Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some Thoughts on Ramen

On top there are the primates. Beneath that dolphins. And then there are pigs on the level of smartness. An old human idea is that by eating the organ, the muscle, the essence of those things that we have conquered or killed we receive that essential quality. The liver for courage, the heart for honor and compassion, the muscles for strength. Does one get smarter for consuming tonkotsu, the rich milky broth that defines Hakata-style ramen? Pork bones boiled hard an long are at the heart and soul, and perhaps are the brains behind, this great style of Ramen.

The Ajimi team recently visited Hakata Tenjin (博多天神), a favorite little ramen chain, in their Shibuya location. They've got a pretty famous branch in Shinjuku, often photographed for the bigger than life-size pig-faced tanuki in front of the shop. Though crass - what else from a ramen joint? - the sculpture belies the fact that the place makes a simple, cheap, and lovely ramen that's well worth a taste in one's search for noodle bliss. 

What one gets for 500 yen is a bowl full of fine ramen noodles, a thin slab of fragrant char sui, a pile of menma (dried and reconstituted bamboo shoots), and some shavings of negi. It all works together beautifully with the collagen-a-riffic broth. But what takes it over the edge are the brilliant condiments that line the counters and folding tables of this simple establishment. First, there's pureed garlic. Then there's benishoga, vermillion colored pickled ginger. And then there's the karashi tenaka, spicy pickled Chinese mustard greens. They are musty, smokey, sharp, and perfect at Hakata Tenjin.

So, what's all this have to do with getting smart? Well, Hakata is a ward in Fukuoka, where this wonderful style of ramen was developed. It was in Fukuoka where Sugawara no Michizane died in exile in 903.  His spirit, which was some mighty powerful, was deified and became known as Tenjin. Over the years Tenjin became the kami, or god, of scholarship. Some food for thought when slurping down a bowl of noodles at Hakata Tenjin.


NV

No comments: