Tastes of Asahikawa

One unusual thing that I and my colleagues did in our most recent trip to Japan is that we decided to stay in a minimally advertised destination in Hokkaido.  Instead of staying in a more popular Sapporo or Furano, we decided to stay for 2 nights in a remote place called Asahikawa. 

And since there are limited tourist spots to go to (aside from going to a mall and a zoo), I and my colleagues decided to explore Asahikawa through its food.  Our first destination was the ramen house our hotel has recommended, the Ichikura Raman. 

with the asahikawa gang just outside ichikura raman (edwin, malou, gie and dominic) 
surprisingly clear to the palate yet with a distinct flavor of a ramen

 Since Isahikawa seem to be popular with shoyu-based ramen (shoyu: Japanese soy sauce), I settled and ordered the Okhotsk Shoyu Ramen.  This ramen according to the menu is composed with unique Hokkaido ingredients like Namuro dried salmon flakes, Esashi dried herring and Rishiri kelp from Oumu.  I was really happy that Ichikura Raman was the ramen place our hotel has recommended.  And aside from their ramen, one surprising dish in this joint was their Gyoza.  It was one of the best gyozas that I have tasted!

A lot of people say that it would be a sin for a tourist in Hokkaido if he/she failed or refuse to try the Hokkaido ice cream.  This soft frozen dairy is one plain ice cream that is simply made of milk.  It has no fancy flavor, no fancy add-ons and no fancy flairs for an ice cream.  For me, its plainness makes Hokkaido ice cream remarkably exquisite and amazingly elegant. 

happy crew handing me my creamy ice cream 
savoring every moment of yummy-ness!

Then, one of the highlights of our Asahikawa stay was the dinner at Jingisukan Daikokuya.  This restaurant is the top rated local-cuisine restaurant in Asahikawa as per Tripadvisor.  It is so popular people would have to wait and queue outside before they be given a table.  Specialty of the house was Hokkaido’s grill icon called Genghis Khan (also termed Jingisukan).

Like their sophisticated ice cream, Jingisukan is a must try in Hokkaido.  It is a unique style of yakiniku in which mutton and lamb are grilled on a convex skillet shaped like an upside-down bowl.  Since the meat are grilled over charcoal, we were surprised to see and experience the amount of smoke inside the popular restaurant.  We nevertheless did not complain because the smoke actually added up to the character and atmosphere of the establishment. 

outside the resto, waiting for our turn

 

an asahikawa highlight

I personally prefer beef over lamb, but the marinated flavor and the stunning taste of the meat served to us gave me some second thought if I really do prefer beef over lamb. Genghis Khan was strikingly delicious!

Asahikawa may not be of the same level as that of Osaka, Tokyo or Sapporo where there are tons to see and marvel at.  Asahikawa nevertheless has loads of gustatory surprises that tourists can taste and talk about.

Para maiba naman!

Advertisements

Miso Ramen: The Seventh Level of Heaven

The non-negotiables when I’m travelling abroad with friends or family are the sights to see and the food to eat.  I can scrimp on room accommodations and modes of transportation but the gastronomic exploits needs to be remarkable.  Besides epicurean remarkability need not be expensive and extravagant.

That is exactly what I and my family had when we were in Hokkaido.  Since Sapporo is the birthplace of Miso Ramen, letting the humongous chance to try the authentic would simply be absurd.

That is why we had Miso Ramen not once but twice while we were there.  The enticement is just too strong that is why we tried twice which I classify as the old and the new forms.

First stop was Horyu (TakaraRyu), a Sapporo Ramen specialist operating since 1957.  Prior to going to Sapporo, we were not aware of the existence of this ramen house located right at busy street of Sapporo-Ekimae Dori.  This was actually our first meal after our smooth flight from Osaka to Hokkaido.  Everybody were so hungry we almost ended up eating inside a FamilyMart near our hotel.

so hungry i wanted to eat the facade!
so hungry i wanted to eat the facade!
clueless how prestigious the ramen house is...
clueless how prestigious the ramen house is…

But thrusting and trusting my instinct on which food establishment to dine by the mere look of the façade, I urged my family to dine in this authentic Japanese ramen house.  And by the looks, smell and taste of the special miso ramen served by Horyu (TakaraRyu), I can proudly say that my hunger instinct did not fail me that time.

enchanting!
enchanting!
wicked rice topping!
wicked rice topping!
they were actually requesting for my autograph but i was to amazed to say yes
they were actually requesting for my autograph but i was too hungry to say yes

It is surprising to note that as you enter Horyu (TakaraRyu), photos of Japanese celebrities are posted on the wall enjoying their miso ramen.  What is also surprising to know is that this restaurant has been awarded the Governor of Hokkaido Prize because of its traditional taste and old-fashioned way of preparing miso ramen.  My further research about Horyu (TakaraRyu) indicates that this ramen house is a very successful and well distinguished food establishment in Japan operating in multiple branches in 9 prefectures in Japan.  And the one we dined at (with a total of 29 seats only) was the main or premier branch were all its success started.

