Monday, June 19, 2017

Tokyo in 40: Ramen Breakfast

Last year I spent a quick weekend in Tokyo with approximately only 50 hours on the ground - turned out the weekend was filled with happenings but didn't feel the rush. So this time I am doing it again with an even shorter stay (10 hours less, to be exact), made possible by the favorable flight schedule by the local low-cost carrier HK Express with red-eye flights both way.

So at 7am on Saturday I was already standing at the street junction outside Shinjuku station looking for a place to eat as I began my holiday in my favorite city, having flown in late night Friday. The popular ramen chain Ichiran has a 24-hour store nearby which would be the obvious choice, but I pondered my other options and decided to try something different. Walking further into the historical neighborhood of Golden Gai, a few blocks away from the main street right behind the famous Kabukicho, I looked for a place called Ramen Nagi for a hearty bowl of noodles made with a fish-based broth.

Golden Gai is the district known for numerous bars and diners lined along a couple blocks of narrow alleys, and was the setting for the "Midnight Diner" manga and the adopted TV and movie series. That’s why the hood looked familiar yet I couldn’t recall having visited in my previous trips.

I could only imagine at night the streets were lively and colorful with the bar-hopping crowd but in early morning they were subdued and charming. The bright red shop sign of Ramen Nagi was hard to miss (that plus the shop being one of the few that stayed open 24 hours), and through the narrow entrance and up the staircase, I walked into the cozy shop up in the loft with only a handful counter seats in front of the kitchen full of customers rubbing shoulder with each other, eating and slurping.

The menu was available from the ticket vending machine right behind, with two kinds of noodles available - standard and special. One can also choose the noodle portions and optional toppings. Knowing a big eating day ahead of me, I picked the standard bowl with regular portion with egg and sat down at the only remaining seat near the cooking station.

My bowl of noodles arrived after 10 minutes, as there were a few more customers waiting for their orders. Sitting in front of where the noodles were cooked means I had the opportunity to observe how my order was prepared. Their noodles, made in-house, were the thick, curly type, especially suitable for the rich broth. The broth was clear but with heavy flavor, loaded with pork and chicken taste and that of niboshi, or dried sardines, which was the secret ingredient at this shop. On top was green onions, thick-cut char-siu pork with sweet and hot sauce, half-cooked egg marinated slightly in soy sauce, and thick, pappardelle-like strands of noodles.

The soup base was clearly what set the place apart – it was complex and bombed with umami taste from that of niboshi with enticing aroma coming from the warmed bowl. It’s said 60g of niboshi powder went into each bowl. Many compared niboshi to anchovies in western cuisine, but I thought it’s similar but different, and niboshi definitely had a more profound taste. There’s a lot of tastes happening in the bowl of soup but it’s surprisingly not very oily and filling – just perfect for my breakfast treat. The noodles – both the strands on top and the rounded noodles at the bottom, went particularly well with the rich soup and had a good firm bite without overly bouncy – reminded me more like an udon. The char-siu pork was sliced thick and was extra tender. The egg was slightly overcooked but still oozy and with the mild soy sauce flavor from the marinate. The bowl of ramen was just satisfyingly delicious.

All together with the noodles and the awesome vibe inside the shop (and no lines when I went) made this a perfect start to my journey in Tokyo!

When? June 3 2017
Where? Ramen Nagi, Shinjuku Golden-gai (G2 street) 2F,1-1-10, Kabukicho,Shinjuku-ku,Tokyo
Menu Highlights? Signature Niboshi Ramen with Egg

The rest of my Tokyo weekend:

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