27 May 2010

Day 12: Best Ramen in Japan

Posted by Roland under: Travel .

Ikebukuro might’ve been a crazy nightlife area but I didn’t partake in any fun last night because I was just tired from my 6 hours of train rides in the last day. This was proven when I actually had to use the wake up call service (and not wake up before it) for my hotel which gave me a later start to the day in Tokyo than I had before. No problem for me, I’d rather be well rested anyway.

So I had no real plan for the day. I could’ve gone out to Ise Shrine early if I wanted, but I was in no real rush. Ise didn’t have much to offer besides the shrine so I decidedly to hold off until Friday for the tour. Which meant I had some time to kill in Tokyo. I could’ve gone shopping but I wasn’t in any real hurry to do that either.

But I was in Tokyo for lunchtime so what else could I do but look for ramen? Using a ramen database I ran across during my ramen research, I found that the best ramen in Japan luckily resided in Tokyo. Well, depending on the ranking you use, the 2nd best in some areas, but really all things considered, the ramen place comes recommended as one of the best places in the country for ramen. With backing like that, I think it was worth a look.

Those interested can find the original Japanese database page here and an English review here.

The ramen place was located on the east side of the city and with Ikebukuro on the west it would take about 30 minutes to get out there. Nothing a little subway ride couldn’t solve but in order to get there for lunch and avoid a huge line I couldn’t do anything else in Tokyo but head out for the place right away. I would head to a rather nondescript part of Tokyo, populated with no real tourist attractions, just offices and stores but finding the ramen place was relatively easy, as I could see a long line already forming in front of a shop that hadn’t even opened. I took my place in line and waited for my turn to get one of the 10 counter spaces inside the ramen shop.

I came early enough, a little bit before opening, to avoid being way back in line and with ramen luckily being a quick to eat food, I didn’t have to wait long to get inside. Of course the line kept growing behind me and I would see a few people come by and see the line and turn around, making me more confident in my choice to head out early.

I asked for a extra large size of ramen, because if I was going to the best place in Japan, I’m going to get a good sized portion of it. The operation inside was relatively simple, one cook, one helper and many pots boiling. The bowls came out quick. I quickly dug into my bowl as others around me finished their ramen much faster than I did. So how did it taste?

Maybe because I had heard it was the best ramen in Japan my expectations were a bit high. I don’t know what I was expecting but I still feel like I’m more a Hakata ramen fan if anything. Still, it was an excellent ramen and I was happy to get it and willing to wait. It was a dark tonkotsu (more like my first night in Japan rather than a Hakata style) but full of flavor. I do have to hand it to them on the noodles though, they were at an excellent consistency and even though I like thin noodles more, the noodles I had here were probably the best I’ve had, all things considered.

I didn’t want to stay too long at the place because they hurried people in and out and everyone else ate at a faster pace than me so I finished as much of the bowl as I could (I had to leave a few noodles behind but took care of all the soup) and left to see the line at the same size it was when I first came, a sign of the popularity the store enjoyed (it was running about 30 people deep).

My ramen desires fulfilled all I had left on my plate was to get to Ise. Time for a familiar scene, picking up my bags at the hotel and riding trains out to another location. It was business as usual on the bullet train up to Nagoya but once I got on the train to Ise from there it turned into a ride through a pleasant countryside (albeit on a much slower train than the bullet). But again, I enjoyed the relaxation and reflection I could enjoy on this ride in my solo second week. It definitely also let me know I was going somewhere where not many tourists go (despite Ise Shrine being one of the most sacred ones in all of Japan).

Once in Ise I found a very quiet city, it almost made me long for the excitement of Ito. If anything, at least Ito had a sea, Ise city apparently had little going for it. I didn’t even find any loud pachinko parlors, if anything the city seemed to be made of high school students riding around on their bikes. I checked into my hotel, a nice (but small as always) business hotel and decided to go for a walk around for something to eat, I would save the shrine for tomorrow as planned. There were very few appealing choices in the city and I ended up getting a bit lost walking around, but I eventually came across a highly recommended restaurant that featured spiny lobster, a specialty of Ise. I put down quite a bit for this meal, but I figured that I wouldn’t be paying too much in meals for the rest of my trip so I should splurge one last time.

I was even down to play pachinko for my quiet night in Ise, but I honestly could not find a place. The city of Ise might not have much to offer me but I hoped the shrine would make it worth my trip out to this far part of Japan.

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