutely refreshing. I'm not sure if the noodles were homemade, but they were the thin, curly kind.

Even though it made a huge dent in my wallet, I had to give it a try. The steak just melted in my mouth as if I had never even swallowed. Wow! It was incredibly tender.

Here are some more pics of the day. I may have a really hectic day with the trains tomorrow, so let's hope I don't get lost. Eventually I'll end the night back in Tokyo, so here's to my trip up north. Cheers!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day 10 - Hakodate...The City of Lights!

I took over 500 pictures today. With that said, I think it would be better to tell the story of Day 10 through pictures. Don't worry, it's not all 500.

Hakodate was a blast! I hope this slideshow allows you to see that too. Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 9 - Sapporo Ramen, Sapporo Beer, Sapporo Keizo?

For the record, I'm changing my name to Sapporo Keizo. It was inevitable. We all knew it was going to happen. I've been touched by the polaris emblem and my whole ramen world has forever changed. It's only day 9 and so far I've had the trip of my life. The ramen in Sapporo (and everything else for that matter) has been excellent and worth every penny (or should I say yen). I spent the day walking more than I intended to and I really got to see how this city moves. It's like Tokyo, but it's not. I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that, but let's just roll with it. Bartender, I think it's time to cut me off.

Sumire is a legendary ramen shop that has been highly ranked in the Sapporo Ramen scene for several years now. They've even made a couple of visits across the Pacific during Mitsuwa's little food fairs. Anyway, those styrofoam bowls don't compare at all to the ramen I ate today. Sumire's miso ramen was unbelievable!! Served piping hot, every bit of volume was earth-shatteringly good. The sliced onions, the ground pork, and the savory miso. There's no way this stuff can be legal!

Within the JR Tower on the 10th floor of the ESTA building, Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku brings together 8 famous ramen-ya's from around Hokkaido to one convenient location. So if you don't have time to explore or if you're only in Sapporo for a short layover, there's no excuse for not being able to try some of the best ramen out there. There's also a souvenir shop that will take care of all your omiyage needs.

This is all you need to know: Proceed out the North exit of Sapporo Station and find the bus terminal for #188. That bus will take you straight to the Sapporo Beer Museum for just 200 yen. Once there, go straight to the bar on the second floor! Haha! The set pictured below only costs 400 yen, which is like $4.

Once back in Susukino, I decided to end my stay with the butter corn of Keyaki. One word: smooth. Located a block south of Ramen Alley, it's arguably the best ramen-ya in Suskino. I wouldn't argue, but quite frankly my tongue is so numb from the intense heat I can barely talk.

And with that last note, I bid Sapporo farewell. Thanks for the memories...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day 8 - Asahikawa by day, Sapporo by night.

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!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Day 7 - The cold clamor of Asahikawa...Lovely!

When the train first arrived at Asahikawa, I thought to myself "where the f*** am I?" And then I met the people, walked the city, ate the ramen, and instantly fell in love. Asahikawa is located roughly in the center of Hokkaido about an hour and a half northeast of Sapporo. It's mostly known for their contributions to art, wonderful festivals, and winter sports. It's a city surrounded by mountains and rivers, every bit in touch with nature. There's also a famous zoo that features polar bears and penguins among others. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go because they are closed until the end of April. I missed them by one day...zannen. The weather has been off-and-on rain since I arrived with some hail and now snow. Supposedly, it should clear up by tomorrow so I expect to take some more pics in the morning. Anyway, Asahikawa is an awesome city. I definitely wouldn't mind living here. As for their ramen, it's traditionally based on a pan-fried pork bone that's stewed in shochu for several hours. Could that explain why I'm feeling tipsy? Haha, j/k. But it could explain why I like it so much.

Ramenya Tenkin was recommended by several locals when I asked them where the best ramen-ya is. It's about a 10 minute walk from the station 7 blocks North on you're right. I ordered the shoyu ramen, which was a deep, rich shoyu blend that literally melted my soul. I swear, it's been one of the best yet! The chashu was a bit dry but had good flavor. I think I've come to realize that this is how the chashu should be. It doesn't have to melt in your mouth all the time. Sometimes dry is better. If I had more time, I think I'd go here again. The noodles were the thick Asahikawa style that I've come to love and every slurp maintained its worth.

Ramen No Hachiya is a familiar face when it comes to ramen. I've tried it a few times at the Raumen Museum but still wanted to try it first hand while in Asahikawa. I ordered the koi version of Shoyu Ramen. Hachiya is known for their heavy use of niboshi, so if you react adversely to a strong fish smell, then you may not want to try it. This kotteri version of shoyu ramen is very intense and inspiring. It almost makes me cry for more. But oddly enough, I feel like the Hachiya from the Raumen Museum is slightly better.

I plan to take more pics when the weather clears in the morning. But for now you can enjoy the pics I took today. See you tomorrow!