Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kichiemon ramen, Yachiyo (きちえもん)

With nothing but clear skies and bluegrass ahead, the first order of the day was to pick up a rental car and hit the highway. This is the Keio Road, which runs east into Chiba. Tokyo's highways really look like video games, don't they? Or rather, driving video games have probably evolved to look like Tokyo's elevated, building-bordered highways. It certainly feels like a video game, and this isn't even the ring road where kids are rumored to race their cars around in circles late at night. But who has the interest in staying up late and going out to see if it's true?

Off the highways, Japan has more roadside ramen than you can shake a stick at. In America you get fast food chains; in Japan there are also fast food chains, but there are tons of quirky one-off, owner-operated ramen places. Since every white guy in Japan has been inspired by Tanpopo at some point (is that a dated reference? Is every recent white guy in Japan actually inspired by anatomically-impossible cartoons girls?), another key focus for this trip was to pull in and have a bowl. Sadly, this was not the shop that got the nod - it was the first one, and the early bird never gets tapped. The second shop looked even better than this, but it went by too quickly.

Kichiemon was probably #15 or something, but the driving and the traffic and the sweating were getting to be too much (this is what happens when your route deliberately includes 50% surface roads so you can stop for ramen, rather than the prudent 100% highway). And it has an appropriate roadside feel. Disappointingly, it says 'honten', or 'head store' on the sign, but you'd never think that a place as small and bare-bones as this could calve off new shops. Still, there was one just a few miles down the same road, so it must be true.

Inside was the usual assortment of pots and half-clean smells, plus a traditional cast of characters including the taciturn master, his young waitress with dyed hair and a vacant get-me-out-of-here expression, a few teenage girls giggling over their noodles...

and a main-mountain of a construction worked, burying his snout in a bowl that was surely not his first.

The waitress refused, as do so many Japanese service personnel, to be drawn on what was good or in fact popular. Falling back on the more-is-better theory, this soup is the Third Generation Pork Bone Seafood soup. Is this like Osakaya, where the same pot of soup has been boiling for three generations, refreshed daily with more pork bones and more shellfish? Could be, because it's thick and rich enough to qualify as a good representative of the genre.

And the noodles were good, and the menma were meh, and the pork was briefly fried on the open gyoza griddle before plating (bowling?), and the topping of daikon sprouts is an individual little touch - they're bitter and nutrient-packed, probably to counteract the fattiness just a touch.

This was just supposed to be a good bowl of ramen that no one reading this will ever go to, and it was pretty successful on both counts.

Yuck it up suckazzz!
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