Pilgrimage to Fukamachi-san’s (深町正男) joint on a Friday evening yet an ultra early seating at 5 pm. As the ultimate old guard of the ‘Yamanoue stream’, which LG is a big fan, not to mention all the hype with its rankings, it was not without expectation as we sipped our first beer at the counter while the red hot sun was still shining brightly outside. True to its origin, the typical Yamanoue ‘no frills’ approach was indeed executed perfectly by the Fukamachis, deeply concentrating on their cooking and let the ingredients do the talking instead. From the classic kisu and magochi to the seasonal young onion and ayu, adding on top the amazing abalone plus other rare goodies, it was an impeccable showing all in all. Will certainly try to squeeze in for a Tendon lunch the next time around, which was said to be the best value in town.
When a certain district in Tokyo actually has its own annual ‘Curry Grand Prix’, you know they mean business. Historically famous for its old book stores, coffee shops and small eateries are natural add-ons to Kanda and Jinbocho, hence the subsequent birth of a curry town. Opted for an old guard to start what will probably be a multi-year Kanda curry trail, LG was first taken aback by its surprisingly low profile location, given its reputation. Calling it a ‘hidden’ curry shop is probably not too far off, and without much digging beforehand one would never have guessed that it is being tugged in the corner on the second floor of an old book store, with its entrance at a back alley in between two buildings.
Being the second lunch of the day for LG, it turned out to be quite a relaxing one having been able to avoid the lunch crowd. As expected, it was mostly the regulars there and nearly everybody went for the signature dish, a hearty ‘European-style’ (demi-glaced) beef curry, with cheese on rice and the iconic poached potatoes and butter on the side. A classic taste no doubt with its richness actually resembles those here back in town, which yours truly preferred much more than some of its lighter and more acidic counterparts in Tokyo.
A pilgrimage well worth its calorie intakes!
Catching on the national Dandan-men rave, it is interesting to see that the home of Tonkotsu ramen doesn’t really feature a pork bone broth dandan, but rather one based on another Hakata favorite, the equally popular Mizutaki, the clear chicken broth hotpot.
Had my first go for this interesting hybrid at the famous Mizutaki joint Toriden and opted for their more conveniently located KITTE outlet dedicated to the bowl. Again amazed by how far the local taste has evolved as in going for more numb and spicy versions of dandan and pleasantly surprised by how good a match it was with the usually elegant and subtle chicken broth.
Certainly not your traditional bowl but if one ever get tired of tonkotsu one day while in Fukuoka, this may well be the saving grace. As even the legendary Hanamidori is reportedly going into the scene, this is probably the featured grand finale at a Mizutaki place in the future rather than the usual congee.
Pilgrimage to this Ginza Yoshoku joint, home of the famous ‘katsu curry’ (pork cutlet with curry) dish. It was said to be created by the suggestion from famous baseball player Chiba-san (千葉茂) of the Giants, who would always come for the dish before a big match, as the name ‘katsu’ also means ‘victory’ in Japanese.
This showa-era shop is indeed a legend of its own, started by Okada-san (岡田進之助) back in 1947, a self-taught French cook yet having much influence from the Yoshoku legends of Japan, including Akiyama-san (秋山徳蔵), the Emperor’s Chef, aiming to provide affordable yet quality western dishes to the public after the war. His son, (岡田義人), took over subsequently after horning his skills at yet another major Yoshoku establishment of Japan, the Imperial Hotel, and had since then took the shop to the legendary status it enjoys today.
Couldn’t help but to squeeze in the time for a quick stop before hitting the airport on what was a cold and wet day to try out this much hyped dish, and yet ended up being the best ‘Japanese style curry’ that yours truly have ever tried. Said to be building on the concept of Imperial Hotel’s ‘Calcutta style curry’, the wide range of vegis and spices being used were all so well blended and melted into the amazing paste which, for the first time, finally brought out the hint of ‘Asian-ness’ which LG has always been looking for in Japanese curry yet never found till now. While the truth would probably never be told, it was some kind of a pickled yet smokey taste that brought along such an unforgettable kick to the dish. Officially declared the best Japanese curry as per LG!
