Ramen and other Asian noodles have become a contact sport in the United States. This is pretty much true of cooking and most other kitchen activities, once recognized as the domain of women.
Just like the caves at Lascaux before Robert Bly got hold of ’em.
Okay, the caves are ours. Always have been, always will be.
So, is the kitchen.
But, that doesn’t mean we can’t share. It just means there’s no room for posturing or machismo in an activity that should be warm, comforting, nurturing. No Kitchen Stadium (even if it did originate in Japan), eating worms or poop shoots full of offal, or confusing a bowl of noodles with a cheap hooker.
Noodles are everywhere in Japan and a great choice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Unless you are on a gluten-free, totally vegan, no-soy diet. In which case, it would be helpful if you really like rice. For everyone else, noodles are easy to order and fun to eat in a country where slurping your soup is considered polite behavior.
A great place to begin a tour of noodles in Tokyo is Ramen Street, located underground in Tokyo Station. Every ramen shop on Ramen Street has a specialty, usually regional.
At Rokurinsha, the first Ramen shop you’ll find on Ramen Street, lines form from the start of lunch. Not to worry, this is working people’s food so the turnover is fast. We have better things to do than linger over empty soup bowls. The specialty at Rokurinsha is Tsukemen style noodles, thick and chewy, served in a separate bowl and dipped into a pork-based broth. Not the perfect solution for vegetarians but you can ask for no pork.
Hirugao’s specialty is shio (salt-based) ramen. The delicate broth is made from chicken, dried sardines, and scallop. The bowl usually includes chashu, menma, negi, a hard-boiled egg, and a sheet of nori. Again, even though you purchase a ticket from a vending machine, you can still ask for modifications such as no pork.
After your orientation at Tokyo Station, you are well-versed to explore options in more out-of-the-way locations. Like this lively joint where lovely young lads helped us to order miso-based (no animal) options, with just vegetables or you can add animal options like clams.
Ramen, for me, is the umami of childhood. It’s what you were fed when you were sick, or just pretending to be sick because you just didn’t have it in you to face another day of schoolyard bullies or learning an alphabet that was like a codex from Mars.