Saturday, July 31, 2010

ラーメン札幌 一粒庵 Sapporo Ramen Ichi Ryuu An

Ichi Ryuu An: "A Single Grain Shack". A generation 3 Sapporo restaurant, cooperating with Yashoku Ramen.

They're popular, they're hip, they're new. And worth an entry in the guide.

Ichi Ryuu An began in 2007, setting up in the basement food hall of an office building down the street from Sapporo Station. As such, getting to the place is extremely easy for the tourist, and since it's near the station which is filled with places for shopping and such, the incentive to be in the area is high. In terms of location, Ichi Ryuu An is a winner for sure.

However, the shop is somewhat hard to find, being in the basement level of an office building. Please look for a sign that looks like this:

Note: the colors will actually be in reverse, black lettering and a white background. But the script looks like this.

This shop specializes in miso ramen, particularly in something they call 元気のでるみそラーメン Genki no Deru Miso Ramen, which roughly translates to "Uplifting Miso Ramen".

It's called that because it includes extremely high end ingredients like 7 year aged miso, which includes special wild garlic found only in Hokkaido. These ingredients are supposedly good at giving you energy, and being medically beneficial. The concept is using high quality, healthy ingredients to make a high quality meal. The chef went to so far as to consult doctors on what foods were good for this task, in which he discovered not only this high quality Garlic, but also how to maximize its use.

This shows in the price; one bowl is a whopping 1000 yen.

At first this may seem to be a large negative point, but particularly, this shop has a lot of praise for it's food, especially that Uplifting Miso Ramen. As if this writing it has appeared on several TV shows including Tvh, STV, HTB, and HBC. Furthermore, it has a full page section in the Ramen 1000 book, and its average rating on Tabelog is 3.67/5, substantially high for a ramen restaurant. Tabelog has even been advertising the restaurant; if you search ramen in Hokkaido on that website, this shop appears first regardless of actual search results.

So let's take a look.

Despite not having any windows, being underground and all, the show is rather inviting. Nice dim mood lighting makes the place feel relaxed, comfortable, and contemporary. Warm wood counter tops and shades of brown on the walls further add to a very high end atmosphere. Still, the place is small, only 16 seats or so, which plays nicely on the overall feel of the shop.

Also it's a good example of Rule Three

Sit down, and order a bowl of Genki no Deru Miso Ramen, that Uplifting Miso Ramen. This is what Yashoku claims it looks like.

And this is what came when I ordered:

You can choose "futomen" (thick noodles) or "hosomen" (thin noodles). Thick noodles are a concept developed to pair well with Miso, they're Sapporo characteristic, and the chef recommended I go this way, so I chose thick.

Just based on looks, this ramen is amazingly appealing. Wonderful color contrasts, with the deep greens from the leafy arugula, the hint of red and bright yellow from the stir fried chili egg. The earthenware bowl is colorful but subtle, modern yet ancient. The color play is nice.

The key characteristic of this Uplifting Miso Ramen that makes it different from the normal Miso ramen on the menu is  this sort of egg/pork stir fry delight on top. I don't particularly know how to describe it, but the pork is tender and flavorful, and the egg is an interesting contemporary play on the soft boiled egg people frequently see on ramen. And it has chili slices for a bit of heat and color.

Overall, this is an extremely good bowl of Ramen. The noodles are well cooked, a wonderful dark golden color, the soup has interesting notes of garlic and onion along with the miso, and it's not overbearingly rich, but has just the right amount of fat content to be fulfilling. No crazy lard cap or anything. The toppings pair well with the noodles, and the portion is very good considering the price. With the chili's in the egg, I was expecting a bigger explosion of flavor in the soup, like a crash of garlic, herbs, spices, and miso, but the quality taste is still superb. The soup is quite complex and extremely interesting. The mellow garlic contrast is at times nice with the sharp arugula. It's certainly unique for miso ramen, and quite delicious.

For those hanging around the Sapporo Station, this is easily the best ramen shop in the area. I recommend this shop without question.

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Ramen Ichi Ryuu An
Monday- Saturday:
11:30 am - 3:00 pm. 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm.
Closed Sunday

Friday, July 30, 2010

春一家 Haru ichiya

As we transition on this wonderful journey of noodley goodness, I felt it only necessary that we perhaps continue towards the epic and weird noodles.

Which is why today I presen "Haru Ichiya". It has a much fuller name actually...

