after another viewing of tampopo, 2 focused trips to japan and perhaps25 meals, this weekend i was finally ready to be brought to toyama fora ramen lunch with taro's father. when it comes to food there is no half measures with the people of toyama - when it comes to ramen thisis a religious experience so i had to be prepared.
the ramen store that they chose to bring me is located in the centre of toyama city. this family store is now run by the grandson (a youngcook with appropriately intimidating beard and uniform). originallystarting as an oden (boiled vegetables) stall outside the town trainstation, his grandfather soon discovered particular enthusiasm fromhis customers for his ramen soup and noodles. he since set up thisstore with his son and they have specialised in ramen.
upon entering i was confident that i would have tasted better. aswith all restaurants, you immediately get welcomes by the "suimasen"from staff. the kitchen itself was surrounded in an "L" by the ramenbar, but much to my surprise there was also a long bar on the oppositeside of the little store (as mentioned below, my developing philosophydoesn't agree with this, following my tampopo teachings, all the cooksshould be able to see the faces and bowls of their customers. taro'sfamily agree that this extended bar is perhaps a little bit of asacrifice to the massive demand at this store).
it was surprisingly busy for 2pm on a sunday - this boded well. forappetizer we ordered a specialty of the store, kushi; pork oden on askewer with a sweet sauce and a side of english mustard. we also had
wari "divided/mixed"); this is made of shochu and red wine.
more about shochu: http://www.sake-world.com/html/shochu-awamori.html
the ramen arrived. unlike the tokyo stores that i have been to, thisshop specialises in only one type of ramen soup - pork soup. thebowls arrived piping hot. i still haven\'t developed a trueunderstanding of the compliments to ramen so i followed the family inadding a small spoonful of grated garlic and crushed tempura.
the first spoonful of soup was when it hit me ... for the first time,i noticed the stock of the soup. it was a light broth with almost acentimetre of clear fat on top - incredibly tasty. the ramen itselfwas yellow and very curled in comparison with the straighter noodlesin tokyo. the entire bowl was something to savour - only when youhave tased the flavour of good soup (the heart as taro\'s dad calls it)can you really compare other ramen ...
i knocked my water back at one point and something that had neverhappened occurred; the cook noticed that i had finished and called oneof the waitresses over to refill my glass. this is the tampopoeffect; he was aware what all of his customers were eating and wasreading their reactions at all times.
given that i somewhat stand out in toyama, we were brave enough totalk to the cook. taro explained that i had eaten ramen all overtokyo, but this was by far the best. he thanked me and we deliveredthe question - what was the stock made of. normally you would neverask this question, but given that i was a tourist the cook obliged myignorance and answered that it was pork with a little bit of fishstock - this is as close as i will ever get to knowing the truth ...
my philosophy (insofar as i can have one) ...
1. pork soup is the only one worthwhile (others are soya, salt andmiso) - you should be able to see fat on top of the your firstspoonful
2. the store should specialise in one ramen soup rather than try andcover all the soups
3. the bar should go round the borders of the kitchen, with customersfacing the cook
4. ramen should be yellow, strong and curled
5. always finish your bowl unless you want to send a strong message to the cook
6. sweat - you need to go through some pain in order to deserve goodramen. i\'ve been told that it is a good sign for restaurants to havetissues rather than the usual serviettes as this indicates peoplesweat ...
Post script (4th July 2005); Taro has just sent me a photo from Marutakaya (note the spelling change). It turns out that they have a website: http://www.marutakaya.co.jp/. This will help any of you get there if you are in need of some good noodles.