It is a liberalising experience to be able to slurp noodles without committing an etiquette faux pas. Go into any noodle shop in Japan and there will be a chorus of diners enthusiastically and audibly supping on noodles. I’ve certainly noticed this liberal slurping with my first few ramen experiences, yet in spite of the slurping liberation I struggle to bring myself to slurp with half the gusto the Japanese do, I’ve tried, I tried so hard to slurp with gusto that I gave myself the hiccups. Sure I’ll release a small slurp, if the need arises, but I just can’t bring myself to slurp with such abandon. This failure has made me ask myself why, sadly I have discovered that I find the sound of voracious slurping close to intolerable and can’t accept myself being responsible for such a sound.
I have spent most of my time in Kawaguchiko enjoying the fresh air and spectacular views of the snow capped Mount Fuji from the lakes shore, the cherry blossoms are yet to bud significantly and the deciduous trees stark indeed, but it’s tranquil and wonderful none the less. It’s also cold, lucky for me that here on the lakes northern shore the few less touristic restaurants are noodle houses, serving mounds of noodles swimming in fragrant and warm soup.
The noodle sets look appealing, offering a few additional items to make the meal more engaging. The hot soba meal came accompanied by some tempura: shrimp, eggplant, leaf, green pepper and pumpkin. As well as rice, crisp vegetable pickles, and some cold tofu. The soba noodles, made from buckwheat had a bowl full of slightly sweet liquor with a distinctive taste of kombu and mirin, I think I could taste hints of shiitake mushroom in the liquor too. It is a subtle flavour that underwhelms initially, but grows on me each time I taste it. By the end I think I preferred it to the other dish.
The other meal we ordered was a beef hoto meal set, red beans and rice, tofu, dumplngs and pickles completing the set. The hoto is a miso based broth, with loads of vegetables creating a thick stew with noodles and small pieces of meat. The wide hand cut udon noodles had a great mouth feel, they are chewy and springy, deliciously coated in an incredibly flavoursome sauce. The small pieces of beef and the array of vegetables including radish, cabbage, carrot and potato give great body and interest to the stew.
This dish was eaten at a lakeside restaurant near Lake Seiko, reportedly the most beautiful lake of the five lakes in the Fuji area. It was nice to journey away from the small thin crowds and shops of Kawaguchiko, the views from Lake Seiko are similar, yet different, with Fuji wearing a forest garland, rather than one of urban sprawl. Sitting outside in the cool crisp mountain air I tucked into Nikko udon, while enjoying the view. I enjoyed the udon too, the great chewy, toothsome noodles are very satisfying the fish based broth is laced with soy and strips of tender pork.
Searching and failing to successfully eat at a very local Yakiniku joint in the ‘burbs of Kawaguchiko we instead settled for a local ramen joint nearby, rather than face the restaurant selection in town. It seemed like a great idea, to try a local venue, for local people. It was. The lady that staffed this ramen joint was awesome, she did everything besides work the wok station. The guy manning that did little else, besides work the wok, so while she ran ragged he slowly worked, I do hope for her sake that fat bugger wasn’t her husband, he was really not much use. Between them they did however produce some delicious food.
The Chinese chive salt ramen came topped with stir fried garlic chives, bean sprouts, garlic and pork piled on top of the freshly cooked noodles the simple broth although lacking a little flavour was boosted by the noodles topping.
My partners soy based ramen was a great example of soy ramen, not my favourite ramen, yet enjoyable, the plate of freshly made gyoza certainly helped break the monotony of this soup.