November 7, 2012

The Ramen Shaman: Miso Ramen at Kururi (Ichigaya)

by Will VanderWyden

My second day in Japan was inauspicious. The sky was dreary, overcast, drizzling all day and on into the night, and I woke up with a full-blown cold to boot. So in other words, the perfect day for a bowl of ramen.

After spending the day at the National Museum in Ueno Park, where my memories consist of stunning ancient sword blades, beaded necklaces from 500 BC that are the epitome of current hipster style, and having to run to the bathroom every 15 minutes to drain my flooded nose, I finally had my first shot at tasting one of the top ramen shops in Tokyo: Kururi.

Kururi has been lauded by critics for serving up one of the greatest bowls of miso ramen available on the planet. They’ve taken Orville Redenbacher’s words to heart of doing one thing better than anyone else (remember those commercials?) — miso ramen is all Kururi serves, and by all accounts they’ve pretty much perfected it.

It was easy to find — a tiny, seven-seat shop on the west bank of the Imperial Palace moat in Ichigaya, with a wordless sign of plain black wood. Just to make sure (and to practice my fledgling Japanese) I opened the door, squeezed myself next to the ticket machine and asked the girl in front of me, “Sumimasen, Kururi?” Yep, right place. I was off to a good start.

Now, I’m not the biggest miso broth fan in the world. Even though it’s one of the most common broth types (shio and shoyu being the others) I’ve always found it a little thin-tasting, lacking the oomph of a thick tonkotsu pork broth (also very common, but kind of its own animal), and when that’s not an option I tend to go with shoyu. So although I trusted everything I had read about Kururi I really wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it.

But all I know is that when they placed my bowl in front of me, heat steaming with pork and miso and onions and sprouts, my cold immediately disappeared. The broth was as thick as a strong tonkotsu and a beautiful deep caramel color to boot.

The first sip sealed the deal — now this was miso ramen! Kururi blends several different miso varieties together, mixes them with a pork-based broth, then reduces the concoction to the point where every sip explodes with flavor. Somehow the deep miso flavor and the sweetness of the pork combines to create an insanely rich broth that, like its appearance, tastes like caramel. I don’t know how that works but man was it good. Nothing I had eaten before (or since) had even come close; I was essentially eating a whole new class of miso ramen for the first time. The noodles were heavy and wide, the only way they could withstand the weight of such a magnanimous, gravy-like broth. The chashu were impeccable, and the simple toppings of bean sprouts, negi (green onion) and shaved onions were perfect.

There was virtually no talking in Kururi as everyone was hunched over, too busy enjoying the incredible ramen to converse. It totally lived up to the hype. This was the first of several bowls on my trip to change my perception of what ramen is and can be. It was awesome. If you are ever in Tokyo this is a must-try bowl.

One of seven customers, I sipped away on a rainy Tokyo night, utterly content.

KURURI
3-2 Ichigaya Tamachi
Shinjuku-ku
T: +81 (0) 3 3269 0801
Open Monday-Saturday, 11 am-9 pm

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