 春一家 三代目 麺宿

If I could translate the full name it'd be something like "Spring Household, The Third, Noodle Lodge"

Yes, this should be pronounced Ikka or Ikke, not Ichiya. I know. But the name is certainly Ichiya.

The third refers to this being the 3rd time this shop has moved. Spring Household is the name, and... Noodle Lodge? I suppose that's a fancy way of saying "Ramen Shop"

Haru ichi Ya moved from Tokyo to the "Ramen War zone" (as some guidebooks are calling the 豊平 Toyohira district of Sapporo) in April of 2010. It's a newcomer to Sapporo by any standard, and thus reviews of it are scarce. Furthermore, the reviews seem to be polarizing, a combination of perfect and very low scores.

Despite this, the store has been on TV, as well as been written about in a few ramen books. So I had to check it out.

First let's take a look at the shop.

Interesting... kind of a.. house feel to it I suppose. Two floors and 40 seats, that's ambitious.

There's a very warm, contemporary feel to the shop. The menu has drawings instead of photos, reminds me of the indie hand drawn Americana that we saw in movies like Juno and Napoleon Dynamite. The walls are wood and deep red, it's incredibly inviting, and the new feel is exciting.

The shop is famous for its 黒八味噌ラーメン, Black 8 Miso Ramen. Yes, that name is weird. What does it mean?

I spoke briefly with the shop owner, one of two actually, and he told me essentially his philosophy on food was that foods with black color are good for you, and so he combines 8 black foods in this miso ramen. Black vinegar, black bean miso, black pepper, among other ingredients he wouldn't share.

Ah, the chef's secret.

The result of this black heavy ingredient mixture is... well... Something of fame and glory.

Black miso ramen with pork and egg. 780 yen.

Quite literally, a soup that is black in color.

Film of fat floating on the top, reminiscent of the Junsumi style loved by those in Sapporo. But the soup is black. I mean black to the core.

My question is... how in the world did this soup get so black? It's AWESOME.

This bowl of ramen, in my opinion, is amazing. Period.

The color is amazing, the flavor is complex, rich, and unique, as these black ingredients are actually not violent at all, smooth and deep in their flavor. Slightly sweet and musky in it's composition, with good miso flavor. This is a miso bowl after all, and I'm very impressed that this flavor came through as well. The thin straight noodles are house made (YES!!) with an old style machine they have in the back. It gives them amazing texture and length, and they hold up well to the delightful concoction of the soup. The fresh cracked black pepper adds a nice bit of heat and fragrance as the pieces pop in your mouth while chewing. It also has fried slices of garlic, which give just an amazing aroma and flavor to the already superb bowl.

Even the vegetables, (bean sprouts, onions, cabbage) that had been stir fried and mounded up on top, tasted perfect, a touch of flame broiled char and scent. The portion was deceptively big, and every bite of it was delightful.

I drank the whole thing, to put it bluntly.

Plus points: The owner said he is making an English menu. For the tourist, this is amazing.

The shop is located just a three minute walk from the Misono station on the blue line. If you're looking for something completely unique in not just Ramen but food in general, and something quite delicious, I'd say it's well worth the trip. Honestly I was thoroughly impressed.

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Haru Ichiya
Open 7 days a week.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

山嵐黒虎 YamaArashi KuroTora. Mountain Storm; Black Tiger.

Today's Ramen is brought to you by the lengthy named "Mountain Storm".

Sweet name Seriously.


YamaArashi is actually a separate shop much farther south in Sapporo, however, they recently released a new restaurant (Kurotora) near the downtown area of Sapporo. For the traveler, this shop is far easier to access.

It's actually just outside of this area known as "Tanuki Kouji", an expansive, covered walkway, excellent for shopping. In this way it seems somewhat superior to the original for the tourist.

Furthermore, this restaurant actually has a slightly different menu than the original, and as such it's rating on Tabelog is HIGHER than the original shop. 3.49/5 for the original, 3.62/5 for Black Tiger, the shop we're looking at today.

If that isn't irony I'm not sure what is.

This is the size of the entire shop... tiny.

Entering the small 8 seat shop, you will see a ticket vending machine to your right. For the tourist, this makes ordering actually fairly simple, providing you know what you're looking for, as it will of course be written in Japanese.

Which is why I'm here eh?

The Ramen at this restaurant is divided into three categories; White, Black, and Sea. These divisions categorize soup.

White is the basic soup, made with pork bone. Look on the machine for this figure: 白
Black is the basic soup with a touch of soy sauce. Look for this figure: 黒
Sea has a slight touch of fish broth added to the soup. Look for this figure: 海

In other words in general, they're fairly similar. You can pick based on your preferences, however, in most guide books I've come across, white and black are the most recommended.

After giving your ticket from the machine, sit down at one of 8 seats, and... wait?

Then your food arrives. I ordered Black, and this is what came.

Pork Bone broth with soy sauce. It's topped with chopped onion, sliced scallion, a slice of nori, and I ordered a boiled egg extra. Black is described as being rich and deep, and boosted with a bit of collagen, which you can see is the browner side of the bowl.

Floating collagen on soup... well... that's different.

The presentation is quite appealing; a certain level of black vs white contrast, half and half. The color is nice.

The noodles are thick, not housemade, but quite nice. They have that good bite you always look for; they're cooked well.

Honestly, I was absolutely shocked in the best of ways by this shop and its food. I thought the soup was incredibly rich and flavorful, and had an amazing depth that played well with the noodles. The raw white onions added a nice bite to play with the mellow thick consistency of the soup. The collagen gives an incredible rich, smooth mouth feel to the already milky white rich soup.

It was just so good. Ahahaha.

"Pork Bone soup" as a concept is somewhat rare in comparison to miso, shoyu, or shio, the three tastes, within Sapporo. In this regard, this place is a little treasure that manages to break away from what all the other shops are doing, while also maintaining a level of quality and integrity.

The shop is cool looking, the location is great, the food is awesome. The experience itself leaves quite the impact. If you like rich foods, and love porky pork goodness, this shop is absolutely for you. Even if you DON'T like that stuff I would still suggest checking this place out.

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11:30-4:00 5:00-9:00
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, July 26, 2010

狼スープ Ookami Soup (Wolf Soup)

Today's Ramen is also considered a ramen of the "Jun Sumi" variety, with the rich miso and curly yellow noodles.

The shop's name is 狼スープ, Ookami Soup. Ookami means wolf.

No, the soup does not contain any wolf meat or something... A lot of Ramen shops use names with reference to Nature and life. In fact, pretty much every Ramen shop I've written of so far has had a name related to one of the two.

Ookami soup specializes in Miso Ramen. In fact it's the only thing they have on their menu, either Miso or Miso with soft boiled egg as a condiment. I would suggest you enjoy miso if you plan on visiting here after reading this entry.

Considering the legacy already established by Sumire and Junren, I was skeptical of a Miso Ramen shop claimed to be "Jun Sumi Style" by reviewers online. We all love originality after all. The reviews were rather positive on Tabelog however, as of this writing the average rating is 3.7/5. In fact, Ookami Soup is one of the top 10 ramen restaurants in all of Hokkaido on that website.

That's pretty much an invite to try some ramen.

To be honest though, I have almost no information about this restaurant. I don't even know when it opened, or any secret little morsels about its history. If anyone has any information, Japanese or English, please let me know and I will update accordingly.

The shop is fairly small, which is some good Rule 3.

Despite my lack of knowledge of the shop, it seems immensely popular. Those writings on the ceiling are actually autographs typical of Japan, big thick cardboard like material that celebrities put their signatures on. Ookami Soup has them all the way to the ceiling.

I went with a friend (my ramen obsession has quickly spread amongst my circle of friends), and we arrived at 11 am, opening hours. Within 15 minutes the shop was full. At lunch. On a Tuesday.

This place is popular.

So let's examine the food. I ordered Miso with Egg.

First noting the color, it's a bit more orange than Sumire or Junren, which I liked.

The noodles are made by Nishiyama Noodle Company, the same company that makes noodles for Aji No Sanpei. So they are good, as expected, though we do love house made stuff more don't we?

I was worried however, about another Sumire/Junren knockoff. When you get labeled with that online, it means you resemble theirs at least to some degree.

However, I will say that Ookami managed to escape being a mere clone, and they do this through a very complex spice profile in the soup. Perhaps it's my palate that discerned this, but I honestly got hints of cinnamon and cardamom, with a slight hit of anise even. These rooty, musky spices are not as prominent, nor really used at all in the original, and so, at the very least, I have to applaud the store for actually pushing out of the box with some unique spices. It even had a little heat of chili flake.

But unfortunately, the majority of other characteristics are just not all that amazing. The egg is average, the noodles are good but not astounding, because they're factory made, the pork extremely tender but flavor wise normal, even the bamboo shoots are ordinary. I was extremely impressed with the soup for it's unique spice profile and interesting character, mellow yet complex, rich yet not overbearing, and not overly salty, but it just isn't enough when being compared to such legends in my opinion.

After all, Ookami Soup does have that label tacked on.

In good news, Ookami Soup does prevail in terms of location, as it is located just outside of Nakajima Park. For the tourist, Nakajima Park is a wonderful little escape from the city with a beautiful lake, trees, playground, and activities, and the location is accessible by a stop on the Nanboku subway line. You can rent a boat and paddle out to the lake, and afterwards, Ookami soup is right there to fill you up.

With that being said, if you plan on going to Nakajima Park, Ookami Soup is essentially a must visit for a quick, inexpensive, delicious lunch. But if going there is something out of the way, you might as well take the full trip down the Nanboku subway line to Junren or Sumire. They both exist down that way anyhow.


Ookami Soup 狼スープ

Mon-Fri: 11:00am-4:00pm
Sat-Sun: 11:00am-8:00pm
Closed Wedesday.

Links: (Shop's Blog)

Ramen Sky, ラーメン空

Segueing fairly well from the concept of Yashoku Ramen and Miso as a historic concept within Sapporo, we have particularly one restaurant that stands out in context.

That restaurant is ラーメン空, or as I'll designate it, Ramen Sky.

Imagine a Sky made of Ramen, I would assume such a thing would be either incredibly frightening or awe inspiring.

I had quite a few sources direct me to this shop. It has a 3.5/5 rating on Tabelog, which despite what you may think, is surprisingly high, as even the highest rated Ramen shop only has around a 4/5 rating on the website. Furthermore, this shop also had a full page article in the book "Every Day Noodles", a guidebook highlighting different noodle shops across sapporo, including of course, Ramen.

However, most reviews online seem to suggest that it the restaurant's style is "Sumi Jun Ken", which as you remember, means it is essentially a replication of what Junren and Sumire have been doing for 40 something years. Thick soup, rich lard cap on top, golden noodles, you guys know.

This restaurant opened recently, and thus Yashoku has decided to collaborate with them, but the truth is that this restaurant had originally closed in 2006, to move to Nagoya, but after it actually came back to Sapporo. Interesting story in itself, it happens to have a particular cult following considering how new it is. Combining this with the amazing location near Susukino, the downtown party district of Sapporo, and you have a fairly packed restaurant.

Yashoku claims it is "a taste of Sapporo", which makes sense, it is after all, reminiscent of those Second Generation Ramen shops.

I sat down at the restaurant on a cool spring day,and the place was full up. Which brings me to my next rule.

3. A small ramen shop is usually a better shop.

There is just something about the size of a shop that makes the experience feel more personal. It also means the cooks have to be more intelligent and creative with space and ingredients, and food from smaller stores tends to be better.

But... this is a ramen review. How was it? Do I agree with the consensus?

For a bit of comparison, this is what Yashoku displays as their picture of the bowl.

And this is what I recieved

So, fairly accurate hm?
Well... I cannot tell a lie. It was certainly good.

But it wasn't amazing.

To be honest, knowing a little of the history of ramen now, I couldn't help but feel like it was merely ripping off Sumire and Junren. Nothing in particular stood out from the original rich miso ramen, maybe a little less in terms of the fat film floating on top. The noodles are not hand made, and as far as condiments go, your standard fair of sliced welsh onions, bamboo shoots, soft boiled egg, and roasted pork, known as "chashu". They were okay, nothing essentially standing out. Fresh ground ginger melted away in the soup for a little extra bite, which I liked but I couldn't shake the fact that I was eating essentially a remake of the second generation, with the only differences being that maybe a bit more tweak on the spice profile and a little less rich. Both Sumire and Junren also have ginger as part of the spice profile.

In this way, I can't say I agree with such a high rating online, because to me, the uniqueness of this bowl was extremely lacking. But I will not pretend like it was anything less than good. Remember the first rule after all :P

Therefore, in short, if you have the chance to go to the original "Sumi Jun Kei" shops, I would suggest skipping this place. For a bit of a twist, in a far superior and much easier to access location however, I would certainly recommend this shop.

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Ramen Sky ラーメン空
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 11 am-5 am
Sunday: 11 am to 1 am.
Closed Monday.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ramen Today

So, we have discussed at this point three generations of Ramen in Sapporo.

