I was hanging out with my friend R the other day, and we had a long conversation about the Tin Tin comic "The Blue Lotus." Naturally, the appropriate place to go after such a discussion would be right down the block to a ramen shop called "The Crimson Lotus" (Guren). Guren is one of the new kids in town in the 'Baba scene, and just opened two months ago.
Guren is located on Sôdai-dôri right near the Waseda main gate - just keep a look out for the huge baroque castle, and it's right next door
Guren may be new, but it's wasting no time in attracting attention, as up-and-coming ramen critic Ishiyama Hayato features the shop in his new ramen guide. The flashy red sign and clean decor definitely caught my eye as I was biking down the road.
When you walk into Guren, you know exactly what you're in for. Shrimp. If you didn't notice the clapboard advertising shrimp tsukemen (dipping noodles) on the way in, you'll figure it out as soon as you slide open the door. The assault on the nostrils by the aroma of boiling pandalus platyceros (or one of its cousins) is intense. But in a good way. If you like shrimp.
Guren definitely goes for the clean and modern aesthetic, with a stainless steel counter occupying the center of a darkish room lined with stone tiles and wood paneling. Guren must be succeeding at something because the counter was packed with that rarest species of all ramen eaters, the young single woman. When we arrived, more than half the seats were filled with well-dressed Waseda undergrads of the type who one does not tend to run into at ramen shops, at least not unless they're hanging on the arm of a cajoling boyfriend.
So, what makes Guren so special? Their tsukemen is unlike any other I've tasted; rather than a sweet, fishy, and vinegary bowl of tsukemen dipping soup in the Taishôken tradition, they serve up a sauce of what tastes like pure, rich, shrimp extract. The soup arrives in a thick, hot bowl, bubbling like a witches' brew. On top are a few flakes of what I presumed to be dried...shrimp. Underneath, the base broth is allegedly made with chicken, pork, and a touch of fish, but trust me when I say that's not what you'll taste. If that doesn't sound good to you, then stay away, since it's the one and only menu item Guren offers.
Special care is taken for Guren's noodles as well; extra thick, extra chewy, and plenty of 'em - up to 300 grams for the base price. These chunky noodles are the perfect kind...
...to dip in that thick, gooey soup. Guren advertises an extra thick and rich soup, and they do not lie. Rather than a light, thin broth, or even a thicker filmy and syrupy soup like some tsukemen shops, Guren serves up something more akin in consistency to curry. The thick soup sticks to the noodles admirably, and each bite is full of flavor. My pal R is not generally a big ramen fan, but we were both digging the hell out of this liquid shrimp cocktail.
Guren has done a good job making a name for itself, and its popularity is as richly deserved as the soup is...rich. The equally bomb Ebi Soba Keisuke II up by 'Baba station does a shrimp-based ramen, but the two are completely different from each other, and both are worth your yen. And now for the greatest shrimp-related bit of popular culture ever made: