Rather than doing dedicated food review entries for a few of the ramen places that I have set out to try for this trip, I decided to combine them instead into 1 entry. Main reason being that I only had a total of 4 bowls of ramen throughout my entire 13/14 day trip.
As far as ramen is concerned, I personally prefer a quality over quantity approach (especially when Japan has so much other delicious food as well). As mentioned in an earlier entry, my 1st meal after landing at New Chitose Airport was at Ebisoba Ichigen in the domestic airport’s Hokkaido Ramen Dojo (where a number of shops are clustered together in a ramen street).
Unlike the more popular miso-corn/butter style and/or shio style that originated from Sapporo and Hakodate respectively – Ebisoba Ichigen is better known for their shrimp/ebi-based broth. After a short 15 min queue (Note: There were also tourists like myself who rolled their huge luggages along to the outlet as well) – got seated and proceed to order.
Opted for the original shrimp flavour, together with miso (i.e Shrimp-Miso) which is their signature flavour. For 780 JPY, the portion was decent. I like that they actually used the thicker noodles which in my view go better with the heavier shrimp broth (as compared to the super thin Hakata style noodles). Whilst the miso gave the shrimp broth a fuller and richer flavour (that I personally prefer).
And so I was really glad to have checked out this outlet, as their main outlet is further out of Sapporo. Their website also indicates that they have other outlets outside of Hokkaido – in Shinjuku, Yaesu & Roppongi (opening in December 2018) which I never thought of specially hunting down in Tokyo, given the abundance of great ramen shops in Tokyo.
Whilst in Sapporo (1st 3 days of my trip) – I ended up giving the 2 ramen streets a miss. I actually went up to the Sapporo Ramen Republic at ESTA (Sapporo Station) on my 2nd day of trip to look-see look-see for potential dinner ideas but nothing interested me. There was also the famed Sapporo Ramen Yokocho (i.e. Ramen Alley) in Susukino that I originally intended to check out on Day 3, only to skip it in the end. Partly after reading online that it’s more tourist trap than anything, and also partly I can’t seem to locate the entrance to this alley despite being at Susukino 2 nights in a row. And so towards the middle part of my trip – I got fixated to check out Kamome once I get to Hakodate (from Lake Toya).
According to this article from favy-jp – Kamome かもめ is well known for its seafood ramen (not surprising given that Hakodate is located right at the southern tip of Hokkaido island/prefecture). The original plan was to have its signature ‘Kamome Ramen’ for lunch – but after reaching Hakodate a little after 4 and checking in to hotel, while checking for directions on google map, I realised that the restaurant closes at 3. Which means I can only try it the next day. And so I decided to have that for breakfast.
The shop is located just right across the Hakodate Asaichi (Morning Market) although it took me a while to realise that the shop is just right next to a budget hotel (Hotel New Ohte) as the signage is not very visible (when you see the picture, you will know why :P)
Kamome is basically a small 8 seater ramen shop, and a one-man show (which explains the early closing hours). One other claim to fame is that this is the ramen shop where the members of GLAY (J-Rock band) frequent (Note: You can see some GLAY posters & their autographs in the shop). In spite of the all-Japanese menu, I was very clear that I wanted to have their signature Kamome Ramen – which is basically Seafood Ramen with a miso soup base.
And yes – this is the amount of seafood that came with the ramen. So much seafood – consisting of crabs, prawn/shrimp, squid, scallops and sea urchin! The noodles felt more like normal noodles, and was nothing to shout about, and the sea urchin did have a slightly murky taste. But the rest of the seafood was very fresh, and considering both the quality and quantity, it is little wonder why so many commenters/bloggers have called this a luxurious seafood ramen. And it cost only 1200 JPY (roughly SGD 15), where to find seriously! Towards the end though, the soup did start to feel saltish, probably a result of the seafood taste starting to overwhelm. It was so filling that I ended up skipping my lunch after that, haha!
And so these are the 2 ramens that I had in Hokkaido. Gave Ajisai (a chain store in Hakodate famous for its Hakodate-style shio ramen) a miss as I wasn’t keen on having another ramen again after the very satisfying one at Kamome.
When back in Tokyo on the final 3rd of my trip – I managed to tick off Afuri on my to-try list. I have first heard of Afuri from as early as 2013 (when my 2nd Japan trip happened) but I didn’t manage to try this ramen until this recent trip (4th trip). The timing of it was a complete coincidence. After going for the Tokyo City View Observatory at Roppongi Hills, I was basically walking round the building looking for food options, before I decided to walk over to Tokyo Midtown side as there was an Ichiran Ramen around that area. And whilst walking into B1 (which will lead to the underpass) – it’s when I chanced upon this Afuri outlet, and so I decided I might as well have an early dinner here (rather than checking out the Harajuku outlet when I’m there).
This is probably a smaller outlet than their Harajuku and Ebisu branches, but the quene wasn’t too long and so I got a seat pretty quickly. Unlike the more common tonkotsu style & the seafood-based ramens that I had in Hokkaido, Afuri is most well known for its chicken & daishi based broth – with a dash of yuzu. And so of course I had their signature Yuzu Shio Ramen.
Noodles-wise, theirs is slightly different as it is a thin noodle, but with a different texture as compared to the thin Hakata type noodle (most likely Afuri’s is in-house made). Which goes well with the chicken and dashi broth. Together with the yuzu – it gives off a lighter taste, which happened to suit my palate as well after having a lot of seafood earlier in Hokkaido and Aomori.
For me, the best part of the entire ramen was the char shu (pork). Whilst seated at the counter (which faces the open kitchen directly), there is actually a section that one staff does the grilling of the pork. I like that it is grilled just about right, whilst still retaining the tenderness. Definitely something very different from most ramen where the char shu (pork) is cooked together with the noodle.
I have also read that Afuri does a pretty decent tsukemen, with a yuzu based dipping sauce. Will definitely try that in a future return trip. I’m pretty glad that I ticked this off in Roppongi, as this frees up my time to do other stuff in Harajuku when I plan to be there. And naturally, I ended up not having Ichiran Ramen in the end. Side Note: I have yet to try Ichiran in my 4 trips to Japan so far. Perhaps it’s because I have read a couple of online comments that Ichiran is more of a normal tasty ramen, rather than a die die must try kind of ramen. Somehow or another, I also don’t seem to chance upon any Ichiran outlet whenever I am in Japan as well.
And when back in Tokyo – of course I have got to have my favourite Tsukemen at Rokurinsha in Tokyo Station as well. No write-ups on that this time, other than having to queue a good 1/2 hour for this as I went on Sunday for lunch. One small thibit here – when leaving Tokyo, I discovered that they now have another outlet at the Haneda International Airport Departure gate, which has no queue. If you are one who does not enjoy queueing for food, and happen to fly out from Haneda, you may consider checking out this outlet for your tsukemen fix as well.