Eating Japan: The most famous tonkotsu ramen shop in the country- Ippudo (+ short rant on traveling alone)

I got that title “The most famous tonkotsu…” straight from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page for Ippudo ramen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ippudo), because I’m such a legitimate source of information like that, you know?

But seriously, this was THE best bowl of ramen I had in Japan. I was near tears as I ate it. Hell, I had to hold them back because I was in a public place.

I am no ramen expert, but I am a genuine lover of tonkotsu ramen, and I could have had two bowls of this in one seating, if my stomach would have allowed it.

It was a rainy day, and I was looking for a warm bowl of anything, to replenish my mana. It had been an extra tiring day, as I had not taken an umbrella when I left the hostel. I had to fit my schedule and travel routes for the day around the sporadic drops of rain that came whenever it pleased, and now, it was pouring heavy. Putting a shopping bag over my head that contained a scarf I had bought earlier, I was able to save myself from looking like a drenched raccoon. And I was hungry.

I had heard about the Ippudo ramen chain from a YouTube video the day before, and had plans to visit a location before I left Japan. Incidentally, I found it appearing on Google Maps on my way back to my hostel. I thought this was fate, and I sat on the waiting chairs outside the restaurant. Even on a rainy Wednesday night, there was a line-up.

I recognized the Ippudo logo from a YouTube video I had watched earlier. Otherwise, I would have passed right by. The Internet really is an amazing tool for travel.20170315_183424 ippudo!!! 비오는 날에도 줄이.jpg

As usual, a menu is provided while you wait, to make efficient use of time.20170315_184025.jpg

When in doubt at a ramen place, I pick the most expensive bowl available. I am usually unable to go back to the same ramen place twice because there is just too much stuff to eat in Japan. So I pick the bowl with the most stuff in it, and hope the bowl is a culmination of everything that the ramen-ya is proud of.

After a short 15 minute wait, I was already facing my beautiful bowl of Akamaru Modern Special (1,080 yen). 1,080 yen is pretty expensive, but I had no doubt that it would be worth it.20170315_185057.jpg

The men was pretty thin, so I could guess that the broth would be somewhat drinkable.20170315_185232.jpg

The broth was just amazing. While the kyoto-style ramen I had at Sen no Kaze left something to be desired, this broth struck the right balance for me between saltiness, fattiness, and richness. I purposely sipped slowly on the broth to stretch it for as long as I could.

Lots of toppings you can put in yourself, like benishoga, pickled veg, spicy bean sprouts, pepper, sesame seeds, soy sauce, etc. They also had a vegetable side dish that was available upon request; I regret not asking for it!20170315_191659.jpg

Their egg left me in a mindf**k. Seriously. The egg being perfectly cooked for a creamy and runny yolk and soft whites was just the beginning. There had to be some witchcraft behind this savory egg. 20170315_185727.jpg

The egg had come whole, not sliced in half like most other places. Also, the egg had retained its natural color, and there was no tint of soy sauce or other colored seasoning anywhere on, or in the egg. Yet, the yolk was seasoned perfectly. It was just the right level of salty, and it seemed like a Caramilk mystery- How did they get the salty in the egg?! Was there a breed of hen that laid eggs with perfectly seasoned yolks? The whites of the egg wasn’t salty, so I was struck by the mystery of how they got the salt to penetrate to the yolk. I am starting to sound obsessed, but that’s because I am.

I had heard of ramen masters steaming eggs in salt casings, and the saltiness from the casing naturally seeps into the egg, so could this be the case? But the whites wasn’t even salty. HOW DID THEY DO IT?

I was overwhelmed by the amount of beauty in this single bowl of ramen. My stomach was full, but I didn’t want this to end.

So I ordered kaedama – an extra serving of just the noodles. I saw many customers ordering extra men. Ippudo highly encouraged customers to do so on their menu, with an English comic illustration on the concept of kaedama.

My plate of kaedama. I made the mistake of asking for asking the noodles be cooked firmer (they have three or four levels of cooked-ness that you can request) because I wanted to try a different mouthfeel. They came verrrry al-dente, and I regretted it. I think they literally put it in boiling water for 20 seconds and gave it to me. Should have just let the ramen master give me the usual noodles. Why did I pretend like I knew what I was ordering?!20170315_190313.jpg

After I soaked up the remaining broth with my extra serving of hard-cooked noodles, I was stuffed. I solemnly washed out the remaining trace of the broth in my mouth with a gulp of the iced tea they provide, and headed out the restaurant. A much longer line-up of customers had formed, despite the still-heavy rain.

Feeling full, satisfied and full of wonder about that magical egg yolk, I walked back to my hostel in the peace of a rainy Kyoto night.

Walking along the huge Kamo River bridge of Kyoto alone…You can see the beacon of light that is Kyoto Tower in the distance. They have a law in Kyoto that no building is allowed to be built higher than the Tower.20170315_201635.jpg

A closer shot of Kyoto Tower and the houses on the other side of Kamo River. How beautiful.20170315_202351.jpg

When you travel alone, there are times when a wave of emotions hits you full-on, and you just have to ride it out. Walking along the Kamo River bridge on a rainy evening was one of those times. I was struck by a snowball of emotions as I strolled quickly alongside all the cars. Happiness, sadness, fear, calm, loneliness, pride and envy all hit me at the same time, and no emotion was the principal. In a matter of seconds, I toggled between feeling like a giant and like a tiny insect; between feeling like I was exactly where I should be, and like I was in the most wrong place at the most wrong time.

Traveling alone can be wonderful at times, but it can also be crippling at times. It really depends on the person whether it’s the right way to be. I still haven’t come to a conclusion yet on which kind of traveler I am; solo or group. Maybe I am a mix of both. Maybe we all are.

 

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