Another opportunity we embraced to enjoy slurping the now universal classic Miso Ramen (aka Sapporo Ramen) was on the night when we just came from adoring the sparkling ice carving exhibits at Susukino.  This time we tried the new and modern-day ramen house called Kita Ichi.  As expected, I ordered the ramen with the biggest photo on the menu called Tokusen Miso, in which my nephew translated as high-grade or Special Miso.

where magic happens!
where magic happens!
bewitching!
bewitching!
kita ichi means north one
kita ichi means north one

Kita Ichi is a new ramen house that is starting to swell and pop up like shitake mushrooms in Hokkaido. The outlet were we dined is actually not available/posted yet in Google (can’t find it!).

braving the freezer cold outside kita ichi! hahaha!
braving the freezing cold outside kita ichi! hahaha!

After clearly demolishing the bowls of Horyu (TakaraRyu) and Kita Ichi, I can profess that there really is no clear-cut difference in terms of my enjoying the delicious Sapporo Ramen.  May it have been served and prepared by an old or a new ramen house, I consider both as the 7th level of heaven…

Kesarapsarap!

Ramen Zundo Ya: The Best Ramen Ever

One great test to determine if a restaurant and its dishes are truly superb is through the guests’ impression on his or her return visit.  It is very common for a restaurant to receive raving reviews on the first engagement.  But almost often, guest becomes disillusioned on their return because they realize that their ordered food – which they totally enjoyed during their pilot visit – was nothing but a fluke or a strike of luck.  In Tagalog, tsamba!

But with my recent visit and return to Ramen Zundouya located at Shisaibashi in Osaka, I can definitely say that this joint serves the best ramen in the universe.

ramen zundouya shinsaibashi branch
ramen zundouya shinsaibashi branch

During my first visit (click: HERE to read my previous post), me and my family were easily led inside and was given a table with such a breeze.  However, on our return, we already have to queue among the long line of patrons waiting for their turn to be assigned with a table.  We were actually listed 13th among those who enlisted to dine that afternoon.

no pinoy on queue yet, pinoys has yet to discover this savory treasure
quiet japanese folks waiting their turn.  no pinoy on queue yet, pinoys has yet to discover this savory treasure

While waiting and drooling on line, my personal claim that this indeed is the best ramen house was actually an understatement.  To prove a point, I in fact noticed one big poster on the wall announcing that they have mushroomed around Japan.  To further prove my point, Ramen Zundouya’s flavor will soon invade America.  It is because a Ramen Zundouya shop is due to open a branch along 10th Street in New York next year!

soon to open in new york (i will definitely try it when i get there)
soon to open in new york! (i will definitely try it when i get there)

To check the consistency of this restaurant, I again ordered for the same dish I had during my first visit, the Zenbu-nose Ramen.  When the bowl was served in front of me, I was absolutely surprised because the presentation and the arrangements of all ingredients placed in the massive porcelain was still impeccably beautiful.

And when I had my first sip of the broth/soup, nothing actually changed!  Nothing changed because the world seemed to stop for a moment for me to savor the paradise-like flavor of Zenbu-nose Ramen.  This matchless concoction was without a doubt an invigorating assault in all of the senses!

zenbu-nose ramen (my tastebuds had  a blast!)
zenbu-nose ramen
(my tastebuds had a blast!)

Walang kaduda-duda, ang tindi ng sarap!

Ippudo Ramen: A Very Good Second Best

a caption at ippudo's glass wall
a caption at ippudo’s glass wall

Though heat is intensely shimmering in Metro Manila, hot ramen eateries and restaurants at the moment are experiencing some renaissance in this mega city.   Like Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter spread in the past, ramen dishes today are a craze in this part of the world.

Since I am spending a fab holiday in Osaka, I will definitely not miss the enormous chance to eat ramen in this metropolis (at least twice).  That is why, I coerced my family to eat again in a ramen house.  This time we searched for the ramen joint that is pretty popular in Manila.  It’s the Hakata Ippudo Ramen restaurant located just a few meters away from the Swissotel in Namba, Osaka.

I proved the popularity of this restaurant in the Philippines because when we reached the ramen house, there were considerable number of Filipino tourists queuing waiting for their turn to be seated.  It was further amplified when it was our chance to enter the establishment.  I noticed that about 80% of their guests were Filipinos.

the queue outside where pinoy tourists converge
the queue outside where pinoy tourists converge
as presented in their english menu...
as presented in their english menu…

Like what I did in Zondouya Ramen restaurant a couple of days ago (read my post about Zondouya HERE), I settled for the most expensive and biggest photo dish on the menu.  Surprisingly, my order called Akamaru Special is pretty similar to Zembo-no, the ramen I enormously enjoyed in Zondouya.

