Monday 11 April 2016

Unique Noko Doro Tsukemen at Tsukemen Ide ~ Hiranomachi, Chuo-ku

In Kitahama lays a gem of a tsukemen which only locals know about, well, apparently so does Google Maps because that's how we found the place.

It was almost the end of our trip in Osaka and we had not had any ramen or soba throughout the trip. Blasphemous, I know. With a quick click at the 'Explore my area' button, we discovered that there is actually a lot of food places in Kitahama. Our first attempt to visit a soba shop failed as the shop was permanently closed so our next choice was an unassuming neighborhood ramen restaurant.

We were quite screwed. Every wording in the shop signboards and vending machine was written in Japanese. Because the words were names, the Google Translate app that we so heavily relied on gave us weird meanings and failed to tell us anything. It didn't help that the staff didn't speak a word of English.

Zoom in to see the menu part 1
With the bravery that existed only in the hungriest of stomachs, we clicked some buttons, paid the vending machine then passed the tickets to the waitress. LC selected the blue box while I selected the green. 

Zoom in to see the menu part 2
Of course when we got home, I got a friend to translate what was written on the vending machine. It turned out to be pretty basic orders of ramen, toppings and extras. I'll probably save these images to match to other ramen vending machines in future, it may help!

Zoom in to see the menu part 3
Thank you so much Shana for helping out with these. And thank you Dekakeru for giving me the answer on what Gohan Wari means.

Being the only foreigners in an entire shop of Japanese patrons, the atmosphere felt oddly quiet. The locals, mostly 'salarymen', there to grab a quick bite had minimal conversation and there was no background music playing.  I, the obvious gaijin was snapping photos through Google Translate to figure out what all the condiment labels meant. The thermos has hot soup and there are condiments of yuzu (citron) juice, yuzu flavored pepper, chilli powder and black pepper available. After watching bowl after bowl being served, it dawned on us that the shop only served tsukemen.

Originally from Nishishinsaibashi, Tsukemen Ide serves a unique kind of tsukemen - a viscous 'rich mud', noko doro tsukemen soup made of pork and seafood broth. 

My kare tsukemen had a light scattering of curry powder flavor similar to those found in Japanese kare rice. With dashes of chilli powder, the broth was absolutely delicious. The thick, 'mud-consistency' sauce had intense umami flavors, notably of bonito flakes with a sweet undertone probably from the pork broth. That robust taste is probably one I will remember for a long while and not be able to find anywhere else - a sad fact that makes me want to jump on a plane to Osaka when the craving hits. When you're done with your ramen, pour hot soup into your sauce bowl for a hearty end to the meal.

The only obvious problem I had was all the raw onions and spring onions on top. I had learned how to say 'no spring onions please' - 'negi nashi de onegai shimasu' but nothing prepared me for a serving of raw onions which is undoubtedly rare in Japanese cooking. If you're like me, onions are tamanegi in Japanese so 'no onions please' would be 'tamanegi nashi de onegai shimasu'.

I was relieved to know that I ordered the correct item - an average (並) sized ajitama kare tsukemen (1000 yen). Here, the tsukemen and kare tsukemen comes in 並, average or 大, large at the same price. Even though I didn't have additional toppings, the sauce had several pieces of tender, melt in your mouth pork belly and bamboo shoots which made the portion just right. The thick ramen was unlike any ramen I've had before - chewy with an earthy flavor and perfect for picking up the 'muddy' sauce. The aji tama was just right too - fully cooked on the outside with a molten soft yolk.

LC had ordered a large (大) sized all toppings tsukemen (a value for money 1150 yen) which had 3 slices of chashu, an ajitama egg and bamboo shoots. Needless to say, he was extremely satisfied. Apparently, the yuzu seasoning is meant to be drizzled on the noodles to add a fresh tang to it. I was too busy picking out onions to care at the time.

I would rate this as the best meal we had in Osaka although all the excellent quality beef we had came close. The noko doro broth tasted like a labor of effort with fresh ingredients and no short-cuts. There was also no lingering MSG tang after. We were really lucky that they were opened for lunch on Saturday or we would have completely missed it. As for how we got the noko doro tsukemen style of noodles even though we ordered otherwise, that will remain a mystery to us.

Other reviews can be found at Friends in Ramen and Find Ramen.

Tsukemen Ide
1 Chome-8-5 Hiranomachi, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 11.00 am to 2.30 pm, 6.00 pm to 10.00 pm
Saturday: 11.00 am to 2.30 pm
Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays