Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kaeru ramen, Nakano

Setting out for a day of adventuring in the hinterlands, I decided to stop off in Nakano for a rousing spot of...well, lunch. Nakano seems like a place that would be famous for ramen, but I don't think it is. Certainly there were not that many places looking likely - a couple in the covered shotengai, then some more in the uncovered, unimproved, grubby, seedy, watch-your-pockets-and-your-honor-at-night alleys just east of that. This is one of them. I picked it because it's clean and has a lot of black in the decor. Seriously - these days, that tends to imply it's a place run by young guys who are serious about ramen and trying to look tough. Plus the pictures looked good.

It was quite mellow inside.

One of these days, I should really try Jiro ramen. Shouldn't I? Is this a copy? It's a lot like Fukumen (though, I'm sorry, not as good, which is not to say that it's not good, but boy is Fukumen good.). The basics should be pretty obvious, but let me restate: big, thick noodles (the chef said "They're pretty tough. Is that OK?" I just grunted; if I had been thinking more clearly I should have said "I'm tough too."). Clear but very dark and strong soup - sort of a pork-and-fish thing, I believe, but without bone marrow making it milky. An absolute ton of boiled bean sprouts. Tasty pork. Very good egg. Your choice of 6 free toppings - raw onions, raw garlic, raw girl-repellent. I got the garlic (and later noticed that it says on the counter "We really think you should have garlic!"). About 4 cloves worth. All those white chunks on top. Oog.

This was exactly what I was looking for - some guys who really believe in their ramen, working hard at it. I cracked a smile as soon as they put this in front of me and I smelled it. And then again when I tried the soup, and on and on down to the bottom of the bowl. They do OK in the 'height' stakes too - but I once saw a magazine article that measured the height achieved by the condiment mountain above the rim of the bowl, and they'd be nowhere in a world-class competition. Still, no shame.

My only complaint would be that the noodles really ARE tough. They're big and thick, and I guess they're doing this on purpose, but there was a little core of uncooked noodle in the middle. I don't mean al dente, I mean raw, grainy pasta. With that much noodle, they don't soften in the soup either. But this is a minor complaint, and it was a good bowl overall.

Incidentally, you may be thinking of Nakano in connection with Nakano Broadway, whose 3rd floor has a concentrated selection of character, anime and manga shops including several big spaces that have been taken over by Mandrake. Now that I look at the site, I've learned that they originated there, and perhaps all the shops on the 3rd floor are part of them (they say 16!); there's also a huge store in Akiba that opened in 2009, I think. None of that is interesting to me, but I'll tell you what - the electronics shop up there has a really neat selection of used goods. I was especially impressed by the used headphones. I know that sounds kinda gross, but if you replace the earpieces, you probably get broken-in stuff at well under half the original cost. You should check it out.

Let's see, what else should we discuss as long as we're in Nakano...ah, Peko chan.

Also, maids.


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