Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 8 – Day 8 Tousuiro

After having the amazing Shoraian, we wanted to have more tofu kaiseki. This time, we wanted a pure and traditional tofu kaiseki. So we found Tousuiro in the Kiyamachi district, near the Kyoto City Hall, right by the Kamo river.

There are two seating options – either on the balcony overlooking the river for an extra ¥1000, or inside the store. Since we wanted to be a little more money-conscious, we opted to sit inside – it was also a little cooler inside.

We ordered the Machiya-Zen course each for lunch. It came with a variety of presentations of tofu, exactly what we wanted.

First was a simple cold tofu with a smidge of wasabi to go with.

Next was raw tofu (yuba) garnished with a piece of raw radish and served with some dashi sauce.

Tofu served in a thick, chilled broth was next. This dish showcased the versatility of flavour that the tofu can adapt to, given the saltiness and slight sweetness of the broth.

Changing the texture up, we were served several pieces of tempura, and as this is a vegetarian establishment, it was tofu, mushroom, squash, and beans.

After that was a chilled, smooth and cooked tofu served on ice with julienned carrots and shiitake mushrooms. The texture was smooth, and was refreshing in the hot weather we were having in Kyoto.

Last but not least, we were presented with a rice dish in hot broth and what looked like fried rice floating. It was accompanied with some pickled vegetables, again something I really grew to love in Kyoto. This dish reminded me of the chiu chow style congee, where the rice was cooked, but not so much that it melted into the broth. I actually prefer this type of congee because I love the juxtaposition of the thin broth with the slightly chewy rice.

Overall I thought the dishes were quite good, the price wasn’t too expensive, which made sense since most of the food was pre-made and chilled. I thought it provided a good taste of all the various types of tofu preparations, and showed the soy bean’s versatility. However I don’t think it’s a restaurant I would be dying to come back, as there are many other tofu kaiseki’s out there. But for an affordable option, I would definitely recommend it!

Food: 8.3/10
Service: 3/5
Atmosphere: casual, family restaurant, scenic, traditional Japanese
Price: $25CAD

~kehwon

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Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 7 – Day 6 Shoraian

Although we didn’t book an upscale traditional kaiseki (perhaps next time) as was seen on some of the eating shows we’ve seen, we decided we’d try a kaiseki at the amazing bamboo forest at Arashiyama.

Tucked away in the forest, the entrance of Shoraian had a Spirited Away feel to me. It was something that might have been noticeable, and I felt that the seemingly endless path to the place of unknown was going to whisk me away to yet another magical place.

We were greeted by the kind owner of Shoraian, who instructed us to take off our shoes and of course showed us to our table. There was just one other table in that room – two Japanese women chattering away.

They had several set-menu, and we ordered the Shofu set, the third in their four-tiered set menus, at ~¥5000 (it is now ¥6300)

First came a simple tofu dish, likely to cleanse the palette and refresh our mouths. The texture of the tofu was slightly gritty, with a slight soy flavour.

The second course was this amazing smorgasbord of various fried delicacies, including shrimp sushi,

Next was a more Western-inspired dish – a mushroom cheese gratin. Not being a huge fan of cheese, I didn’t enjoy this dish too much, as I thought the flavour and smell of the cheese was too overwhelming that I couldn’t taste any of the mushroom. The large amount of heavy cream was also a little off-putting.

The star of the set dinner was the yudofu (湯豆腐). Generally a dish served in the winter time, it is simple unseasoned tofu boiled in a stone pot, and then eaten with soy sauce. I love flavourful food, and dishes with interesting new marriage of flavours you may not have thought of. However, with Japanese cuisine, I’m more of a minimalist. Thus, this dish really enabled me to taste the high quality of the tofu. It was dense, but soft at the same time, packed with soy flavour, providing that slightly grittiness when you let it melt on your tongue, but was so soft and smooth. The texture and surprisingly full flavour is chilling.

Next was some tempura with small shrimp, providing more umami, fatty mouth-feel and colour than the last dish.

Wagyu beef steak was next, cooked to medium rare. I didn’t think this was particularly outstanding, but then again, shoraian was not known for their beef.

The last main dish was rice with pickled vegetables – a staple in most Japanese households. I actually really love pickled vegetables but try not to eat it too often because of some of the negative health benefits it holds when eaten too often. However, the sourness and slight sweetness of the pickles went so well with the fullness of the lightly seasoned rice.

For dessert, we had the most amazing soy milk ice cream and tofu pudding. Again, the soy flavour in the ice cream was amazing, still retaining that slight grittiness, which is something I really enjoy.

