October 24, 2012
This one was a long time coming.
Since I first started reading about ramen over at Ramenate I’ve been fascinated by Jiro-kei (Jiro-style) ramen. What is Jiro you ask?
Jiro is an institution. It has spawned several official offshoots and many more imitators. Jiro is to ramen as suicide sauce is to wings. It’s the ultimate Man vs. Food event. Making it to the end of a bowl is an endurance test, and just finishing the toppings is exhilarating. Needless to say, I had to try it.
Brian, who I was staying with in Tokyo (and the man behind Ramen Adventures), is not big on Jiro-kei ramen. But he had heard good things about Senrigan and I think my enthusiasm kind of talked him into it. So we hopped on our bikes for the short ride from Shinjuku to Kitazawa.
Jiro-kei shops tend to be as light on the politeness as they are heavy on the toppings, and they generally have a code of sorts as to how to order the type and scale of your toppings. Once we sat down Brian briefed me. As they were preparing my bowl someone would call over and say something to the effect of ‘how do you want it?’. That was my cue, and I had to be quick with my answer. Brian suggested I say “zenbu sukoshi,” which means, “a little bit of everything.” I’ll never forget that phrase, and I passed with flying colors.
I took this video for you, dear reader, so you could get a true sense of the size of this beast.
I’m going to be honest… I loved it! Huge hunks of chashu, fried bits of tempura batter, garlic, fat (yes, pure fat), cabbage and bean sprouts topped my mountain of a bowl. What’s not to like? She is a thing of beauty. What a feast.
Believe it or not mine paled compared to the size of some other dudes’ bowls! Some had a foot long column of toppings jutting straight out of the broth. Insane. But rather than having a case of ramen envy I was actually thankful for my ‘normal’ sized bowl. I barely finished it. I really had to power through, and as much as I wanted to sit back and enjoy every bite I felt pressure to eat quickly. Partly because so many people were waiting, and also because ramen — especially in a boys’ club kind of place like Senrigan – is just not something to be prissy about.
Walk into a ramen shop in Japan and the predominant gender is male and the predominant sound is ‘sluuuuurp!’ — everyone slurps their noodles over there, and it helps you eat faster because the noodles cool quicker as you slurp. But I never could quite figure out the right way to do it. I always ended up inhaling soup and coughing.
So I did the best I could, pounding first toppings, then noodles and rarely looking up from my bowl. Brian finished well ahead of me and left to wait outside. I redoubled my efforts and felt a palpable wave of relief as I neared the end of the noodles and knew I would not end up as The Tourist Who Could Not Finish.
Oh, and it was utterly delicious in the way that only something truly bad for you can be. The broth was as garlicky and porky as they come, the noodles (though almost an afterthought) thick and chewy.
Here’s how awesome it was. Every couple months a few of my best guy friends and I get together to drink beers, eat unhealthy food and talk about women. Yes, we call it Man Night (yes, that’s the best name we could think of). There is no doubt in my mind that every single Man Night in Tokyo would take place at a Jiro-kei shop. Done. Case closed. That’s the kind of shop Senrigan is… there wasn’t a single girl there.
Meguro-ku, Komaba 4-6-8