Aji no Sanpei is the origin, the first generation that defined Sapporo as a culinary epicenter, where food ners could finally gaze upon this city for culinary reasons.

Sumire and Junren and number two, responsible for the evolution and addition of depth and character to Miso Ramen. Consider them the second pioneers, as they created the concept of Ramen being lavish in Sapporo. In fact, ramen is widely considered a "B class gourmet" meal today, because of its complexity and versatility, while maintaining a lower price point. Most meals don't cross 1000 yen.

But what about a third generation? Sumire and Junren are at least 40 years old. Who became the current generation? There has to be one.

Well. Yes and no.

Many would argue that there is no defined third store to spearhead the ramen expansion we see today. No shining Knight on Armor so to speak. However, there are certainly loved newcomer restaurants, who push the boundaries of food in Sapporo.

Enter Yashoku. Yashoku Ramen is your friend if looking for extremely popular, modern shops. That generation 3.

Yashoku Ramen is a cooperative company that works with local Sapporo ramen shops to send said shops' noodles, soup, and ingredients to customers so that they can make it at home. It allows, say, a person living in Tokyo to make ramen from a shop in Sapporo. Yashoku packages and delivers the ingredients straight from the shop.

They claim to distribute "3rd Generation Sapporo Ramen" to the masses. I have absolutely no problem with this. I love the idea of showing the culinary prowess of local restaurants.

Unfortunately, their roster of shops you can purchase from constantly changes. Attempting to use it as a source solely would be fairly difficult.

But it is kind of a symbol of what's popular besides some of the internet rating websites. I like it because their criteria for which restaurants they will sell from specifically includes "newer" restaurants. Despite the term itself being fairly... open ended (how new is new?), for those looking for the "ramen newcomers" as I like to call them, feel free to use the website.

Perhaps the most important trend to notice then, about modern Sapporo ramen, is... well... the types.

Miso ramen is only ONE of the popular varieties now. Sapporo ramen today is no longer limited to miso, but to all varieties and styles. Rich, smooth, thick, thin, chewy, soft, all sorts can be classified as Sapporo Ramen. What makes one ask... what is Sapporo Ramen then?

The truth is that, there isn't really a definition now. Perhaps that is the greatest achievement these restaurants have been able to accomplish, breaking a town's own stereotype on the foods associated with the location. In fact, some suggest (such as this fellow here) that Sapporo ramen really just means any combination of the three tastes, Shoyu, Shio, and Miso. But even this is an understatement, there are plenty of shops that use other flavors in their soup, such as pork bone, shellfish, and tomato even.

It's an interesting concept none the less. I suppose part of the excitement of Yashoku is merely seeing which restaurant they will collaborate with next.

From Generation Three, the sky's the limit. So let's talk about some ramen!

And then, There was 純連 (Sumire? Junren? Huh?)

After Aji no Sanpei conquered the ramen universe with it's glorious creation of Miso ramen, many restaurants followed suit. But it wasn't untill the early 1960s that a store ambiguously named 純連 burst onto the scene, and changed everything.

I write the name in Japanese alone because, well, when the first 純連 came out, no one actually knew how to read it besides the owner, an old woman who merely wanted to start selling ramen. The people in the shop called their store "Sumire", but most Sapporo dwellers misread those fancy Chinese characters as "Junren".

So begins the advancement of Miso ramen.

In the murky, 1960s kitchen of the old Sumire, it is suggested that the first "rich" miso ramen was born, and this is considered the "Second Generation" of Sapporo ramen. As we recall, Aji no Sanpei made miso ramen with the concept that it would be healthy and filling. Sumire entered the market with the prospect of changing things up. The pork was bountiful, the soup thick and complex, dark deep flavor, and a characteristic film of lard floated over the noodles, keeping them hot and adding to the already copious amount of richness.

No longer was Miso Ramen a post war image of necessity in hard times, but rather, it had become an image of excessive pleasure. This pleasure was not cheap of course, something of the equivalent of 900 to 1000 yen for a single bowl.

But the new style of Miso ramen was loved by people in Sapporo, they had been picked up by a magazine and customers were flourishing. However, the old shopkeeper one day became extremely ill, and decided to close shop.

That is, until the following year, in which her eldest son decided to continue the business. They reopened, this time under the name "Junren", due to customers frequently calling the old restaurant that, and to this day have been a staple in the Sapporo Ramen culture.

