August 21, 2013
I went to the future the other day and found this synopsis on an IMDB page from 2018:
A lonely Tokyo ramen shop proprietor secretly pines for a local bar owner and former model. His three most devoted customers, two wacky foreigners and their Japanese friend, fear the ramen master will die without passing his secret recipe onto a new generation. But upon discovering the master’s clandestine love they concoct a plan to bring the pair together, thus ensuring a future heir. Chaos ensues.
The best part? It is 100% true (almost).
Let me explain. I met Kei, an Asakusa local, on my Japan trip in 2012. This year he was hell-bent on taking me to his favorite local shops. Shamefully, I accepted almost begrudgingly — in a mighty display of self-righteousness I assumed that since I, the great and powerful Ramen Shaman hadn’t heard of them, they couldn’t possibly be good.
This despite the fact that there are over 10,000 ramen shops in Tokyo. The lesson is, as always: I am a moron.
Kei kept talking about Bunsuke, a tiny shop near the Sumida River, run by a single man in his 50s. He always works alone, just him and his ramen. So on one of my first nights in Tokyo we went, joined by Kei’s friend Rami, a Norwegian studying in Japan. On the way over Rami told me that for a while he was eating ramen five times a week — always at Bunsuke. He had lived in Tokyo for months, and had eaten ramen countless times, but only at Bunsuke. It was the only shop he had ever been to. I figured he was nuts.
He’s not nuts. Upon taking my first sip I’m pretty sure I shouted “Holy crap!” out loud. I couldn’t have been more surprised — it was magnanimous. Big, bold, garlicky, deep. The platonic ideal. I was floored! I immediately snapped a picture with my phone and uploaded it to Facebook. People needed to know about this ramen.
And only 600 yen (about $6) for a massive jiro-kei bowl, toppings spilling out over the edge of the bowl — a deal putting $5 footlongs to shame. The chashu was like eating a Christmas dinner, the broth clung to the thick, chewy noodles like a creamsicle, and the hunks of rough-cut garlic exploded all over the place. Yet the broth was strong enough to balance it all out. Ramen heaven!
It was a few days later, while the three of us pounded beers at a bar called Ha Ha Ha (aka the greatest name ever), that Kei told us about Bunsuke’s secret love for a local bar matron (I’m assuming the owner’s name is Bunsuke). He had heard about it through the local grapevine. Because Bunsuke worked alone and had never shared his recipe with anyone Rami was worried that when he died, so too would his secret. We joked about secretly setting Bunsuke up with the bar matron, doing things on Bunsuke’s behalf Amelie-style to attract her attention and spur a reciprocated love. The movie pretty much wrote itself at that point and we amused ourselves coming up with plot details long into the night.
I’m thinking Brad Pitt will play me.
I’ve never been more happy to feel like this:
This was the most surprising bowl of ramen I have ever eaten, right up there with the best I’ve ever had. A totally random, nondescript shop in old-school Asakusa, and a prime example of why I need to move to Japan.
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