I should confess that I have never really been a fan of tsukemen (ramen with dipping sauce). Shouldn't ramen be in a piping hot broth, brimming with scallions and chashu (pork) and menma (bamboo shoots)? Tsukemen just always seemed so WRONG to me, despite the fact that I love zaru soba (cold soba with dipping sauce).
But I gave tsukemen a go a couple of weeks ago at Ramen Halu, for the love of Great UM Noodletown. I even dragged my parents with me so we could try everything else on the menu. God I'm smart.
Halu opened in 2003 (wow!) down the street from the big Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa in San Jose. The owner is Kumao Arai, a proud surfer from Tokyo. Halu's menu has always been short and concise, and the overall vibe is a kind of laid-back homage to "California fresh". There are even surf boards on the walls. Yup.
My family hadn't been to Halu in a few years. The strip mall (yikes! bad word!) in which Halu is located had gotten a facelift, and on a Sunday afternoon it was quite busy. There were many plates of tsukemen scattered about on customer tables. It was clearly a popular menu item.
The menu is describes the limited menu at length -- shoyu, shio (salt), "Halu" (tonkotsu), tsukemen, and tan-tan men (spicy ramen).
You can get the tsukemen with the "original thick" egg noodles, or whole wheat.
We ordered a few appetizers while waiting for the noodles.
The assari korokke ("fresh" non-fried potato croquettes):
Under the mound of cabbage is a little ball of mashed potato. I'll give it to them -- it was weird but quite innovative.
Banban-ji (spicy chicken salad):
I'm pretty obsessed with boiled chicken right now and order it a lot at Chinese restaurants. The spicy sesame dressing here was nice.
See? I don't get the appeal of tsukemen, it's just not that attractive to me. I think it's the way the toppings are laid out. It's all so... BLAHHH.
I ordered the original thick noodles.
Add toppings to the soup and let the dipping begin:
- The noodles are bouncy and al dente, just the way I like.
- The toppings were all good (chashu, spinach, menma, scallions)
- The broth is excellent. The richness of the tonkotsu (pork) base is then added with vinegar for a tart tang, that would be perfect for a sweltering hot day in Tokyo.
- The temperature is neither hot nor cold. It was all so lukewarm. I prefer it either ice cold or burn-your-mouth hot.
- Egg was a bit over-boiled:
Cons aside, the tsukemen at Halu was the best noodle dish out of the three we had.
Hideko ordered the "Halu Ramen" with a tonkotsu broth:
Upon first bite she was into it, but as the broth got colder, it became heavier and increasingly difficult to eat. Again, temperature fail.
Kuni ordered the shoyu ramen:
This soup lacked depth and fell flat.
The broth of the tsukemen was definitely the most dynamic. I am such a sucker for vinegar!
Not many places in the Bay Area serves tsukemen. Definitely none that I've heard of in San Francisco, or the East Bay. But it's all the rage right now in Japan, or so I hear. Stateside, Russ and Allison of Camino (my workplace) are quite obsessed with the tsukemen at Tsujita in LA. Must go!
Here's Midtown Lunch's comprehensive guide to Tsukemen in LA. But hey SFers! No need to go all the way to LA or Tokyo for tsukemen! Check out Halu, just an hour south in humble San Jose. I'd say it's worth the drive.
375-M Saratoga Ave
San Jose, CA 95129