However, the old shopkeeper actually had three sons, and the other two also decided to open up a shop, reopening "Sumire". In other words, at one point in time there were two shops named 純連, one read as Junren, one as Sumire. Despite this, they were completely separate in terms of management; they merely had similar characteristics in the food.

Sumire has since changed the way their name looks to すみれ, to distinguish it from Junren. But the truth is that the original Sumire created a new style of ramen known as "Sumire Style", or as it's also called now "Jun Sumi Style". To give you an idea on how popular "Jun Sumi Style" is, the following website lists 17 restaurants, all popular no less, as having Jun Sumi Style Miso Ramen.

It's more or less the new standard for miso ramen.

Since their massive boom, both restaurants have grown into fairly large size multi shop companies; Junren has four locations, and Sumire has well over 10.

You can imagine in this way then, that the two essentially go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other, since they're from the same source.

I will review the two restaurants as this blog goes.

Info on Junren/Sumire.

Sumire, The lost interview

I attempted to review the second half of the duo, Sumire, in our Sumire Junren combo. The two brother restaurants are wildly popular, and considered the Second Generation of Sapporo Ramen, after Aji no Sanpei. I failed, the owner was extremely busy. If this changes, I'll be sure to update with extra information. Hope for the best I suppose.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aji no Sanpei 味の三平

About 4 years after Daruma-ken, the restaurant Aji no Sanpei was born onto the scene. In many ways, Aji no Sanpei is far more important, for it engraved essentially what is "Sapporo Ramen" into the world of culinary artistry. Aji no Sanpei invented Miso ramen.

Yes, invented it.

To clarify the importance of this achievement: when ramen comes to the mind of a Japanese person, they will almost indefinitely think of three basic categories in terms of flavor: shoyu, shio, and miso. These are ubiquitously called the "Three flavors", or 3味. The previous two have been discussed before, as the origins of ramen long before in Japan, but Miso is the newcomer of sorts, and Aji no Sanpei at the very least deserves high praise for inventing this whole new species of ramen.

I actually sat down with the owner of Aji no Sanpei, the contents of the interview can be found later on, and I'll link to it when I finish translating it.

Actually, in a bit of interesting lore, Aji no Sanpei buys noodles from the Nishiyama company, whom was created by the cousin of the owner of Daruma-ken. Everything has a connection in Japan I suppose.

Aji no Sanpei also has an old world feel to it, despite being located in perhaps the most perplexing and unique location I've come across for ramen shops: the 4th floor of a stationary store.


Stationary and ramen... I have seen everything. But the idea makes sense; According to the owner, to avoid working late night hours, they decided to pick a shop that had a lot of traffic without being open through the middle of the night. This gave the shop owners somewhat of a life outside of the restaurant since it closed early, which, at least to the owners, was far more desirable than being open untill 2-3 am.

Miso Ramen actually was invented as a concept in pure post war idealism. People wanted food to be healthy, and bountiful, and full of calories and nutrition. Miso was successful because it had qualities that salt and soy sauce didn't, health and calories without extra cost. Perhaps this is why it took off initially.

The owner claims, like many, that his ramen has changed with the time, but I seem to believe otherwise; as do most restaurant visitors of Aji no Sanpei. Which makes sense, in comparison to Miso ramen today, Aji no Sanpei is far lighter, not rich or thick, and the miso flavor itself is surprisingly mild.

There is however, one specific issue. If you search 味の三平 (Aji no Sanpei) in google, one of the suggestions you get is this:

Look at the 3rd suggestion. まずい means literally "unappetizing", or as I like to think of it, "gross".

So... it seems like a fairly large number of people might be dissatisfied with Aji no Sanpei's ramen.

Perhaps we see a trend here, which leads me to the second rule.

2. A store's age is not correlated with it's quality.

A brand new store may have some seriously amazing eats, and an old store may have faded into it's obscurity and old history without evolving quickly with the times.

But how did I think of it? Did I agree with the 3.3/5 rating on Tabelog? Did I think it was "unappetizing"?

Well... I wouldn't go so far as to say that. Perhaps I am biased because the owner was so sincere and honest in my interview with him, so prideful and happy about his ramen and the history he and his family of cooks are responsible for. Perhaps it's because I have  a soft spot for miso ramen, and for cooks who genuinely love their food, their creations.

