Ramen is all the rage here on both coasts in the US, and it's still going strong in Japan. Strangely though, I didn't eat too much of it during this trip to Japan. Unlike Sam White, the host of our OPENharvest adventure, who had upwards of 50 bowls of ramen during his month-long stay, I only had three bowls. Once in Saitama, for a quick slurp before a whisky distillery tour; another at 10am one morning after a treacherous night drinking with my family; and lastly this shop in Chiba called Tonikaku.
We were on our way to the Natural Harmony center in Chiba to check out the process for testing radiation in food. Our guides Tou-san and Yoshikai-san wanted to take us to a good ramen spot for lunch on the way there, per Sam's obsession for it. After making a few circles through town while studying the map on the cellphone, we finally found it.
There was already a long line out the door when we got there. A lady came around to take our orders before we were seated, and would not allow us to order for Tou-san, who had gone to park his car. She was very strict about this, and I loved her for being such a hardass. This would never fly in the States, as it is natural to cut in and out of line for anything, which aggravates the hell out of me. I really liked that they held people accountable for not being there IN PERSON.
Once we were in, we paid at the machine.
Whoever invented this is a serious genius.
We sat at the counter. Of course!
Three dudes behind the counter, making all the ramen and side dishes.
The man in the red was the owner, I believe. He said that Tonikaku has been around for six years now.
While I excitedly waited for my ramen, I went to the restroom. On the way, I peeked into the window of a little side room and saw this small factory:
Holy shitballs, they make their own noodles! At this moment, I knew Tonikaku was serious.
Back at the counter, I watched the boys make ramen. First, they would dunk a little scooper into a huge boiling pot. Each scoop was the soup base for the ramen bowl, that they would then filter through a sieve because it was so full of bones and the fat and all the GOOD STUFF!
Then, the noodles. Here is a little video of the guy shaking off the water from the ramen noodles.
My compadres and I were mesmerized as we watched the guy methodically shake the noodles. Sam noted that each ramen chef has his own way of doing this, like his own signature style. Like a barman's cocktail shake.
Instead of the typical gyoza pieces, they have a gyoza bou, or log.
A little silly, but quite good. Just onions and pork and nira (garlic chives).
And, the moment of truth:
The housemade noodles were thicker than usual, and springy, just the way I like it.
And the broth. Oh the broth! I drank it all. It was so thick and heavy and oily and so full of flavor and umami.
Do you see all the bits of STUFF? There are ground peppers and all sorts of spices and bits of onion and meats. The oil pockets glistens under the fluorescent lights. Can't you just smell this???
When Japanese people eat ramen in the States they are often disappointed--the broth is too light and frou-frou. For them, ramen soup should be heavy, hearty, and greasy enough to nurture you after a night of heavy drinking. Tonikaku satisfied all of the above , and after the meal, all I wanted was to be wheeled out and taken to a bed for a deep sleep.