Monday, 5 March 2018

An Epic Journey - Katsuura, Chiba

First of all, I apologise for the recent lack of activity here.  For a variety of reasons I lost focus on the blog over the last 12 months or so.  The blog became hard work and thus the number of posts over the past year has gone down.  I recently had a moment of enlightenment, but more on that later!

A couple of weeks ago I decided a day trip was in order.  I got online and started doing some research and after a couple of days I decided on Katsuura a little more than halfway down the east coast of the Boso peninsula in Chiba, to the east of Tokyo. Katsuura is a nondescript little fishing town with a population of around 20,000. It was a long trip, about 3 hours from Shinjuku I guess (a little closer from where I live).  I jumped on the train (the Sotobo line from Chiba station) and a while later I arrived.

Some of you might be wondering why I decided to come to Katsuura.  Was it because of this guy welcoming me at the station?

Nope, but he was welcoming everyone warmly!

Was it because of the local Hina matsuri displays all around town?

Nope, but they were very impressive and it seemed that a lot of people had come for that.

Was it to sample the local gourmet French cuisine?

No, but I'm sure it tastes great and that couple looked interested.

Was it to have a beer at this "little" bar?

I was too early anyway.

Was it for this gorgeous street

lined with these beautiful buildings?

Nope, but they were incredible.

Was it because of the eagles overhead calling out with their shrill cries?

No, but they were awesome!

Was it for the fishing port,

or the nearby beach?

No, but they were nice, and I'm guessing a whole loot less crowded than anything nearer to Tokyo!

What was it for?


Katsuura tantanmen.  Thanks to my ramen guide, Ramen Adventures, I discovered that this little town in the middle of nowhere had developed their own style of ramen.  Before we go on any further, it has to be said that Brian Macduckston is THE voice of ramen in Japan.  If you speak English and you love ramen, you need to be reading his blog.  Ezawa is the name of the restaurant that invented this style of tantanmen and that was where I was heading today.  The regular style of tantanmen is spicy and usually involves some kind of sesame in the soup.  Katsuura tantanmen is quite different.  It has a soy sauce base, a combination of cooked and raw onions, minced meat all covered by a layer of hot chili oil!  Who wouldn't want to try that!!

I worked my way back to the train station to jump on the bus to take me to Ezawa.  I arrived at the station to find that the next bus was about an hour away (they run about once or twice an hour out in the direction that Ezawa is).  I checked my google maps and found that Ezawa was about 6km away so I decided to walk and jump on the bus when it met up with me halfway there (I enjoy walking...).  So I set off.  Unfortunately I had not taken into account the topography of the area that I needed too pass through.  Pretty soon I discovered that I needed to pass over a mountain range.....

If that was what I had to do to reach my holy grail, then so be it!  After about 20 minutes I reached the summit of my Everest.  All downhill from here I thought.

Except it didn't go downhill....  It went flat for a while and then kept going up......

and up....

and up.....there was no end......

As I trudged on I heard the sound of an approaching bus and I was nowhere near a bus stop.....It passed on by.....

This day had gone from bad to much worse.  Route 297 was to be my cross....

Suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks and a big smile crept across my face.  This.....this was what I had been missing, the element of adventure and discovery!  Of going somewhere and just exploring.  This was what i had been missing for the past year or so, the enjoyment of going somewhere with a final goal, but just winging it for the rest of the time!  Suddenly I started looking at what was around me.

and it was amazing!

Suddenly my cross had ceased to be a burden and I was enjoying my trek!  Then Mrs google told me to turn left.

"Are you sure?" I asked her, to which she remained silent, adamant that she was right so I kept on walking, blind faith in Mrs google.  Suddenly I found myself in this.

Blind faith.....

Suddenly I rounded a corner and there it was.....

my holy grail.....

but it looked closed!!  I checked with Mrs google who told me that they were open until 6pm, but it looked closed.  I looked through the windows and there were a few people inside.  I poked my head inside and asked if I could come in.  They were definitely closing, but they ushered me in.  So kind, I felt guilty.  I ordered and soon it came out.

It looked amazing!!

