Guchoku Ramen

Guchoku Ramen

A couple of weeks ago I read a review of Guchoku in the great Ramen app RamenBeast. Guchoku translates to: Simple and Honest.  The specialty is Tonkotsu (Pork bone broth) Ramen with handmade noodles.  The shop is nearby — 15 minutes or so from my house via bicycle.  It seemed a no-brainer to try.

Life is not so easy though.  My first attempt to go found a shuttered store-front with a sign taped to the door.  A kind passerby read the sign and mimicked the face of someone violently ill — “Owner!”   I asked if the ramen was good and the man nodded enthusiastically.  “Oishi!” (delicious!).  Okay, a week or two later I pedaled over again.  I was a half hour too late for lunch, but could smell the heady aroma of the long-cooked broth of pig bones, head and feet. Tried again and it was closed for no apparent reason.  Finally with both of my kids in tow, I found the shop open with a long line of hungry folks outside.   It was about 40 minutes to closing and I hoped our luck would continue to hold.  Embarrassingly, I am on a diet (too much eating during winter!) and ramen is a strict no-no.  I figured, I would just taste while my kids enjoyed the full experience.  Not the perfect set-up, but I had been anticipating Guchoku for so long.  A little cheating is okay.

We were amongst the last customers seated at the comfortable bar.  The standard ramen is cheap (around $6) and with an added egg around $7.  The owner of Guchoku works alone.  Watching him set up a bowl was to experience a  ballet of efficient movement, expert timing and well thought-out, time-saving strategies.

The bowl itself was beautiful.  Thick, creamy pork-bone broth, seared chashu (pork), tawny egg, a tangle of thinly sliced leek dotted with scallion and shredded seaweed.  The broth was exceptional.  Rich and creamy but not too thick to hit the stomach like concrete.  It had depth, notes of ginger, dried mushroom, white pepper…supremely satisfying and one of the best ramen broths I have had since coming to Japan.  The egg and pork were unique — almost smoky and strong.  The noodles are home-made and of a thin, straight variety served quite al dente in the style (according to my wife) of Kyushu.  I hated them.  I surprised myself with how disappointed I was.  I wanted so badly to love every aspect of this bowl of ramen, but those noodles kicked me in the nuts.  They lacked the mouth-feel, the springiness, the slight chew of my favorite noodles.  I found them under-cooked and unable to meld with that glorious broth.  I was happy to let my daughter finish the noodles while I supped away the last vestiges of the soup.

“You know what would be amazing?” My son asked outside the shop.  “If you could have the broth here and the egg and noodles from Tamashii.” He nailed it.  I could not agree more.  Finding that perfect bowl of ramen that suits of all of one’s personal taste is a quest.  All of my favorite shops boast something that I love about them — atmosphere, music, the chashu, toppings, broth, noodles, egg, bamboo shoots, but so far I have not found that penultimate bowl that combine everything. In my head I work out puzzles — lifting my favorite elements from disparate shops to form that Holy Grail.

There are more than 1000 ramen shops in Tokyo.  I will soon be off my fascistic diet (I hope!) As Emily Dickinson wrote: Hope is the thing with feathers. I have a lifetime to discover the ramen of my dreams.


2 Replies to “Guchoku Ramen”

  1. Sounds like every bowl you try will be penultimate at best: you need to learn the craft and DIY for the ultimate bowl — and if anyone can you can, especially with all that starter stock in your freezer 🙂

    1. Ha! Making ramen is a life choice. You have to devote everything to the mastery! I’d prefer to just find that perfect bowl and let the master do his craft!

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