Sunday, March 22, 2009

七志 Nanashi

It was another beautiful day, so I planned another long bike ride, cruising out along the Chûô Line to the suburb of Kichijôji. But I needed some pre-departure sustenance, so before heading out of 'Baba I turned down the bustling little alley called Sakae-dôri just west of the station.

Even though I've upped my ramen consumption in the last week or so, I hadn't done a solid bowl of tonkotsu in a while, so I thought I'd give Nanashi a try.

It looked a bit chain-store-y and corporate, but I had read decent things, so I came in with a pretty open mind.

Inside was pretty bland too, extra clean with lots of tables and no distinguishing characteristics. Nanashi opened ten years ago in Yokohama and has about 10 shops in the metropolitan area. The name means "Seven Ambitions," which I guessed to be some kind of archaic Confucian reference, but instead it refers, rather lamely, to the seven principles of corporate guidance that the company follows - stuff like "maintaining a professional position in the food service industry" and "protecting the safety standards of our products." Ramen itself doesn't even appear in one of them. Laaaaaaaaaaaaame. Can a shop this corporate serve good ramen?

I took a gander at the glossy full-color photo menu and decided to go with my default of basic ramen with a soft-boiled egg. What I got was, thankfully, definitely ramen with some distinguishing characteristics. The thick tonkotsu broth is balanced out with two different kinds of tare (flavor essence) - a basic shôyû (soy sauce) and a special homebrew of ground up sesame and fresh garlic; and then you've got the generous helping of mâyû, the dark brown burnt garlic oil. Rather than the standard toppings of menma bamboo shoots and onions, you get crunchy green kuki wakame seaweed shoots and mysterious brown slivers that it took me a minute to realize are thick cuts of ginger.

Although it doesn't say so anywhere, all signs point to Kumamoto ramen as the starting point for Nanashi's menu. It's definitely Kyushu-style tonkotsu, and the slightly thick noodles, generous helping of mâyû rather than fresh garlic, and the presence of seaweed put it out of the Hakata category. More than anything else, Nanashi's ramen closely resembles that of Kumamoto-style standby Keika, if Keika's noodles were being served by the corporate Kômen chain. I added a dash of the tableside red ginger (another Kyushu necessity) and dug in.

Not surprisingly, the garlic was intense. Rather than the sharpness of fresh garlic, Nanashi's broth had an almost bitter taste, but in a not unpleasant way, if that makes any sense. The broth was rich and dense, and somewhat "rustic" tasting and rough around the edges, not unlike at Higo Noren, another quality Kumamoto ramen shop. My experience at Nanashi was also similar to Higo Noren in that at first the broth tasted almost pungent, but blended to become smoother and tastier with each bite, until I wanted to slurp down to the last drop. The ginger worked nicely to give a bit of a sweet bite to offset the strong garlic and briny seaweed. In the end, you've got a bowl that has a lot more character than the shop serving it.

Plus, Nanashi gave me enough fuel to make it all the way out to Kichijôji, where I tracked down the newly completed house of everyone's favorite fey and cartoonish 70-year-old horror manga artist, Umezu Kazuo. It looks a little something like this:

And would you believe that his neighbors tried to sue him for "inflicting visual violence upon the neighborhood." The nerve!


octopus and solar anus said...

awesome nate. this will be my new guide. i lived in kumamoto but never ate ramen there. now i will have to settle for kumamoto-style ramen in tokyo. plus that umezu place is pretty sweet. not sure about horror manga--i tried one earlier this year-fuan no tane, or something-it did have some creepy images but maybe i should go back to the classics. i now have to write the word 'fullu'

Nate said...

man, i bet you regret not eating that kumamoto ramen now. i love solar anus. do you have the double CD discography.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a bit late to say this, but if you liked Nanashi in Shibuya it's well worth scouting out the Nanashi in Okurayama, which is out on the Toyoko line a bit past Jiyugaoka. They do a completely over the top set menu where the ramen is accompanied by a small bowl of rice topped with absolutely delicious sweet pork belly. Also, there is a ramen topping consisting of what I can only describe as minature dorito 3Ds (this sounds bad, but it really isn't), which doesn't seem to exist at other Nanashis. In my experience the broth always tastes somehow fresher and less pointlessly greasy at the Okurayama shop. Finally, when I was going there in 2010-2011 the shop had the friendliest chef I have ever met, bar none, whom I unimaginitively thought of as Mr Smiley Man.