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And after our wonderful meal, we went for a stroll back to the bus stop alongside the river. The lights and the calmness of the water flowing was incredible. The whole afternoon and night was as if I had been transported to a different world. The bamboo forest as the crowd had dissipated was magical, as if out of a Disney movie. As the coolness of the night settled in, and there were no more tourists around, it was like we had booked out the area, giving us some proper romantic downtime.

Food: 8.9/10
Service: 4.5/5
Atmosphere: traditional, japanese, tranquil
Cost: ~$50CAD

~ kehwon

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 9 – Ramen Collective

The most awaited post – RAMEN!!

The one thing you MUST eat at when you visit Japan is ramen. It’s a staple of Japanese food and probably the most popular food you will come across in Japan. There is a store selling ramen at every corner on every block. Last time, we really enjoyed Ippudo’s tonkotsu in Ginza, but this time, we ventured out to try the weird and wonderful and let me tell you, it was absolutely wonderful.

Inoue (井上)

Now for our favourite Tsukiji Market walk-in outdoor ramen joint. We just had our amazing Sushi Dai omakase and we needed a top up so we hit this place up. This place really hits the spot in the spring or fall when it is still a bit chilly outside and you need something to warm you up. Inoue customers devour their ramen huddled over their bowls slurping while standing stooped over a standing table on the sidewalk just outside tsukiji market.

Inoue ramen has only 1 item on the menu, Shoyu Ramen, and opposite to Ichiran, they offer no customization. The way it is served is the way you are meant to enjoy it. It comes piping hot in a clear light brown shoyu broth with a liberal amount of scallion. The noodles are medium thickness and slightly on the softer side of the spectrum, but still firm enough to give you some texture when you bite into them. The broth is light, but has enough flavour from the soy sauce to provide that savoury length. The chashu slice are large, but not seasoned much, so it retains a lot of that pork taste.

Inoue is by no means the best shoyu ramen joint in Tokyo, but it has charm, and it certainly hits the spot every time while visiting tsukiji market. It warms the body and the soul.

Rokurinsha

 

We started off our ramen tour with a bowl of the famous tsuekemen from Rokurinsha. This bustling ramen shop was at the end of Ramen Street in the basement of Tokyo Station. We queued for about 20-30 minutes. The wait couldn’t have felt any longer because you can see and hear the slurping of delicious ramen by the customers inside.

We ordered the ajitama Tsukemen (original tsukemen with a flavoured soft boiled egg) and the Tokusei Tsukemen (Original tsuekemen with shredded pork). Rokurinsha is very thoughtful. They provide customers with a tie around apron because they know there will be splash damage from the ramen as customers slurp their way through their massive bowls of noodles.

The ramen came in 2 separate bowls. One heaping bowl of cold ramen and a bowl of hot ramen soup (or should I say sauce). The noodles were thick, chewy, and hearty. It was perfect in combination with the rich dipping sauce. The sauce had an incredibly hearty taste of meat from the pork and chicken with a blast of seafood umami from the dried sardines, mackerel, and bonito. The almost overpowering sauce was perfectly balanced with those thick noodles which were able to soak up a lot of the sauce but provided that starchy balance to make it a perfect harmony.

Ichiran

 

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I loved Ichiran. Other than their deliciously rich and silky tonkotsu style ramen, the other unique thing about Ichiran is that they limit your interaction with other customers and other staff from little to none. Once you pay for your meal at the vending machine and your are seated, you find yourself in a small cramped one-person cubicle with a narrow window in front of you. The window opens and you are handed a customization form for your ramen. You can choose the firmness of your noodles, how rich the broth is, level of spiciness, and the quantity of the toppings you would like included such as garlic, pork, and scallion. Once ready, you ring the bell, the window is opened by the server on the other side, they grab your form, and again the window is closed. In minutes, the window opens again and your ramen is inserted through it and voila, your meal is served.

The noodles, broth, and other customizations are done to the exact specification that you ordered. The thin type of noodles are my favourite and the normal firmness have enough bounce to make things interesting. The broth is creamy, silky, and rich. I asked for the recommended level of spiciness and found it added a pleasant dimension to the already very flavourful broth. It didn’t overpower the flavour of the tonkotsu broth, but rather complemented it. The chashu was nothing special to write home about, but certainly did not take away from the tasty bowl of ramen.

