Many of you know of my singular and all-encompassing love of the ramen noodle. In particular, the spicy version known in Japan as “Tantanmen.” Slurping, sloshing and spraying this delectable carb on other patrons at the ramen bar is an experience which causes me to rip off my paper bib, jump off the bar stool my arms raised in praise, and clap to the rhythm of the gospel choir singing ramen praises in my head. While Andretti-san and the other salary men act like I`m not in the restaurant.
My love for the tantanmen is not unconditional as all are not created equal. Finding the Holy Grail of ramen, the one true tantanmen, has become my quest. Together with Andretti-san, my unwilling partner and taste tester, we comb and scour Tokyo seeking out other converts who can provide witness to the one true, all hallowed ramen.
After spinning at the gym when many of us are craving carbs, candy and a cold beer, one poor woman got off her bike and collapsed on the floor, babbling all tongue-tied over a recent ramen rendezvous. Immediately I whipped out my iPhone to note the details as this could be it. Intriguing in that this brand of ramen employed a gimmick..
I`m a fan of the gimmick as a marketing ploy. (Anyone else have a “ShamWow” or a set of Ginsu knives?”)
This gimmick was a hot rock.
We had to try it.
Located in the lowliest and most humble of settings- a train station. No matter how arduous the journey, we had to go. Well, I wanted to and Andretti-san went because I paid.
The place was filled with salary men all wearing white shirts and black pants- and me. The reason Japanese women are so thin is that they don`t down lunches laden with 2500 calories per bowl hence their absence at the ramen shops. This is also the reason I am the only American to move to Japan and put on -rather than lose- 20 pounds. All that aside, we ordered the spicy version of the rock ramen.
Andretti-san was less than enthusiastic. He doesn`t like to dip his ramen in the sauce explaining that it dilutes the taste. I disagree arguing that the solution is the double dip. Here he demonstrates the proper technique for ramen eating:
Neither one of us noticed the taste we were so enamored with the gimmick. In order to observe the ritual appropriately, we consulted the sacred texts.
According to the historical teachings, we were to add dashi (Japanese soup base) from a sacred urn on the table to the remaining broth.
A hot rock was delivered to the table after Andretti-san chanted in Japanese. He then performed the service.
Fire and brimstone mixed with the broth for a delightful show.
Salvation? Redemption from a long day at work? Or a half day in our case? Maybe. My friend failed to tell about the free facial steam with every bowl.
Not the rock on which to build our future but still worth a try. My spinning friend says that after a while a craving develops and she finds herself elbowing her way in to the station shop.
This is still the one I crave.
Japanese people say there`s no reason to make homemade ramen when it`s so easy to buy it. The frozen version of all Japanese food- including tantanmen- is damn good. Not like the styrofoam food we Americans choke down from the freezer section.
Andretti-san has told me the only way I`m going to get the recipe is as a cook at the ramen shop. In the meantime, I`ve begged “Japan Eats” to go get it for me. I`ll keep you posted. Once they unblock me from Twitter I should be able to share the recipe.
The rock ramen is at Tetsu in the Roppongi Metro Station and all kidding aside, it is worth tasting. I hear their special rice is really tasty too.
The Tantanmen pictured above is from Koh Men in Omotesando across from TGI Fridays.