My pal Kei and I had big plans to spend the afternoon cruising the Nakano Broadway mall and geeking out on all the rad old books, toys, and comics they sell there, but first needed some stamina, or as Kei put it "HP" (Hit Points). Nakano Broadway is the kind of place where you can find mint condition idol postcards from the 70s, crazy guro manga, and a whole store devoted to just Muscle Men toys, some of which sell for hundreds of dollars (!) An afternoon there definitely called for sustenance, so Kei took me to the nearby Aoba (Green Leaves).
Aoba is a ramen shop with quite an interesting story behind it. Apparently, decades ago, somewhere in Tokyo there was an old ramen master and his young, business-savvy acolyte. At some point, the acolyte absconded with the soup recipe that the old master had spent years developing and went on to open his own shop. The shop went on to fame and fortune, opening branches all over and catapulting the young acolyte to nationwide success, while the old master languished in obscurity. Until the old master decided to teach the young whippersnapper a lesson by paying off some gangsters to kidnap, blindfold, strip, beat, and photograph the younger cook. And then the old master went to prison. And the young master's shop continued to command lines around the block. That shop is Aoba, and it's original branch is in Nakano. (For the full story, see http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comments/aoba_nakano/)
It was a warm, sunny day, so waiting 4 or 5 deep in line was no big deal, and assistants took our order while we waited, so the noodles came almost immediately after sitting down. The shop is open to the street on two sides, and has a large central cooking area surrounded by counter seats. The assistants use an interesting system to keep track of orders, and we tried to figure it out while waiting. There is a miniature map on which the assistants arrange different colored magnets to keep orders straight - yellow for tsukemen, blue for ramen, pink for extra-noodles, or whatever.
This time, I caved in and got tsukemen (dipping noodles) - I hadn't had them in a long time, and it was warm, so I figured what the hell. The noodle portion seemed to be a bit larger than it would be for regular ramen, but maybe it's just that Aoba is generous that way. There weren't really any toppings, unless you ordered separately, so I just enjoyed my thick yellow, slightly wavy noodles dipped in the soup with a few green onions. Aoba is apparently one of the first stores to start the blended niboshi (dried fish) stock soup trend, so the taste was a complex blend of something closer to a Japanese dashi taste mixed with what seemed to already be a blended ramen soup (that is to say, not straight tonkotsu, or so forth). It was tasty and not overly fishy, but I'm glad I got the tsukemen, because I think I prefer for this style of soup to have a supporting, rather than starring role. The fact that the noodles were room temperature by halfway through the bowl reminded me why I avoid tsukemen, but that didn't keep me from slurping down Kei's leftovers too.
All in all, I'm glad I could try the infamous Aoba, but in the end, my lack of interest in blended fish stock soup was reinforced.