Ramen Trip (Part 1)

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Ramen Trip

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Japan Hour (Synopsis Only):

Ramen Trip (Part 1)

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Ramen lovers are in for a treat this week as we are embarking on a four-day ramen trip in winter. We will travel from Tokyo to Hokuriku and try various ramen dishes in Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui.

We begin our ramen adventure at Tokyo Station and our first stop is the Tokyo Ramen Street. We drop by a Michelin-starred ramen shop called Soranoiro Nippon. Its speciality is the special veggie soba; it includes many vegetables such as deep-fried lotus root, cabbage and tomato. Carrot puree is added to the soup, paprika is used in the noodles, and the dish is topped with black pepper and soy milk dressing.

After this, we start driving towards Hokuriku. We plan to enter Hokuriku via Niigata and have to take the Shuto Expressway and go to Niigata through the Kan-Etsu Expressway. However, we make the mistake of driving along Kita-Kanto Expressway instead so we decide to go to Kiryu, Gunma. Himokawa udon, with its wide noodles, is famous here. The area is also one of the biggest wheat producers in Kanto. We get off at Ota-Yabuzuka and go to the tourist centre to find out about good ramen restaurants.

We are told to check out a ramen shop called Shibahama. Its recommended dish is the Komugizanmai set meal, said to be the first of its kind in Japan. The chef, Aiko, buys many kinds of wheat from all over Japan. He makes several types of noodles by mixing the different wheat and serves many items as part of the set meal. The first dish in the set is mazesoba. It refers to ramen without soup and it is topped with chopped green onions and char siew. The noodles, which are smooth and firm, are mixed with the sauce at the bottom.

The following dish in the Komugizanmai meal is Tsukemen, with transparent noodles. It is simpler than the first item and comes with no toppings. The medium-thick noodles are dipped in a little bit of sauce. Chef Aiko did not want to add extra ingredients to make the taste of the wheat stand out. What enhances the taste of the moist, flavourful noodles is the sauce which is made of a local spicy radish called Jyosyu Karami daikon and a thick, rich soy sauce.

Another Komugizanmai dish is ramen which comes in flavours such as salt and soy sauce. Flour is added to the thin noodles to give them a stronger texture. The soup is made with free-range chicken and seafood. The final dish in the Komugizanmai set is thick miso ramen in a hot pot.

After our meal, we finally drive to Niigata through the Kan-Etsu Expressway. Niigata has many kinds of local ramen. We stop at Niigata city and after asking the locals, decide to go to ramen shop Jikon. Its miso ramen is popular.

One type of miso ramen uses northern shrimp from Sado and it is only served in winter. Pork broth with back fat and Echigo miso - a signature seasoning in Niigata - is added to the soup. The heads of the shrimp are deep fried and the essence of the shrimp is extracted into a flavoured oil, which is also added to the soup. The soup can be topped with ingredients like local seaweed, homemade shrimp chips, roasted pork and deep-fried northern shrimp. This northern shrimp ramen comes with rice, homemade miso sauce, northern shrimp powder from Sado and raw egg. Meanwhile, the store’s special miso ramen, with medium-thick noodles, features lots of pork back fat called Oniabura.

We spend the night in Niigata and on the second day, drive to Teradomari, a port 60km west of Niigata. There are many shops here which sell seafood from the Sea of Japan. We go to a ramen shop called Shionohana. It was established in Teradomari 50 years ago. Its speciality is crab ramen which has a whole red snow crab in it. Its soup stock includes soy sauce and pure crab essence and crab miso is also added to the soup.

Next, we drive to Jyouetsu and go to a ramen place called Ryumaken. It opened five years ago and its signature dish is dandan noodles with shrimp wonton. The toppings include miso meat, bok choy and Sichuan red chilli peppers. A locally-grown chicken is cooked for half a day to make the soup base, after which a special sesame paste, Sichuan seasoning, pickles, red vinegar and shrimp are added. The soup complements the medium-thick noodles well and a whole northern shrimp from the Sea of Japan is used in the wonton.

We then get on an expressway and once we enter Toyama, we get off at Uozu. The next ramen shop we visit, Ito, is known for its Uozu clear ramen. There are many types of ramen associated with colours in Toyama, such as Toyama black ramen and Uozu clear ramen. The former is a local ramen featuring black soup because black soy sauce and lots of black pepper are used in it. Uozu clear ramen, meanwhile, is a type of fish soup.

Tips:

1) Some types of ramen are available at certain prefectures only
2) If you’re visiting a port, seafood ramen would be a good choice

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