My quiet, solitary experience was a pleasant one and perfect for a peaceful quick bite to eat in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Kinryu Ramen

 

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Before we headed into Universal Studios, we had to stop at dotonburi (道頓堀) to get both the famous Osaka takoyaki as well as some ramen.

We were a little disappointed in general with the tonkotsu at Kinryu, as the noodles were too soft and soggy, even at the beginning of the day. The broth was meaty but not creamy rich as tonkotsu is known to be, and undecided in what flavour it wants to resonate through. The mouthfeel was fatty, yet lacked the reason to be, and the pork was stale and tough. Although the it had a fancy sign, the ramen was not so fancy.

Gogyo Ramen

 

Umami! Umami! Umami! That’s all I can say.

We were so upset when we first arrived in Kyoto and found this place closed for renovations. But, we were determined to have burnt ramen before we left Japan. So, we decided to give it one last try and on our second last day in Kyoto, they had reopened and we were able to have one of our favourite bowls of ramen in Japan. Karen ordered the Shoyu burnt ramen and I ordered the Miso burnt ramen. Both were similar as the burnt flavour overpowers the other flavours of the broth – not that it’s a bad thing.

By burning the fat on top of the broth, it creates a rich smokey flavour that is unlike any other ramen we’ve tried. If you’ve had David Chang’s momofuku ramen, the smokiness is nothing like that. Momofuku has a more woody, wispy type of smokiness whereas gogyo has a fuller and more intense smoke taste that gives the broth a kick of umami.

The noodles were good, medium thickness, and firm. The meat was fatty and held good flavour. But again, as most ramens do, it was the broth that was the star of the show.

Definitely a must visit if you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo, gogyo gives an interesting twist to ramen culture.

Mamezen Ramen

Mamezen ramen was by far the most amazing ramen we’ve ever had. The reason was simply because although it was radical in ingredient choice, it exceeded the richness and fullness of flavour compared to meat-based broths. The broth was incredibly rich, creamy, and smooth, with an aftertaste of tofu umami.

The noodles were thin but chewy, and the silky broth clung on the noodles as we slurped them with excitement. The yuba (raw skin of tofu) was smooth and thin, the texture complimented the creamy broth extremely well.

They also were one of the most difficult shops to find and track down, snuggled in the residential area of upper Kyoto. When we finally made it to the shop, we were greeted by taro himself, the creator of the silken tofu ramen. He was cheerful and patient with his patrons, getting to know us, chatting with us about the snowy plains of Canada after learning where we were from.

We left after tasting mamezen’s tofu cheesecake, feeling satisfied and accomplished after finding the gem of Kyoto.

We highly recommend the trek to find and enjoy this unique ramen, as it changed the way we saw Japanese soup noodles forever.

-thomas

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 7 – Day 5 Gyuzen

In efforts to fill all the gaps of trying all types of food Japan is known for, we searched for an affordable place to try wagyu beef. I mean, we couldn’t leave Japan without having some beef! We had done some research and decided that kobe would be saved for the next trip.

Gyuzen was a little difficult to find since we were new to Kyoto’s bearings, having only spent a couple of hours there, and we were a little unprepared as Gogyo (our original dinner plan) had been closed for renovations. Nevertheless, in one of the commercial buildings, we finally set foot in the more traditionally-designed interiors of Gyuzen. Considering its closeness to an equally traditional area, Gyuzen’s interiors gave a great continuation of the traditional streets in Gion.

We decided on the option to have both the shabu shabu (in boiling broth), as well as sukiyaki (grilling on the cast-iron pan with a thicker, slightly sweet sauce).

Regarding the freshness of the food, it was good in terms of all-you-can-eat, but perhaps not of the best quality on a whole. The beef however was extremely tender, melt-in-your-mouth, and fatty, without being overly so. The sauces were just sweet and salty enough to create a great and rich flavour with the beef in the sukiyaki without overpowering the meat and losing all the beefy flavour.

I have to say that the shabu shabu was no big deal, and was a little average, but that’s also because we tend to love hot pot at home, with which we can buy fresher and better quality ingredients. We definitely appreciated that they refilled the shabu shabu with broth as opposed to hot water (as some hot pot places will).

The rest of the food included various vegetables, tofu, other soy-based products, fungi, other types of meat, and so forth.

The service was average, didn’t wow us, but keep in mind, this is an ACYE restaurant. As with all service industry in  Japan, they are always polite.

If you’re looking for some quick, wagyu beef without dishing out too much money, this is definitely a place to look into!

Food: 8.2/10
Service: 3/5
Atmosphere: traditional, casual, cozy
Price: $40CAD

~ kehwon