Saturday, November 28, 2009


It was a drizzly evening and I was strolling through Shinjuku, headed south to go see a long anticipated performance by the one, the only, the spectacular, the fabulous Gallantique Kazue. I had got to know Kazue through drinking at his bar, but had yet to see him at his finest, dressed in the full regalia of a breathy 1970s style lounge chanteuse and serenading his fans with sultry pop standards. On stage, Kazue is all class and pizzazz, but at heart he's a ramen loving son of Fukuoka, and nary a visit to his bar goes by without a lament of the difficulty of finding a truly transcendent bowl of Hakata style tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen in Tokyo.

As should be clear by now, I eat a lot of ramen. I eat a lot of extremely delicious ramen, and some pretty mediocre ramen, and I eat plenty of ramen somewhere between the two poles. And yet, however many hundred bowls in, there's a certain kind of satisfaction that I can only glean from a certain kind of ramen. That satisfaction, of course, is the pure comforting pleasure of a smelly bowl of Hakata ramen. There's nothing quite like noodles in rendered pork marrow, and in honor of Hakata boy Kazue, I decided to scratch that itch in his honor.

The day's site of scratching would be Goten, which had long been on my radar as a potential candidate for a solid bowl. Located along the main thoroughfare of Meiji-dôri, I had been smelling Goten for months every time I passed by, and as any Hakata ramen fan knows, a pungent stench is a near sure sign of a tasty bowl.

Though a simple counter in structure, Goten goes above and beyond the call of duty of a standard ramen shop, offering not just plenty of noodles, but a full menu of pub-style favorites. Though a big menu can be the kiss of death for a ramen shop, Goten's has the internal consistency of booze-paired snacks (and the accompanying distilled spirits) from the southern island of Kyushu.

The ramen menu itself is almost comically long, though the variations lie fully in the toppings and additions, as all are based off the same classic melted pork marrow base. Tempted as I was by "Indian-style ramen" and "Thai-style ramen", I went with the menu item sure to make my pores emit an even more pungent smell - Kimchi and garlic.

And then you can't forget the spicy pickled mustard greens, the sweet crimson pickled ginger, and the fresh ground sesame seeds. The perfect storm of strong and smelly, just how I like it. I can't put my finger on it, but something about Goten's bowl just had more soul than your average bowl of tonkotsu, a kind of raw feeling that more expertly crafted bowls like Ippûdô's lack. I don't know if it would be good enough for Gallantique Kazue, but it was good enough for me and then some.

The noodles were available in an impressive array of al dente degrees, and I ordered mine "harigane" ("wiry"), which means popped in and out of the boiling water for a mere two seconds. And of course I had to go and call for a kaedama (noodle refill). The only downside to Goten is the price - 700 yen is a bit steep for a basic Hakata bowl, especially when most toppings clock in at 200 yen a pop. At least you get what you pay for.

But that wasn't enough. I wouldn't stop until I made myself sick. One more menu item was calling out to me, the cryptic sounding MTOC - Mentai Takana Omu Chahan. Translation - fried rice with mustard greens topped with an egg and doused in cod roe mayonnaise. This is basically my perfect food of all time. I was so satiated, so satisfied, so fucking full.

All that was left to do was thank the cooks profusely on the way out. Oh, and sip whiskey in a dark cabaret while listening to a crossdresing singer sing the hits.


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