But... I kinda liked it. It has a very mellow, if almost unintelligible, miso flavor. The stir fried vegetables really show through, onion and bean sprout just the right texture, with stir fried minced pork added for a bit of richness. The pork base soup, which included boiled pig head (yes it's awesome) is murky and clouded and reminds me of a home cooked stock. The noodles are of course delicious and perfect in texture, and not just because they are made by an external company. I was allowed to visit them during preperation, speedy hands and silent maneuvers flawlessly enacting a dance like trance of slicing and boiling, and I saw how each of the 5 cooks for 15 minutes merely practices making the noodles to perfect accuracy.

"Ah... you're over 4 minutes now! Hurry up!" the owner shouted to one of the cooks as he prepared 7 orders of miso ramen simultaneously.

Still... this once again falls into the category of history over substance. Aji no Sanpei is lost in its old school character, and while this is charming, the quality of the ramen itself is good, but not astounding in comparison to ramen today. One should look at Aji no Sanpei for what it is, the origins of what we call "Sapporo Ramen", the first generation in a legacy of quality food.

For the history buff, this place is worth a look, of course. For the gastronomist, this place may be not.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Daruma-Ken だるま軒

Daruma-ken claims to be the "originator of Sapporo Ramen". Based solely on this, I suspect many and all food lovers' ears would perk up; surely a restaurant over 60 years old would be delicious, and worth the trip, am I mistaken?

This is partially correct. Which brings me to the first rule in my "Rules of Ramen"

1. All ramen in Sapporo is, at the very least, good. You should want excellent by default.

I will be blunt with you; almost no ramen shops in Sapporo are called "bad", and if they are, it is only under the context that there is more to gain elsewhere for a similar price. Ramen is usually considered pretty tasty, no matter where you go in Japan, especially Sapporo. Perhaps this is the Japanese manner of thinking; trying not to talk in such extremes as "disgusting" and "terrible", but similarly, food quality is always thought of as a prime ideal here.

Daruma-ken has an interesting history to say the least, having been opened since the post-war era. The location is, surprisingly wild to say the least.

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It's located in a fish market near a river that flows through Sapporo. During the post war era, many shops did this, as high traffic allowed shops to maintain profit and be open at less strenuous nighttime hours. Now a days, Darumaken is only open for lunch on the weekdays. They make an old world, old school style ramen, with handmade noodles.

Let's take a look.

The ramen shop seems to pride itself on this notion that they were first.

However, as you may remember from the previous post, even this in itself is debatable; technically a Chinese restaurant years before was selling ramen, though of course it was much different.

But of course, you're here for food! Not for history! So, let's talk about the goods.

Daruma-ken recommends either "Shio Ramen" (A ramen with soup and salt) or "Shoyu Ramen" (A ramen with soy sauce and soup). I picked shoyu, and this is what came.

Shoyu Ramen, chicken stock with bamboo shoots, nori, sliced welsh onions, egg omlette, and sliced roast pork. 600 yen.

It's kind of old school looking right? Reminds you of something of a post war era perhaps.

Ramen owners will frequently suggest that they attempt to change their recipe from with the times to keep customers happy, but I don't necessarily think this is the case. Daruma-ken prides itself on being "the oldest", and they attempt to preserve their old style, the noodles are hand made, and the soup is light, not overpowered or rich.

Daruma-ken has fairly average to good reviews on Tabelog, with an average rating of 3.29/5 as of this writing.

Most Japanese people suggest, much like this specific review here, that the ramen is... average.

I will agree with this sentiment.

Ramen has a tendency to include complex flavors, aromas, textures, and other sensations. Daruma-ken, on the other hand, while of course charming in it's ability to draw you to something perhaps out of your normal life, a day in the past in an old, its ramen feels old. It feels simple and feels... kind of boring at times. But this makes sense, because it mirrors somewhat well with the Japanese idealism, the old world untouched culinary thought that "simple is best". And it attempts to maintain a sense of old world style. Which is actually interesting in it's own right.

But even under those circumstances, I have to wonder; despite ordering "Shoyu" ramen, there was no shoyu flavor, no musky deep hint of that extra Japanese ingredient. It just kind of tasted like chicken stock. Which I liked, a clean chicken flavor is always delicious of course, but it was missing something unexpected, or powerful, or exciting. In this way, I can see why people may think it's average.

In terms of importance this place is totally at the top ranks. But... that's about all it's maintained. At the end of the day, ramen is about the food, not the name of the place. For those looking for something extraordinary, I would not recommend this restaurant.

