Friday, March 26, 2010

九州らーめん (Kyushu Ramen)

There are different reasons for wanting to eat at a specific ramen shop. Maybe you saw it on TV. Maybe you saw it in a magazine. Maybe a friend told you it was good. Maybe the master trained at your favorite shop. Or maybe you'd just walked by it so many times that you couldn't help but get curious.

Kyushu Ramen falls firmly in the last category. Located at one of the major intersections in the seedy nightlife district of Kabukicho, I passed Kyushu ramen countless times while stumbling my way home at blue'o'clock AM after drinking in Golden Gai. "One of these days, I will eat there, but for now, I am drunk, and I want to go to bed," I told myself. I figured the ramen would most likely be horrible, but at least there would probably be some yakuza, cabaret hostesses and other denizens of the 3 AM shift inside.

Well, a few weeks ago, after a *few* drinks, my pal A and I found ourselves stumbling along that same familiar route, and we deemed it a good call to put some more calories in our bellies for sustenance on the long walk home.

Needless to say, the place was properly packed with drunken salarymen, yakuza types, hostess girls, and even a few old-guard mama-sans in fur trimmed kimonos. "Hey, how come those guys got their food before we did even though they ordered after us?" A wondered. "Probably because they are in the mob, dude."

One broken glass, several tired looks from the staff, and an indefinite number of minutes later, we got our food.

Kyushu Ramen offers everything under the sun a drunk person might want, from chicken and dumplings to "variety meals" (whatever that means), to of course, several different kinds of ramen.

I was half-surprised to see that the ramen I got did indeed resemble ramen from the southern island of Kyushu, a pretty passable stab at reproducing Kumamoto Ramen - milky white but relatively thin yet garlicky tonkotsu (pork bone) soup, medium thin extra straight noodles, an overcooked egg. No wood-ear mushrooms, but we're not exactly splitting hairs here. They pulled off a better bowl than the Waseda University Cafeteria attempt at Kyushu ramen (which wasn't bad at all).

My taste buds weren't exactly firing at full bore, but you know what, it tasted pretty good. Most likely anything would have tasted good after that much distilled barley liquor, but hey, with their clientele, Kyushu ramen could slide by serving up a lot worse. To be honest, I even preferred this to famous Kumamoto ramen shop Keika in Shibuya. As much as the ramen world changes and advances, a major purpose of the stuff will always be filling the bellies of drunk single dudes, and we were that.

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