October 27, 2014
Fall has arrived in Tokyo and with it an indefatigable sense of nostalgia, or natsukashisa. My time in this country might be coming to a close (maybe not… I’m working on it) and some blasts from the past have re-entered and re-exited my life like some Princess Mononoke tree spirits. So the time seems right to revisit one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had, and one that I never properly wrote about.
Back in May during Japan’s Golden Week — the strangely-named spring break-esque weeklong holiday — I took a trip up to the Nikko region a couple hours north of Tokyo and was lucky enough to couch-surf with a rad dude named Tomo. I didn’t realize it until I showed up, but he lives in his parents’ house in a countryside town called Suzumenomiya and the family business is noodles. Yes, noodles. As in there is a noodle factory adjacent to their house and they make high quality old school udon and soba noodles to sell around the region. I couldn’t make this up. But that wasn’t the only coincidence. Every detail of his small town, even the feel and layout of his family’s house, was a direct reflection of my hometown in semi-rural Ohio. The only difference was Tomo’s dad watching ping pong on TV instead of football.
Basically it all looks like this:
Also, unlike Tokyo, where the dense urban metropolis forces businesses to squeeze on top of each other with shared walls on the ground floors of large buildings (like most cities), Suzumenomiya’s restaurants and stores each had their very own building to themselves. Picture a McDonald’s in your average American town versus the storefront-only ones in a big city’s downtown area. I don’t know why this is such a big deal to me. Just go with it. Anyhow, it’s all just exposition so I can tell you about a super cool bowl of ramen I had there.
Tomo took me to Jiraiya, a Jiro-kei and abura soba phenomenon in the middle of nowhere. You literally could not eat at this place without both a car and local help. Their most popular bowl is called Raito Ichiro, and even that name underscores the local vibe — it’s a reference to Ichiro Suzuki the baseball player (is he still on the Yankees?), who plays right field. It was just like going to Pizza Hut. (Which means you could have Booked It again this month!)
Jiraiya had its own parking lot and the interior was pretty big. Totally different from Tokyo ramen shops. Tomo ordered the Jiro-kei and I chose the abura soba (of course).
That’s Tomo’s in the upper left.
They brought me this beast:
It’s like they read my mind. In my heart of hearts I couldn’t imagine and more satisfying bowl of… fats, oils, and assorted pig parts. And the best part of abura soba is that the inherent fat is never enough — they always add pure fat as a topping. And it’s still easy to lose weight in Japan. Just maybe not in Suzumenomiya.
As if that wasn’t enough they had honest-to-goodness hot sauce on hand!
This is unheard of in spice-phobic Japan. I added a healthy dose and it kicked a hole in my mouth. It was awesome. Tomo added a small dab to his ramen. I don’t think he enjoyed it as much.
It just occurred to me that the following picture could have been the entire review.
Am I the only geek reminded of something? It’s the elusive Mayo Slime of Suzumenomiya!
Any time your ramen accurately conjures 8-bit Dragon Warrior memories then congratulations, you’ve just won at life. Which is exactly how I felt after finishing the bowl.
I felt like one of my Japanese friends who have visited a steakhouse in America — they can never believe how big our steaks are. It always seems as though it were one of their trip’s highlights, a giant American meal of half a cow. Raito Ichiro’s abura soba was a lifetime of flavors in one bowl. And right now I’m starting to think that a $20, two hour train ride might just be worth it.
RAMEN JIRAIYA / ラーメン地雷屋
Tochigi Prefecture, Kawachi-gun
Kaminokawa Sayado 123-7
Check out the Ramen Shaman Map!