It tasted amazing!  The chili oil created a slow burn, a slow and enjoyable burn!  I quickly finished it off, not wanting to impose any further on the staff and left with a full, glowing belly.  I suddenly realised that it was about 10 minutes until the last bus back to the train station.  As much fun as it had been coming out, I did not want to walk back to the station!  Hustling back to the main road, I made it a couple of minutes before the bus arrived.

less than 20 minutes later I was back at the station and the little guy was back there to see me off.

What a nice guy!

I decided to reward myself with a reserved seat on the limited express train back to Chiba station and I had the entire car to myself!!

What a way to finish off the day.

Well, that's it for another post.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with me.

Please leave a comment and feel free to sign up with your email address on the right side of the page to get an alert when I upload a new post.  Until next time, bye!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

No ramen no life - Tokyo ramen show

I have a very good friend who I used to work with called Jorge.  He, like me, is a ramen lover.  Jorge, however, takes it to a whole nother level.  After Jorge left Japan, he moved to Brussels, Belgium.  One day he woke up craving ramen and before the day was out he was on a flight to Tokyo for a bowl of his favourite miso ramen!!  Possibly one of the most expensive bowls of ramen ever!  Jorge recently sent me a message on Facebook letting me know that the Tokyo ramen show was on.  In the midst of packing and moving apartment, a trip to the Tokyo ramen show was decided.

A few years ago I developed a New Year's routine.  I would go to my local shrine for the typical New Year's shrine visit (hatsumode) followed by a trip across town to my favourite miso ramen shop, Kururi.  Suddenly in late 2015, disaster struck.  Kururi closed.  After the tears and the wailing and gnashing of teeth had subsided (I don't know if gnashing of teeth is a sign of sadness and disappointment, but I was grieving)  I set about trying to find my new favourite miso ramen place.  I decided to extend this quest to the Tokyo ramen show.

The Tokyo ramen show is held each year at Komazawa Olympic Park so I set off towards Komazawa Daigaku station.  After a quick 10 minute walk from the station I arrived at the ramen show.  It was early evening so there were not too many people around.

Pulling out my English shop information map I plotted my first miso ramen raid.

Seeing that miso was the theme of the night, I picked out Musashi miso ramen as my first bowl of the night.

As I said, no lines, perfect!!  I grabbed my bowl and headed off to a table to tuck into my first bowl of the night.  It looked beautiful!

The charsui pork was fall apart tender, delicious.  The egg was seasoned nicely, probably the best part of the bowl.  The bowl was topped with a burnt garlic oil which initially added a punch of flavour to the bowl, but all too soon the flavour diluted into the rest of the soup.  The soup was okay, but no wow factor and the noodles tasted a bit cheap (I was to discover that all of the ramen noodles tasted the same, maybe the same provider).

Having finished my first bowl I decided to head for a walk around the park to get the digestion process started.  About 30 minutes later I was back for my second bowl.  Seeking another bowl of miso I lined up at Kanazawa Mentatsu Kenrokukai.

The crowds were now starting to appear.  After a 10 minute wait, I started getting nearer and the smells were getting stronger and stronger.

Finally I was there!

Just in time too as now the crowds were really swelling!

I sat down at another table to start slurping on my second bowl.

The winner in this bowl was the pork.  

Seasoned beautifully and cooked in black pepper, I could have eaten a whole bowl of it and gone back for seconds!    The soup in this bowl was also good, a stronger miso flavour, very smooth and mild with a lingering salty aftertaste.  Nice!

After my second bowl, I needed an extended break before attempting a third bowl so I took another walk around the park and washed everything down with a chu-hi.

Tempting fate, I went back for my third bowl.  Again, sticking with the miso theme I went for a bowl at Ramen Gimparou Sapporo.

The menma (bamboo shoots) on this one were great, soft and tender and the sesame seeds added a nice elements to it.  The charsui was pretty standard but the soup in this bowl was the winner, delightfully creamy!  Unfortunately I was not able to finish this bowl off.  The soup disappeared but the noodles were left remaining.  Three bowls proved to be too much.....

So, did I find my New Year's miso ramen replacement.  It is with great sadness that I report, no, none of the bowls I ate matched up to the great Kururi.  The search continues.

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it Jorge, and I look forward to slurping a bowl with you again sometime in the future.

Please leave me a message below, if you have a favourite miso ramen place around the Tokyo area, please tell me about it and I will check it out and report back here!  See you next time.