My Favorite Ramen

My Favorite Ramen

I have written a bit about ramen in this blog. i have also been pretty critical of the ramen I have eaten. I’ve kvetched about New School Ramen, made mention of places that aspire to greatness and dropped some commentary about what I like best in a ramen shop.  What I have not done is reveal a ramen that I think is great. So now I will.

If you follow Kitamachi Shotengai South-East from the Nerima ward to Itabashi, it will change names and become “Bells Street.”  No one can tell me why this is and so far not one Japanese person who has grown up in this neighborhood knows it as “Bells Street.” The only reason that I know this to be so is that, oddly, it is printed in English on an archway that traverses the street. So, if you are trying to find this ramen shop that I will speak of, don’t ask for Bells Street unless you are with me.  What people do call this area is Kamitabashi and nestled in the warren of streets around the train station is my favorite ramen shop: Tamashii (Soul of Noodle).

I first spotted it while buying some cake from the famous sweets shop, Hitomoto Ishidya.  Tamashii is a little bit off on a side street and it just pinged my good restaurant radar, drew me to take a second look.  Of course it was closed.  So I had to return. Again and again.  There is normally a bit of a line — highschool kids, taxi drivers, a few ramen tourists. The shop is small and simple — maybe 8 or 9 seats at the bar. The chef is monk-like, bald with a long goatee, and completely dedicated to his restaurant. He wakes at 5am every single day to hand make his noodles.  This is gruelling, boring work.  No one does this.  There are tons of noodle makers from which he could buy his noodles, or send his recipe to so they could mass-produce.  He doesn’t.  He gets out a long pole and makes those fucking noodles every day and they are gorgeous. They have body, they have spring, they absorb just the right amount of soup and they have honest-to-god sweat in them. At $8 a bowl, I don’t quite understand the economics of his noodles, but I lurv them, they give me hope.

My mother-in-law loves the broth at Tamashii. She is in her mid 70s and a food gangster like no one else I have ever met.  She is an aesthete,  a classically trained Koto player, a wonderful ceramic artist, a calligrapher, delicate and sensitive…but bring her to a restaurant and she is steely-eyed and dangerous.  She taught me to suck the eyeballs of a red snapper and spit out the bone.  She takes ramen seriously.  She obeys the old rules: Ramen is fast. You eat it fast.  You get the fuck out.  I have seen her take down a molten bowl of ramen in under five minutes and simply jet once she is done. Be warned, if you are a pimply-faced schoolboy lingering over your ramen, checking your phone for messages, she will fix a gaze of pure evil upon you, she will send laser beams from her eyes for disrespecting the laws of ramen.  I have witnessed it and it is scary. Tamashii’s broth is a conversation over whiskey: it is complex, based in chicken and pork, with just a touch of anchovy — it has layers and lightness and a raucous energy all its own. I’m sure on a good day it could quote Joyce.

The one time I ordered a beer at Tamashii, he served it up with a small bowl of his chashu (roasted pork) lathered in a homade raiu (chili pepper sauce). The pork had a richness, a slow-cooked, worried-over goodness that coated the tongue and the heart.  The raiu was light in spice and rich in smoky, garlicky depth. This is the chashu that is served with a bowl of ramen.  You will want to introduce yourself to it when first served — give it a few taps with your chopsticks and let it know that you will return to it later. A mid-bowl reward.

The perfect bowl at Tamashii is the regular-sized ramen with an egg (extra) and green onion (also extra). It is about $8. Do not skip on the egg.  It is a thing of wonder — the white perfectly cooked through and the yolk rich and molten, melting into the broth. The chef takes care with details.  The Bambboo shoots are lovingly prepared and add texture and a little umami bomb as they are incorporated into the whole.  I like to add a touch of garlic and a tiny spoonful of his yuzu laced hot sauce. The result is something so well-balanced, so thorough in its profile, that if you proportion your bites correctly you will swallow those last bits of incredible noodle as you pull the last draughts of broth from the bowl you have held to your lips. It is the best version of (somewhat) fast food — brimming with heart, hard work and soul.  And yet, if you don’t pay attention, you would never notice all that goes into it.  Tamashii has an old-fashioned soul in terms of humility with a new school edge — the taxi drivers, the pimply high school kids, the weird old guy who finishes his bowl of ramen and then buys a pound of Cha sui and the freaky ramen obsessive taking photos all seem to get it — to get that Tamashii serves up something classic and balanced and cheap. It may not be instagrammable, and it might not be written up in all the ramen blogs, but for me, as I blow my nose between bites, it is perfection.

Tamashii Ramen

1 Chome-25-10 Kamitabashi

Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 174-0076


8 Replies to “My Favorite Ramen”

  1. Just a great blog. Always go to your blog second. HG first. Look forward to your next post. Spent some time in Japan in the fall 1962 on a destroyer. A free cruise, so to speak.

  2. Always a pleasure to read these blogs seriously they intrigue me peek my curiosity and are just great to read thanks!!

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