Life is a journey that's hopefully as long as a ramen noodle, and sometimes you need to take a little rest along the way. So while you've got your legs kicked up, why not put your head down and take a slurp? You could find a lot worse places to do just that than Tabi no Tochû - "A Stop Along the Way", located on a side street in South Kôenji.
The solo-flying shop master has a favorite journeyman of his own, none other than the wandering minstrel Bob Dylan. The shop BGM is all Dylan, all the time, so besides ramen fans, any hungry followers of a one Robert Zimmerman should swing by and try a bowl here. Don't think twice, it's alright, just open up that door.
Keizo and I wandered in one lazy morning, but unlike a character in a Dylan ballad, didn't meet any brown-haired damsels, only the taciturn but friendly cook and a few fellow travelers on the road to noodle satisfaction. Between the music, the decorations, and the demeanor, the shop master's done a nice job making Tabi no Tochû a relaxing place to have a bowl.
With only 7 or so seats in a boxy little room, there's not much to do but take your time and watch the cook take his time preparing each bowl from scratch in the tiny kitchen filled with tiny pots.
While you wait, you can snack on a few stems of greens provided for free to each customer. No complaints there. Ain't got no quarrel with free veggies.
In addition to the standard menu of shôyu (soy sauce) ramen, shio (salt) ramen, and tsukemen (dipping noodles), Tabi no Tochû has a rotating monthly menu of in-season appetizers and special noodles. In March, snap peas were on offer, served with some coarse grain salt and plum paste. Who knew a visit to a ramen shop could be so healthy?
Keizo got the standard shôyu, which was very light, but with lots of complex flavors. I couldn't tell you just what ingredients go into the soup, but a lot of thought went into this bowl. 900 yen is a bit pricy for a bowl of noodles, but how often does 9 bucks get you a meal of slow food prepared from scratch? I tried a sip and savored the flavors expanding through my mouth.
Bob Dylan isn't know to be the most observant Jew, and sorry Bubbie, neither am I. I decided to go with the monthly special bowl of "milk soup ramen" - a carbonara creation made with plenty of dairy, parmesan cheese, cauliflower, parsley, white mushrooms, and bacon. Being the pseudo-vegetarian that I am, I ordered no bacon, but the cook told me that he had to leave the bacon in to properly flavor the soup, so he just decreased the portion (which Keizo happily munched down). Definite points for splitting the uprights between catering to customers and properly protecting the flavor.
The milk soup noodles were eminently tasty, if resembling a gourmet bowl of pasta as least as much as a bowl of ramen. The soup was thick, more of a sauce, but creamy (duh) and delicious - I'd be happy to get this dish at any good Italian restaurant. The mushrooms and cauliflower added an earthy note (and I don't even like mushrooms!), and the soup never felt overly cloying or fatty. The noodles were nice and stretchy, with lots of give and chew.
Good to the very last drop, I didn't even need any bread to sop up the soup. To be fair, though, I think I liked Keizo's even better; a good carbonara is certainly impressive, but there's nothing quite like a bowl of simple ramen crafted so thoughtfully. I don't know what Lily, Rosemary, the Jack of Hearts (or Big Jim, for that matter) might think of Tabi no Tochû's ramen, but I'm planning on going back.
So, next time you're in Kôenji, think about making Tabi no Tochû a stop along your own journey. Provided, that is, that you're OK with having a hundred sets of Bob Dylan eyes staring back at you while you use the bathroom.