I can't remember what I was up to the day I ate this bowl, but I seem to remember being in a somewhat pissy mood for some reason or other. Maybe because the sun was setting and I somehow had forgotten to eat lunch?
But there's an easy solution to that problem, and its name is J-î-r-o. I had identified my empty stomach as the cause of my discomfort and decided to eat at the next ramen shop I saw, whatever it was. Dô----n. That's the sound of a huge bowl of ramen hitting the counter, and that's the sound my belly (and heart) made when it jumped at the site of the Ogikubo branch of the infamous Ramen Jirô.
My previous Jirô escapade had been a trip to the original shop in Mita, and I've banged down past bowls at the Takadanobaba and Shinjuku Otakibashi branches. Jirô, known for its massive size and incredibly oily demeanor, is not the kind of place to enter unless you're on an empty stomach. Fortunately, I was, so I slid on in. Each Jirô branch is run by a former student of the original Mr. Jirô, Yamada Takumi, who then goes forth to open his own shop. Thus, each shop has its own character and some variations in the menu. The Takadanobaba branch is quite orthodox, and the one in Otakibashi is extra clean and friendly. The Ogikubo branch is a bit funky. Though Jirô's have a reputation for unfriendliness, I've never felt it so much as here.
Three old ladies (!?!?!) were in front of me in line, and clearly did not know proper Jirô ordering protocol, resulting in the cook snapping at them to wait their turn before asking for no garlic. When I asked why the bathroom was locked, the cook gave me an exhausted look and proceeded to jimmy open the door with a screwdriver.
But what's on the second floor up those spiral stairs?
I found out a few minutes later, when the staff helper shuffled slowly down holding a sack of pork parts. A hunchbacked staff helper. No, really, a guy with a hunch back. He proceeded to shuffle back up the stairs carrying some crates, then shuffled back down again to receive his daily ramen ration to go slurp in solitude back in the belfry. Just what's going on here?!?
Even weirder is the fact that this is one of the only Jirô locations that provides amenities for the customer. Tissues to wipe up the grease!
Cups of water for those who didn't come prepared with their own bottles! Just what kind of crazy Jirô is this?!
A crazy good one, that's what! Everytime I eat Jirô, brutal as it is, I can't help but love it all over again. That oil! That grease! Those massive toppings! The heaps of raw garlic! That special tangy and sweet magical soy sauce that no one else has!
Blowing out your arteries never tasted so damn good. Yeah, that's a chunk of lard.
But each Jirô puts their own special touches on, and Ogikubo really outdoes themselves, hunchbacks and assholes they may be. 20 yen in cash gets you a little helping of spicy red chilis soaked in their own oil. Perhaps the best cost performance on a single topping I've ever seen, these packed some punch.
An additional 50 yen gets you an almost raw egg to break on top of your massive piles of noodles sitting in melted pork, just in case your heart was still beating before. This stuff really puts Ogikubo Jirô in the top tier of its oft-celebrated and imitated chain.
And of course, the rough cut noodles are still as thick and chewy as all-get-out. I don't know what else there is to say about Jirô that hasn't been said already. You love it or you hate it, but it is nothing other than a force to be reckoned with.
And this time I didn't even have to run to the toilet the next morning!