My ordered Akamaru Special ramen also contains sheets of nori, soft-as-butter pork, freshly cut negi, a soft boiled egg, caramelized onions and garlic, plus a generous amount of “straight” noodles.  (in Zondouya, I went for the “curly” variety.)

my enjoyable akamaru
my enjoyable akamaru!

The speed and quality of service rendered by the staff in Ippudo is as fast and as charming as that of Zondouya.  However, when my Akamaru Special was placed in front of me, the first thing I noticed was the presentation.  I straightforwardly uttered, “In terms of presentation, one point for Zondouya!”

I could no longer resist my comparing when I started stirring and mixing the ingredients in my bowl.  Before I uttered another word, I internalize and justified that comparison is one of the fundamental processes of the human mind.  And we define things in terms of their similarities and differences.

akamaru to the left, zenbo-no to the right. now you choose...
akamaru to the left, zenbo-no to the right. now you choose…

I then uttered in a pretty loud voice, “In terms of thickness and full-bodied-ness, another point for Zondouya!”  My nieces and nephews indisputably agreed with me.  My niece Erika seated beside me expressed that Zondouya’s Zembo-no looks richer while Ippudo’s Akamaru was runnier in terms of thickness.

Now the taste.  Tactlessly speaking, I articulated saying, “In terms of taste, another point for Zondouya!”  Some Pinoy guests at the waiting area and nearby tables were starting to look at me, as if wondering what ramen was I comparing Ippudo’s version with.  Nevertheless, I voiced out that Ippudo’s slices of pork were smoother and actually melts in the mouth.  I uttered, “one point for Ippudo for the softness of the pork, nonetheless!” The Pinoy guests looked down onto their bowls and resumed their munching.

But the softness of the pork could not counterweight the enormous savory taste of Zondouya’s broth.  Like a lot of ramen experts, I have always believed that the success of a ramen dish all depends on the palatability of the broth.  A lot of ramen connoisseurs would even do massive research and experimentations just to achieve the perfect broth.  For me personally, Zondouya’s broth formula is truly magical.  Ipuddo’s version nonetheless is very good.

To simply conclude my comparison between Ipuddo and Zondouya, I personally requested to meet the chef in the latter while for the former we stepped out of the establishment happy and thought to myself, I should celebrate differences.  That not all things are equal, some things needs to be less pretty so as to further appreciate others beauty.

Masarap din inperness…

A Savory Ramen Experience at Ramen Zundo Ya

Flavors were exploding in my mouth and my taste buds were giving a standing ovation shouting, “Bravo!”

These are the general feelings when I had the first bite and first sip of the ramen I tasted at Ramen Zundouya Restaurant located in Shinsaibashi, Osaka.  Since I can’t read kanji, I selected the dish with the biggest photo.  Since it was the biggest picture in the menu as well as the most expensive one, I supposed that Zenbo-no Ramen is this restaurant’s specialty.

the actual dish looks better than the one on the menu
the actual dish looks better than the one on the menu

True enough, my selection was impeccably right.  The Zenbo-no ramen came with freshly cut negi, some absolutely melt-in-your-mouth pork slices, slips of nori, a full soft boiled egg and a good sized serving of “curly” noodles.  Generous amount of garlic cloves are provided on the table which can be freshly crushed using a unique garlic press. But what is so heavenly about this dish is the magic broth that the restaurant uses.  The rich savory broth flavor simply bursts in your mouth!

The feelings induced by this perfect ramen were excellently joyful and heavenly.  For a moment, I forgot my name and thought that I was having an elated out of body experience.  Zembo-no Ramen in so rich and explosively delicious my taste buds thanked me!

super yummy!!!
super yummy!!! 
distinctive interior design
distinctive interior design
i love those "troso" as dining seats
i love those “troso” as dining seats
waiting area outside of the restaurant was me and nengkoy's venue for  our blog header's photo
waiting area outside is the venue of this blog’s header photo

Ramen Zundouya’s website indicates that their first aim is to “captivate the customer with each ramen dish”.  This aim absolutely hit me.  Never in my restaurant-dining experience was I so impressed with the dish that I personally asked to meet the restaurant’s chef.  I was so captivated that I asked for his name and even topped it by asking for a photo with him.  I could not resist to thank him for such an awesome masterpiece.

with chef endou
with chef endou

This unmatched ramen experience was simply outstanding!

Mapapa-jusko ka sa sarap!