As an unadventurous creature of unsophisticated habit, I have a go-to place – Ichiran by name – which I search for almost instinctively whenever I’m struck by rāmen cravings in Japan. That said, I do treat my taste buds to a bit of variety from time to time. On this particular lunch adventure, I tracked down a noodle joint in the Harajuku area where (so I’ve read and heard) I might experience a twist to my favoured Hakata-style rāmen.
Name? Kyūshū Jangara Rāmen (九州じゃんがららあめん), Harajuku branch.
Where? 1-13-21, Jingū-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō, Japan (東京都渋谷区神宮前1-13-21). Close to Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line and Meiji-Jingūmae Station on the Tōkyō Metro Chiyoda Line (the Fukutoshin Line platforms of the latter station are some distance away). If you’re coming up from Meiji-Jingūmae Station, take Exit 3 and make a U-turn at the top of the stairs; the building’s just around the corner (easier to grasp if you zoom in closely on the map). As usual, the map marker on Tabelog is right on the money.
Operating hours? 1045-2400 Mon-Fri, 1000-2400 Sat-Sun/holidays.
How much? Prices range from 630 to 1,230 yen.
English menu? Available.
Date of this restaurant visit? Sunday, 02 October 2016.
Time of day and type of meal? Midday, lunch.
A week after watching that episode, I was in Tōkyō myself and ready to give the place a try. What can I say – I love rāmen, and seeing it so deliciously described on YouTube was reason enough to detour all the way here from the Ueno area (where I’d been sightseeing that morning) just to have my lunch.
Needless to say, a popular restaurant in a popular weekend hangout like Harajuku is bound to attract lots of diners. After waiting a fair bit in the queue that stretched from the shop door and down the stairs outside, I finally reached the cashier (note that you pay before the meal, not after), quickly ordered something off the menu, and was escorted to a counter seat next to the open kitchen.
There are five types of rāmen broth on the menu, six if you include the non-tonkotsu vegetarian option. Since it was Battle Trip that brought me here, it didn’t take more than a few seconds to zero in on the bonshan soup: a thick, milky-white, almost creamy concoction, substantially more viscous than your typical noodle broth. The toppings included such typical items as chāshū and egg, but what really made the difference – in both good ways and bad – were the chunks of marinated pork and the dollop of bright red-orange mentaiko in the upper part of the image below.
Sung Si-kyung isn’t the only chap to sing this rāmen’s praises – just run a Google search and you’ll find lots of positive reviews. For my part though, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the broth, with my preference leaning more strongly towards the flavour and mouthfeel one would experience from the thinner but also very rich soup used by Ichiran.
That said, I probably would have still formed a positive opinion of the taste were it not for the mentaiko. I’ve seen one reviewer describe it almost as a defining ingredient, which it might well be for people who enjoy seafood – but the thing is, I’m not particularly enamoured of seafood and the powerful marine flavour of the roe added a rather unpleasant note to the dish. I’d chosen to have it on my noodles on the off-chance that, mingled with everything else, it might lend added depth to the soup, but that turned out to be a mistake. (Note that my strong personal preferences played a major part in this assessment; depending on your tastes you could end up liking the ingredient far more than I did.)
Now the pork … ahh, that practically saved this entire experience. I’m not referring to the ordinary slices of chāshū in the lower-right part of the image above – here I speak of the thick, honey-coloured chunks of tender, wonderfully seasoned meat in the upper-left area. Far from being a mere accent to the noodles, that topping was almost an experience in itself, and the next time I come here I’m almost certain to order an extra portion or two.
Having written that last bit, am I saying then that I’ll be back? Oh yes, in fact I’m very eager to return. My so-so impression of the broth aside, I’d still rate this as a positive experience (at least marginally so), and knowing now what to include more of – and what to leave out completely – I’m fairly certain I’ll enjoy the next bowl better. One of the other broths will no doubt be the star of that future visit, possibly the Kyūshū jangara: a thinner stock that’s probably closer to my ideal of a tonkotsu base.