The Best Ramen- A Quest for the Holy Grail of Noodles

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.

“A good sauce always stains the chop sticks” Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, adapted by Ouisar-san

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.

Tantanmen from Koh Men, Omotesando

 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.

Japan folk:

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.

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19 Responses to The Best Ramen- A Quest for the Holy Grail of Noodles

  1. Ann Marie Skalecki says:

    Hey, Always love your blogs!! Just wanted to say HI!

    getting ready to run the SF NIke women’s marathon in two weeks! Wish you were going to be there! : )

    Hopeing all is well in the land of the rising sun!

    Think we should plan a girls get together in the spring or summer! ? ! : )

    Big Hugs, xoxo

    Ann Marie Skalecki

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  2. Adds whole new meaning to the notion of stone soup, doesn’t it? I, too, like Ramen noodles, but somehow I bet the ones we get here in KY just aren’t the same. Do you suppose the Nose would agree?
    Hugs,
    Kathy

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    • My favorite ramen shop is the first place I take visitors. Mainly because people arrive around 5pm. This involves a walk through Yoyoyogi
      Park- entertaining in so many ways, through Omotesando- entertaining in so many other ways- get a belly full of ramen- then back. This keeps our guests up until 7:30 or 8 after they`ve been on a plane for 14 hours which keeps them asleep for the full night and hopefully past the bewitching hour of 3am when everyone`s body tells them it`s time to get up. The Clampitt cure for jet lag.

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  3. I can see that you’re going to have a new job in the near future!
    Does the rock add to the flavor of the noodles or is it just part of the ritual?

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    • It heats up the soup. So, I GUESS it adds value and is not just a gimmick. I think the dashi just waters down the good stuff. A lot of people like it. I like a really powerful flavor though. Most people here prefer a more watered down taste.

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  4. I am so hungry here in California – contemplating what’s for dinner – the ramen looks so good!! Wish I could copy it somehow here.

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  5. I don’t know if you’ve tried this place yet, but there’s a restaurant in Asakusa that had amazing ramen. We went there for my daughter’s golden birthday dinner, and out of all the places we visited this was her favorite ramen. I don’t know the name because I don’t read kanji or hiragana or katakana, but it’s in the trader’s market just outside of the Senso-Ji Temple.

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    • I haven`t- Andretti-san and I will have to see if it passes muster!Thanks for the tip Blissflower!

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      • If you get a chance to try it, you’ll have to let me know what you thought. I actually have pictures of the ramen we ate in my photobucket account because I was documenting EVERYTHING while we were there. I also have photos of the omelette and bubble tea I had at the Denny’s in Asakusa. I’m weird like that.

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      • I`m exactly the same way. I like to remember the good- and the bad- of what I ate. My kids don`t even react anymore!

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  6. Ang says:

    I know this feeling — I am ALSO the only woman in the ramen shop. Perhaps someday our ramen paths will meet in the cellar of Tokyo Station.

    Thanks for the post!

    Like

  7. Living in Fukuoka, eating ramen is like a philosophy here. In Nagahama, you can see fisherman eating ramen at 7 AM and in different places, on Saturdays, foreigners and Japanese alike eating ramen around 4 AM before going home to bed.
    For me anytime!

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  8. The Japanese ramen craze has hit New York over the recent years and boy, having a delicious bowl of that goodness, especially on a chilly day, is one of the top things I look forward to. Tantanmen is a lot of people’s favorites here, although if given the opportunity to be in Japan right now, I’d allow myself for the gimmicks 🙂 Best excuse to stuff our faces with ramen, again and again and again…

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  9. I already had ‘the best’ ramen in Kyoto 😛

    There is a pic somewhere on my blog.

    The sad fact is that I have no idea when I can have it again! 😦

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