Visiting the reigning Niboshi king for a weekday lunch at a slightly off center location and luckily managed to squeeze in within an hour before they sold out. Yet another case of self-made expert, said to have visited more than 500 ramen joints before finalising his own style, Mimura-san (三村悠介) settled with Niboshi (dried baby sardines) finally back in 2011, widely believed to be the next big thing then after the much hyped noko gyokai. Interestingly after these years only a handful made it to the hall of fame alongside Ibuki really, with the exceptions being the Osaka-based Sanku, said to be hugely influenced by Mimura-san anyway, the fellow Tokyoite Ito, and the much hyped Nagi in Shinjuku. Just making sure that you have been warned, the shop did put up a big sign out front claiming that it is not a style for everyone, due to its bitter and fishy-ness, and people should think twice if they are not certain. Even if Niboshi is your cup of tea, the dosage used here is close to a ‘crazy’ level as claimed by some. If the PR-centric Nagi can make a big fuss out of their 60g a bowl of Niboshi, think Ibuki’s 130-200g dosage per bowl and you get the picture. For Niboshi lovers however, the bowl turned out to be the most seafood flavoured ramen one can find out there, and the accompanying chopped onion and braised pork are perfect icing on the cake, on top of the noodles from 三河屋製麺 that needs no further introduction. Not the most convenient location but if one is on the Mita-line heading towards Kanda for some curry, it is a easy detour. Go there early for both sessions to avoid disappointment as they really do serve only a few decades per day. One on the wish list for joints to be brought into town no doubt!
Building one of the most successful ventures spinning out from the Taishoken (大勝軒) stable, himself a direct student of Tomita-san (富田 治) of Chuka-soba Tomita (中華蕎麦 とみ田)’s fame, Sakamoto-san (坂本幸彦) has been dominating the ramen scene in Japan for quite a few years now since its establishment back in 2010. Further expanding its empire by going down the franchise route and having conquered Taipei and Bangkok, it has now finally reached the Fragrant Harbour and even managed to acquire a site with probably the best view in the world for a ramen joint, the world famous Hong Kong harbour front skyline. Still vaguely recalled LG’s first encounter back at Shin-Koiwa quite some years back after a close to one-hour queue, the latest rendezvous in town was a surprising uplift to yet another level, despite most self-proclaimed ‘critics’ saying it is still probably just a 70-80% execution vs the real McCoy. Only managed to get the ramen available on our first visit and subsequently completed the experience with the signature Tsukemen on our return, the only practical word to describe the bowl will probably again be ‘balanced’. Contrary to a couple of the usual Tokyo noko gyokai posterchilds which could be over the top at times, the bowl at Itto just made one couldn’t help but keep digging in. One of those best of both worlds scenarios that it is robust yet elegant, with the charshiu being very tender and the minced chicken meat balls a good fit to soak up the wonderful soup. While it was widely reported that they have switched to utilise ramen produced by Tomita-san’s (心の味食品) back home since last October, those in town were said to be produced locally, yet still of a very high standard. As the group also ventured into various other styles from Niboshi to Tonkotsu and even ‘Jiro’, we look forward to trying out the full range being featured as SPs every now and then throughout the year. With only the absent of a proper Ebisoba and maybe a Niboshi one, the Hong Kong ramen scene is finally getting close to being complete, and by far the best outside of Japan.
So the rumour has been confirmed. The ‘notorious’ tonkotsu king in Fukuoka established back in 1999 has recently taken a big U-turn. Not only is photo-taking allowed and even announced on site by a notice on the wall, we were greeted with a big smile by Doi-san (土井一夫) the Master and a very warm farewell as well, the type that a newcomer would probably make to try to get onto the ‘M-guide’ though we don’t think that was their intention at all. In short, the place has now decisively taken a friendly and tourist welcoming approach that was probably not expected even in the wildest dream of their frequent customers. Back to the ‘holy’ bowl it was indeed as balanced and refined as the legend goes, with the kick from the famous takana offered as condiments adding an unforgettable extra sensation. Hit them on a Friday before noon and found ourselves even having a few empty tables to choose from (yet please follow the instruction). That is indeed probably the best time to beat the crowd for those planning to pay pilgrimage. All that being said, there is still no door-front signage whatsoever but only the famous blue bucket so make sure you know what you are looking for when you get there. Still not sure what triggers them to suddenly take a more welcoming approach. Be it inspired by the success of their breakaway store or just they were being misunderstood all along, it is certainly very good news for all Hakata tonkotsu lovers. One interesting note to end, all the previously rumoured ‘commands and rules’ do actually exist as we were given an English menu with them being translated and stated boldly (and in Chinese as well). They did add those magic words ‘pictures OK’ with a big nasty smile on their face when they pass the menu over to us. Maybe it was a gimmick all along!