My first foray into Japanese eating came from a subterranean food “alley” shop. It’s going to be fairly tough to decide what to eat most of the time, but not today. It’s freaking cold outside, and I’m ill prepared for it mentally, having just got of a red eye flight, the best thing would be a giant bowl of steaming hot soup, in Japan, that means ramen. It’s my first day, the first meal and I have already resigned myself to the fact that I am likely to feel very stupid for the next few weeks, I speak no Japanese and read even less.
With a pre-purchase system in operation at the ramen joint I am thankful the vending machine used to order and prepay the meal has images of the dishes sold. I’m a bit lost for drinks though and really don’t want to push the kanji only buttons random style to get a drink. Once inside and seated, I pass the vouchers to the waitress and in a few minutes the food arrives. It’s a great system, and once you’re finished you collect yourself and leave. It struck me how genuine the ramen joints in London appear, when compared to the style shown here this venue could easily be one of those, except of course the number of Japanese diners.
The pork ramen was awesome, as good ramen always is, the murky liquor a little fatty so my lips stuck together between each deliciously rich porky slurp. The thinly sliced pork belly was superbly tender, my chopsticks just delivering it to my mouth in time for it to melt onto my tongue, the unctuous liquor coating the springy egg noodles with an impressive flavour. This was a great example, a nibbled the soft fish roe, using the salty and sharp fish taste to break the richness, the black surfaced soft boiled egg with it’s still runny orange yolk, reset the palate before I slurp again.
Not that I felt it necessary to manipulate my ramen at all, but there were plenty of condiments to do it, if I had desired. A fresh garlic puree, so smooth I think they used hot water to puree it, toasted sesame seeds in a grinder, some classic soy sauce, chilli oil and some clear rice vinegar. There was also some sort of chilli paste, clearly fermented, completely new to me, I’m going to need to learn about this some more.
As great as the ramen was, the shop also sold another item, one I love, dumplings. The gyoza were better than I expected, the pastry thin and elastic, the bottom crisp, the filling oozing a delicious porkiness with each bite, and the top pastry with a light oil sheen. The table condiments coming in very handy indeed.