Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hachi Ramen, Takadanobaba (はち ラーメン)

I was out on a mission this afternoon – go to guitar stores, have ramen, urban-hike Tokyo, find an early-opener izakaya with Sunday hours, and get drunk. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, BY GUM. The guitar stores were in Shin Okubo today (Korea town, also interestingly invaded these days by people whose provenance causes them to open spice shops and buy halal products). The ramen turned out to be in Baba.

Actually it didn’t ‘turn out’ that way, I knew I was having ramen in Baba. In fact, I thought I was going to a place that had smelled heavenly when Big Bird and I stumbled past it the other night. I remembered the big white sign, but once I was in front of it I noted it was Sapporo ramen, and then immediately realized that I had been there, probably circa 2005 when I didn’t know I didn’t like Sapporo ramen much and also thought Baba was a long trip from Monnaka. (My apologies, Uncle N, I know there are different styles of ramen in Hokkaido; this is the kind with the pork and the hot oil on top. And probably corn. And butter.) So down the street I saw Hachi, and my theory is that any ramen place this new and clean is going to pretty sweet, although it may be in a strange way. 

Not sure what’s going on here – chain restaurant? Probably, but it always amazes me that chain places in Japan can trust the whole shop to one guy who churns out bowls while also starting prep for the next batch of soup. His pot would only handle 4 portions of noodles at once, which could be a problem at busy times. There were only a few other customers (all couples, interestingly – this must be ‘date ramen’), and he couldn’t deliver expediently. 

But here’s what he eventually delivered. It’s a chicken-based soup, and if you’ve been to Tenka Ippin, you know that a chicken soup is not the pale-yellow, clear, soothing concoction you might expect as a foreigner – it’s dreadfully thick and even grainy from boiling a bunch of chicken bones. In this case they mention adding 18 vegetables, and I saw the staff peeling potatoes, so I have to think some of the thickness and grain comes from that. How much, we’ll never know. 
The bowl was very good overall. The soup is compulsively drinkable (although I’m compulsive about all this stuff). The noodles were firm and chewy. The bits of pork were roasted belly, intensely salty and not very rendered at all but weirdly great. You can choose the amount of grated onion that’s added to the bowl, for health you understand, but I didn’t know that until too late, so this is probably normal. Most shops allow you to pick what you want, but they don’t ask foreigners their opinion on these things.

I don’t blame ‘em either. 

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