One thing that I love about traveling is finding those hidden gems that only the locals know about. Tokyo local Kristen-chan took me to a couple of spots that were completely void of tourists and foreigners save for myself... but I blend in around here right?
Down a quaint side street not too far from Ginza Station (銀座駅) is Ginza Ishii (銀座 いし井), a noodle shop specializing in dipping ramen (tsukemen / つけ麺) that is unassumingly popular. Perhaps because the locals want to keep this a secret. They certainly eat these noodles like they have been doing something mischievous.
Before entering the shop you will pay for your bowl of noodles with a ticket vending machine. Although overwhelming at first, there are actually only a couple of types of noodles. All other buttons are size preferences, additional toppings, and beverage choices. If you are still bewildered, it is probably a good idea to pick based on the prices printed on the buttons. An average bowl of tsukemen should cost 800-1,200 yen.
The machine spits out your ticket, and the only thing left to do is to play the waiting game. Which customers will finish their noodles first?
The chef serves you by placing two burning hot bowls of noodles and
broth quickly on the counter top. His swift action indicates that the heat from the scalding hot broth has traveled through the
ceramic bowl and that he does not want to burn his fingers. In his silence he does not tell you, though, that the bowl will still burn your tender non-F&B industry
fingers off while you lower the bowl down from the counter to eat... no matter how quickly you move.
If you squeeze the chilled lime over the noodles, it might sooth the burning sensation. But by now your stomach is so full of the burning desire to eat that the pain in your finger tips has quickly numbed away.
The broth is quite unholy. And by unholy I mean that it is devilishly good. It is fatty. It is flavorful. It is salty and savory all at the same time. The pork is so smooth and tender that it truly does melt in your mouth. There may even be fragments of the meat floating, sinking, or swirling around in the sinfully rich and fatty broth. Did I mention the broth was searing hot? This is what you will dip your noodles in. Transferring the noodles over and dipping them into the broth will feel like you are cheating on your significant other. And slurping the noodles up ever so loudly in true Japanese fashion will taste like you cheated with her younger, sexier, naughtier sibling.
Oh, and when you finally bring your attention to the soft boiled egg... it will feel like your one act of sin has quickly turned into a love affair that you have to keep secret. No one can know about this egg and its silky, velvety golden yolk. No one.
That is perhaps the reason why the patrons in the noodle shop act as if they are doing something wrong. The tsukemen tastes so delicious that eating it feels almost like adultery. Get here. Get here quick before anyone finds out. Get rid of the vending machine ticket. Leave no paper trail. Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.
銀座 いし井 / Ginza Ishii
東京都 中央区 / Tokyo Metropolis, Chuo Ward
銀座 3-8-4 / Ginza District, 3 Chome 8-4
See more shots of our tsukemen on my Flickr set here.
ML - 20130629