Saturday 18 January 2014

Japan's soul food - Ramen (Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum)

Japan has museums of many kinds from the Salt and Tobacco museum in Shibuya (Tokyo) to the Instant Ramen museum in the city of Osaka to the Parasite museum in Meguro (Tokyo).  Some of the strangest museums in the world are here in Japan, but then so are some of the most delicious!

Ramen has made appearances (and even received it's own post) on this blog from time to time, and rightly so as it is a dish loved and enjoyed by most Japanese, and when you consider that the population of Japan is over 120 million, that's a very popular dish (there are websites that say there are over 40,000 ramen shops in Japan).  The origins of ramen are debated.  Some say that it originates from China while others say that it was invented in Japan in the early 20th century.

Down in the city of Yokohama (about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo) there is a museum dedicated to ramen.

I have visited the museum once before but that was about 7 years ago, so during my recent New Year's holiday break I decided to pay it another visit.  I met my sometimes blog companion, Dan (who happens to be returning home to the USA soon), at Shin Yokohama we made the short walk to the museum.

The interior has a few different floors.  The first or ground floor (depending on where you are from!) has the entrance and the museum shop where you can buy any kind of ramen souvenir imaginable.  Going down to the B1 floor, this is where the fun starts.  The museum is set up in a replica street-scape from 1958 Japan which is the year that instant ramen was invented.

The street-scape contains 8 famous ramen shops from around Japan (and the USA this time) and you can buy tickets to eat at whichever ramen shop you choose.  And yes, those people are lining up to go in and eat at each of the shops!  Yes, each of the shops had long lines snaking around full of hungry people.  I guess I picked the wrong day to go!  Dan took one look and apologised saying that the lines would drive him insane and wished me good luck and left.  I can't really blame him, under normal circumstance I would never wait in lines that long either!  I already knew the shops I wanted to try (yes, shops!  They have mini serves if you want to try more than one, although the mini size wasn't very mini......)

So I headed down to have a look around.  First place was Ryu Shanghai which does a spicy miso ramen.

Next was Ganja which does a very fishy tsukemen (where you dip your noodles into thick soup rather than the noodles sitting in soup).

I then walked past Komurasaki which does tonkotsu (pork soup) ramen.

Next in line was Kamome Shokudo which makes shio (salt) ramen.

Up next was Ikemen Hollywood which is a tsukemen shop that originates from the USA.  It must be good for it to be invited to the ramen museum, but I wasn't stopping here.

The one I wanted was Ikemen's neighbour, Men no Bo-Toride which is another tonkotsu ramen place.

I had waited in line for about 30 minutes to get inside, but finally I was in!

Handing my ticket to the shop staff I waited eagerly for my bowl of porky goodness!!  Sorry to all of the vegetarians reading this.....  Finally it arrived!

It looks quite simple, as tonkotsu ramen often does, but it isn't.  Toride slowly simmer their soup for 20 hours to create a very thick complex tasting soup.  It didn't last long in front of me!

Feeling very content I decided to have more of a look around to allow the first bowl to settle before attacking my second bowl.  I went upstairs to the museum shop to see what was there.

 As I said at the start, there are ramen souvenirs of every type imaginable and a giant slot car set.........yes, a slot car set.

I don't really know why it was in a ramen museum, but it was popular, so i didn't question it.  Suddenly my eye spotted what I had come looking for.  The "make your own ramen" place!

First, you choose your preferred flavour.  I went with miso.

Next, choose your soup.  I decided on a tonkotsu soup.

After that, choose your oils to add extra flavour.  I went with chicken and the last little packet of leek flavoured oil.

Then choose you noodles.  I went with a nice straight thin style that is popular with my preferred style of tonkotsu ramen.  As you can see, there is a large variety of noodles that can be used in ramen.

Finally you choose your toppings.  I decided on some char siu (sliced roast pork) and menma (fermented bamboo shoots)

All together, it looks like this.

I haven't cooked it up yet, but will let you know when I have, how it tastes!

Having satisfied my inner ramen chef, and with the first bowl of ramen having settled somewhat I decided to go back downstairs to try my second ramen shop.  Before going to the shop I decided to wander around the "streets" some more for a closer look at the 1950's style Japanese street scene.

A big billboard probably advertising a movie,

mini shrine,

old telephone box.

The detail was amazing, from the overhead power lines and TV antennas,

to the aged faded looks of the doors.

From the old electricity meters (hang on, don't we still use these in Australia?),

to signs advertising clubs,

hostess clubs

and, I'm not sure what this one is, but the old style neon looked nice.

Finally I decided that I should join the queue for my next bowl of ramen.  This one moved pretty quickly though,

and before I knew it,

I was at the ticket machine of Sumire, reportedly Japan's most famous miso ramen shop.

I selected another bowl of mini ramen and made my way in, handed over my ticket and sat down to wait.

Pretty soon my order had arrived and it looked pretty good.

Now miso ramen originates from the north island of Japan called Hokkaido where it gets pretty cold in the winter.  If you look closely at the next picture you may be able to see a clear layer of oil on top of the soup.

The reason for this is to insulate the soup to stop it from going cold too quick.  After waiting for what I thought was enough time to cool down, I took my first mouthful and proceeded to burn my tongue!

The ramen was good, but it had nothing over Kururi from a couple of days ago!  That ramen was.....well, I'm planning to go back there again!

Finishing off my ramen, I threw an ice cube into my mouth and made (or that should be rolled, I was feeling so full) my way back to the station to go home.

And that's it for the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum, one of the more normal museums in Japan.

