Saturday, April 3, 2010

十番 (Jûban)

After a number of decidedly new school bowls, I wanted to revisit some ramen roots. Not far from Higashi-Nakano station is Jûban, one of the oldest and best loved shops in the area.

Jûban has been around since 1956, which makes it almost as old as the 70 year old woman in shades and blue leopard stripe pants and puffing on a cigarette. That's Nakano for you.

Jûban is representative of an older breed of ramen shop - the neighborhood Chinese restaurant with a noodle counter. I recently read a short feature on Jûban with a brief Q and A with the shop master, Mitamura Kôji: Q: What's at the heart of a good bowl of noodles? A: Simpleness. Q: Where did you learn how to cook ramen? A: From the previous owner of Jûban. Q: What other ramen shops do you like? None in particular. And there you go.

It's a nice neighborhood vibe inside, with a mix of pink-haired hip young couples, old men sharing tables and chatting, and hungry salarymen. Express trains pass by Higashi-Nakano, so like at most local stations, things move a little bit slower.

Though Jûban offers a full list of Japanese-Chinese dishes like crab omlettes, liver and leek stir fry, and wonton noodles, the famous dish here is tanmen, and rightfully so. Meaning simply "soup noodles" in Chinese, tanmen is the original shio (salt) ramen, featuring a thin Chinese-style white chickeny broth topped with a generous helping of vegetables wokked with lard and sesame oil. Also try tapping on some of the house chili paste.

While many tanmen places use very thin, stretchy noodles, Jûbans are fat, homemade, chewy, and delicious. And it's always good to get your veggies, even if that just means onions, bok choy, and sliced carrots. We may be getting on to spring, but this is the perfect food for a cold winter day. It may lack the added note of lamb soup like at Inaho, but Jûban racks up one of the best tanmen bowls in town. It's simple, but you'll find yourself slurping to the end.

No comments: