Now, here's some ramen you don't get every day. You may remember my adviser, Professor T, he who dares to slurp tsukemen without so much as tucking in his Hermes tie, downing bowls without spilling a single drop. Professor T is well aware of my love for ramen (and this blog!), and we had long discussed getting another bowl together.
Well, Professor T, in his extreme generosity made one poor graduate student's day. After a brief discussion of 1920s language reform - an appetite stimulant, natch - he took me out to grab a bowl...at the Kôka Ryûhô (Imperial House of the Dragon and Phoenix) restaurant inside the extremely proper Rihga Royal Hotel.
Professor T had rightly pointed out (he never points things out wrongly, trust me) that despite all my ramenating and ramen eating, I was overlooking a very significant category of ramen, namely hotel Chinese food ramen. Every nice hotel in Tokyo worth its both proverbial and literal salt has a Chinese restaurant inside. Love for ramen just might transcend class. In any case, well-heeled wheeler-dealers need space to slurp away from the public eye.
And while those restaurants may specialize in banquet food and fine preparations (like this sea urchin gelee served with sashimi)...they always offer Japanese-Chinese staples too. This of course includes ramen, which was, you recall, called "Chûka Soba" (Chinese noodles) and imported as "Chinese" food around the turn of the last century.
So, after dusting off the above appetizers, a bit of light tempura vegetable fritters served orchid-side...
It was noodle time! We decided to do a taste test, starting with the Gomoku Yasai Soba (mixed vegetable noodles), featuring a veritable wok-full of fresh veggies atop a light yet flavorful shôyu (soy sauce) broth. Basically, this is your average street-cart style old school Tokyo ramen done up proper, rather than cooked in a vat in a parking lot, and the nuanced flavors and lack of oil made the difference.
But the star of the meal was no doubt the Fukahire Ramen - thin noodles in a rich creamy pork bone broth topped with a generous slice of tender shark fin. Mein gottes in himmel, this was a luscious delicacy. Imagine a tonkotsu broth made just a bit sweeter, but instead of roast pork, you get melt-in-your mouth ineffably soft whatever it is that shark fin is made of. It's a delicate taste hard to describe if you've never tried it.
Sorry Mom, sorry Jewish upbringing, sorry Nature.
And if that wasn't decadent enough, note the bright orange chunks of crab roe. This was truly a treat. Professor T and I savored every bite. Plus, when's the last time you had a tuxedoed waiter refill your cup of tea every time you took a sip while you slurped?
As much as I wanted to let that taste linger in my mouth for hours, I couldn't resist a bit of almond pudding to finish off the meal.
It's been months, but Professor T, if you're reading this, thanks again for a great lunch and for introducing me to a whole new side, nay genre, of ramen I'd never have discovered otherwise.