Wednesday, September 15, 2010

noodles in Kyoto

About 6 years ago, bunch of us (including the columbian, duan, curly, Janine etc) went to Kyoto for a conference. While we were lost searching for our hotel (google map either hasn't been created or we just didn't know about it), we stumbled upon this little noodle shop near Kyoto station. We had ramen there for breakfast nearly every morning during our visit, it was that good. I don't think Kyoto is known for its ramen, but what was served at this place was awesome. They also serve pot-stickers and a couple cold dishes (a plate of pickle vegetables, or think slices of pork dressed in sauce and green onion), but everyone is clearly there for the Ramen.

I was fortunate enough to return to Kyoto earlier this month and I went there the very first chance I got. I was able to grab a seat at the 3 seat counter facing the open kitchen a couple times during the 4 visits on this trip and I got a closer look at what made this humble bowl of noodle so delicious.

There are three pots, two of them have broth, one with just boiling water for cooking noodle. Pig parts (large bones and slabs of pork belly) bob up and down in one of the broth pot. A slow drip of cold water runs into the noodle pot to keep it calm and at the right level. They only cook about 4-5 servings at a time (well, the place seats 25 at the most, uncomfortably). When order(s) come in, they line up the empty bowls to the right of the pots, ladling some boiling water into the bowls to warm them. Fresh noodles from wooden crates go into the water and swim freely (no wire baskets here). They don't take their eyes off the pot while the noodle is cooking. when the noodle is nearly done (no timer, no tasting), the bowls are emptied of the water, then bit of a dark sauce (most definitely soy based), and a small spoonful of what looked like lard are put into each bowl. Noodles are added next, then bean sprouts and slices of pork are arranged on top of the noodle, then comes the broth. A pile of very thinly slices green onion finishes them.

What I love about the noodle and the place is the simplicity: No bowl crowding toppings, just perfectly cooked noodle with the right chew and a deeply meaty, salty broth and decent, fatty pork; super friendly efficient service (just one dude) and not expensive (650 yen for a regular size bowl). I am sure that even a soft cooked egg will not improve this bowl. On my last day in town, I ate a small bowl of noodle there before taking the shinkansen to Tokyo, one of the dude cooking noodle who have seen me coming in a couple of times during the week, try to say goodbye to me in chinese.

As ramen places popping up in large cities in north America, I really hope there will be one as good as this (I don't think that has happen yet), so I don't have to go too far to enjoy a good bowl of it.

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