May 16, 2013
Los Angeles to San Francisco. San Francisco to Tokyo. Tokyo to Sapporo. Plane to train to subway to foot. 33 straight hours of travel and my first meal in Japan made it all worthwhile.
Welcome to すみれ (Sumire). My couch-surfing hosts initially thought my ramen fixation was a cute diversion but quickly realized they were in over their heads. Neither had been to Sumire before, despite it being somewhat famous in Japan. It came highly recommended from a number of sources.
A quick read through my most recent posts reveals a common theme — searching for a proper bowl of miso ramen in America. I’ve given up. Nothing matched those two bowls I had in Japan last year (at Kururi and Eki), not even a shop called Misoya in Manhattan (I was there two weeks ago). It’s like a pro basketball fan trying to watch a high school game.
That’s why I’m in Hokkaido, the birthplace of miso ramen.
Sumire is on the second floor in Sapporo’s bustling Susukino district. Behind the counter was a giant pot brimming with pig parts and cabbage (the waitress said I couldn’t photograph it… I asked her if it was ok in Japanese — I want the whole world to know that I can speak a little, ok?).
And then she brought me this.
This is miso ramen. See how dark the broth is? It’s like the mucous you’d cough up in the midst of the world cold ever. Is that too gross? Not to me. It was delicious. First sip confirmed it. I don’t know jack about miso, the making of it or proper preparation of it, but when it is done right it has an unreal depth of flavor and a caramel-like profile.
Notice the thick layer of clear oil on top to lock in the heat (Hokkaido is like Japan’s Alaska). It works.
It was excellent. There’s nothing else to say. What, do you actually need me to tell you the noodles were fresh and firm and the toppings were top notch? To be honest I actually got a little nervous before taking my first sip — I was worried my memory surpassed the reality. It was everything I hoped for.
America has some good ramen shops and a few great ones. We have access to some pretty legit tonkotsu and shoyu and shio shops. But you haven’t tried miso broth until you’ve been to Japan.