In the Begining, there was Ramen

To begin, it is first necessary to understand why Ramen is such a deep, important concept here. In this entry I will start with a bit of background on some of the history behind Ramen in Sapporo. There are a variety of sources on the material, I will list some helpful websites to those who understand Japanese at the end.


It began with a shop called 竹屋食堂, Takeya Cafe.

Takeya Cafe opened in the early 1920s,  by a man named  Ooku Shouji, near Hokkaido University's campus. It began as a Chinese Restaurant, they had all sorts of other Chinese foods such a pot stickers and stir fried goods. In actuality, it wasn't even a ramen shop per say, merely the first shop to sell ramen in Sapporo. Ramen as a concept even, was just beginning to be sold in Japan, and at this stage Ramen itself wasn't even popular among Japanese people; it was more or less a delicacy that Chinese students enjoyed. The rich, oily taste was something that didn't meet well with the Japanese palate.

However, Takeya Cafe was loved by Chinese study abroad students at Hokkaido University. A sense of nostalgia in a distant land perhaps. Unfortunately the shop has since closed, otherwise I would certainly have attempted to visit and give a bit of insight.

Some suggest the shop actually moved to Kobe, I believe. But it's likely that the new shop, which is open, has no relation to the other. Restaurant names tend to be similar in nature.

But the key point to bring here is that Ramen didn't really begin as a food in itself, it was just one of the many menu items in Chinese restaurants in Japan. And it wasn't even enjoyed at first, it took an understanding of the Japanese palate to manipulate the cuisine to the modern ramen. Toppings were flipped, flavors were changed, it was essentially Japan-ified, so to speak.

No, ramen began to flourish much later, and then Sapporo jumped on the bandwagon. This is not the beginning for Sapporo's fame in Ramen however, this comes far later.

There are two ramen shops open today that can largely be held responsible for Ramen being what it is today in Sapporo. Without these there would be no Ramen, in a way ramen connoisseurs owe their highest respect to the two restaurants. Later, I will give my insight and information on these two.

They are "Daruma-ken", the oldest ramen shop in Sapporo, opening just 2 years after the war, and "Aji no Sanpei", which opened 4 years after Daruma-Ken, and is largely responsible for the concept "Sapporo Ramen". Click their names when available for more information about these two particular restaurants.

From there, Ramen in Sapporo took off. As of now, according to the owner of Aji no Sanpei by any means, there are around 3000 ramen shops in Sapporo alone.

That's a lot of ramen to try.

I will do my best to showcase as many as I come across.

Sources as to how I decide where to go and review be vast, though I will frequently be relying on "Tabelog", a website dedicated to restaurant reviews, as well as various Ramen books and websites. I will attempt to list any information I use at the end of each entry.

So... let's begin with the first review, Daruma-ken.

Helpful Links:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Hello everyone, welcome to the Traveler's Guide to Sapporo Ramen. My name is Mike, and I have been blessed enough with being given the opportunity to live in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan as part of the Hokkaido University Short Term Exchange Program. In the program, I was allowed to design an independent study, under the guidance of Eijun Senaha, my professor. This is my semester project.

Now... a bit about the guide:

Sapporo is known as one of the culinary epicenters of Japan, but perhaps its greatest, unmistakably wonderful achievement, is its addition to the world of Ramen.

Unfortunately, It seems there aren't very many non-Japanese who know of ramen even as a concept; in America at least it's mostly the 15 cent packs you find at the supermarket. Ramen has a terrible name in America as being college kid fair, and this is so far from what the actual cuisine known as ramen actually is! It's like comparing spaghetti-os to delicious, hand made pasta at a fine dining Italian restaurant. The two don't even compare.

This is evident by just how much Japanese people love ramen. Those who do a quick google search will see this, most ramen shops, even in the town of Sapporo, have large amounts of ratings, there are books, magazines, all about this wonderful concoction of truly Japanese delight. This is a home cooked meal in the best of ways, hand made, fresh, deep, complex, filling, and delicious.

But to the foreigner, finding good Ramen shops is... hard. Very hard. There are almost no materials in English dealing with ramen in Sapporo. No reviews, no data, no interviews, nothing. Something needs to be done about this.

So, using my decent at best Japanese as you guide, I will be compiling some of the best, and some of the worst, shops there are, written for your pleasure and use. I will do the research, I will conduct the interviews, I will ask the questions. And then show you the results, so you don't have to.

This is the Sapporo Travelers Guide to Ramen. Welcome.