I hope you enjoyed it, thanks for reading and see you back here again soon.

Saturday 4 January 2014

New Years Day in Japan

I missed a big family Christmas this year.  Traditionally every second year, as many family members as possible get together at one of our homes and celebrate Christmas.  These days we are scattered across Australia (and the world too with myself here in Japan and another brother in Canada) so these occasions are ones that are full of laughing, joking and catching up.  Unfortunately I couldn't be there this year and missed my family dearly.

In Japan, Christmas is a time for couples to be together and New Years (Oshogatsu) is the family time.  New Years was traditionally observed according to the Chinese lunar calendar but in 1873, during the Meiji period, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and thus the first of January became the official New Years day.  Along with spending time with family, New Years day is also a time to visit a temple or shrine to pray for a good upcoming year.  In fact, it is not just New Years day when people visit, but it can be any one of the first three days of the year.  With Tokyo being a city of over thirty five million people, temples and shrines have a habit of being quite crowded at this time.  Meiji Jingu in Harajuku welcomes over three million people over the first three days of the new year, with over half of them coming on the first day!

With that in mind, I decided to delay my visit to my local shrine until the second, figuring it would be a lot quieter (my New Year's eve activities also had some bearing on my decision as I had welcomed the New Year in typically Western fashion......I did take one picture on the night.  Matty, Warren and Mark, you may recognise this!).  

The afternoon of the second arrived and I started out toward one of my local shrines, Omiya Hachimangu shrine, which I have written about in a previous post, here.  As I got closer, I noticed many people on the streets heading in the same direction I was.

I arrived at one of the main gates and the density of people started increasing.

Wanting to avoid the crowds as much as possible, I decided to head around to the other gate and enter that way.  The traffic looked a little quieter here.

I arrived at the gates and discovered that a LOT of other people had the same idea that I did!

This, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise.  Whenever there are major festivals in Japan, temples and shrines really put on a big show with lots of food stalls line up to cater to the hungry and thirsty masses, and I had entered the gate where they were all located!  Pulling out my camera I started taking photos of what was a culinary tour of Japan!  I apologise, but I don't know the names of all of the different dishes, but I will try!

First up was takoyaki, balls of batter with ingredients such as octopus, spring onion and ginger.

 Next up was one of my favourites, okonomiyaki, Japanese savoury pancakes with ingredients such as noodles, cabbage, bean sprouts, pork and covered with a nice sweet barbecue sauce!  Delicious!

Following that was some kind of sweet shaped pancake batter deserts.  Don't know for sure the name for this one, but the writing says "baby custara" so maybe involving custard.

After this one was a gap before the next stall so I took a moment to gather my breath before continuing on.

Next to this one was a ramen stall,

and then some kind of deep fried cheese sticks.

Moving along I came to a stall selling lollipops in various shapes,

roasted chestnuts,

and this one, from memory was Osaka yaki, I guess a version of okonomiyaki.

Next was a seating area for those who wanted to take their time eating and drinking.

The next stall (or yatai in Japanese) was selling grilled fish,

Oden, several different ingredients such as boiled eggs, Japanese radish and fish cakes served in a light soy and dashi broth.

This next one was some kind of vegetable nabe, or hotpot.

After the nabe was a yakitori stall.  Yakitori is grilled meat on a stick.  It is usually chicken, but can also be pork and vegetables.

Next was yakisoba, or stir fried noodles with (usually) meat and vegetables.

Further along was some kind of pancake batter sandwiches with various fillings including cheese and red sweet beans (not together!).

This guy obviously wanted me to buy some of his food!

Moving past the scary guy I came to more delicious okonomiyaki!



a couple of different kinds of Japanese sweets

and another traditional Japanese delicacy, dried squid.

Finally was the ever popular nikkuman, or steamed meat bun.

Wow, I had successfully made it past all of those food stalls, to the shrine entrance, but if I thought I had finished navigating the crowds, I was mistaken!

I patiently made my way forward and when my turn came, said my prayer and made my wish for the upcoming year (I will let you know if it comes true!).

Moving away quickly to allow others to have their turn, I headed toward the New Years charms and fortunes stalls.

I bought myself a good luck charm in the shape of an arrow that will hopefully bring me all the luck I deserve for the following year.

I have also since found out that this particular shrine is famous for praying at for easy and quick childbirth and to guard against bad luck in child-raising!  Well, I lack the one ingredient needed for this to be useful.....a willing lady, so I guess that part of it won't be helping me!

So what did I eat from passing all of those food stalls?  Nothing as I had grander plans in mind for dinner.  I have previously spoken about a ramen blog that I read called Ramen Adventures that gives me some great ideas for places to go for good ramen.  One that I had been wanting to visit for a while was called Kururi, located in an area called Ichigaya.  Kururi make miso ramen which comes from the northern island of Hokkaido, which is not surprising as Hokkaido is bitterly cold in winter and miso ramen is a warming satisfying meal!  So I jumped on the train and travelled the 30 minutes to get to Ichigaya and tracked down Kururi.

Kururi is only a tiny little place that seats just seven diners.  I was lucky to get there when I did as just after, there was a line of people waiting, I was able to walk straight in!

I ordered my ramen and waited patiently until it arrived, and arrive it did in all it's delicious glory!!

I won't go into detail about the ramen as I am not an expert, but I will say that it was the best bowl of miso ramen I have had!  I walked out feeling completely satisfied.

And that drew my day to a close as I headed back home.

I hope you enjoyed my New Years edition of the blog.  Thanks for reading and see you again.