Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aji no Kura 味の蔵

Some restaurants actually come to Sapporo in their attempts in food stardom. In particular instances, this creates a sort of push in the Ramen scene, as influence from other areas of Japan can be helpful in boosting the concept of ramen.

In comes Aji no Kura, 味の蔵, The Taste Shack.

Aji no Kura is a recent restaurant being heavily, I mean heavily, advertised on Tabelog. Every time you search for Ramen in Hokkaido, this restaurant pops up in the sponsored area. It's also seemingly popular, usually a few people out the door waiting, and it mantains a 3.5/5 rating online. If anything, the first reason to the shop's popularity just comes from their hours.

Open 24/7.

Ramen tends to be well associated with the late night dwellers of Japan, the drunk masses hungry loners looking to fill up after their alcohol fill up, and a 24 hour spot in downtown drinking central Susukino pretty much can't be beat.

There's a couple issues pushing folks back however. The initial one is that this shop isn't actually Sapporo-grounded at all, it began in Shinjuku, a ward of Tokyo, and to many Sapporo ramen purists, this is a negative characteristic. Can we truly call it Sapporo ramen if it didn't start in Sapporo?

Well... why not? With modern technology allowing transportation of all sorts of agriculture, do the lines of what is genuinely Sapporo blend? Restaurants like this somewhat suggest that question.

Perhaps the reason the reason it doesn't scream Sapporo Ramen is because the menu attempts to replicate ramen from all over Japan, rather than focusing on one style. It feels like a shop importing ideas to Sapporo, rather than making new ones.

Well, we've heard the shop background so far. It's open all day and night, and has a pretty remarkable location.

How about the goods?

Aji no Kura is famous for their Pork Bone broth, a broth apparently simmered for more than 12 hours to extract as much rich, milky flavor as possible. They are not, however, famous for Miso, or really any particular style infact.

This shows quickly in the above miso dish. It's composed much like a Pork Bone soup, but the miso is put largely, if not completely on the back burner.

Furthermore, although you're able to pick one of two noodles, both of which are made by the company, they're both thin and fairly un-curly.

So on a basis, it doesn't really even share the miso characteristics Sapporo folk love. No thick noodles, no powerful miso flavor. It reminds me of Kyushu Ramen to be honest. Which is not a bad thing at all.
In fact the food is pretty dang good. As a Pork Bone soup, it's very tasty, a good balance of rich and light. Some garlic oil drizzled on top adds good complexity and character, and the noodles pair up well with the soup's characteristics (though I thought they were soft).

The shop also provides a laundry list of toppings you can freely add, including crushed by yourself garlic, stewed spicy vegetables, and pickled ginger, among others. This can at times be overwhelming, but at the same time, fun to customize a bowl.

If drunk at 3 am, this might be the closest option you have for that late night ramen fix. And you certainly wouldn't be disappointed.

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Aji no Kura
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

赤星 Akaboshi, Red Star: With Interview

In our quest to find the best of the best, there is one spot that encompasses the evolution of Ramen in Sapporo.

That place is "Akaboshi", a 6 year old newcomer that is dominating the competition with its quality, popularity, and taste.

Akaboshi's claim to fame is it's business concept: sell delicious food for cheap. A bowl of Salt or Soy Sauce ramen runs you 500 yen. This is an unbelievable price. It's easily the cheapest in downtown Sapporo; nothing comes close. Naturally as a place with such cheap food, the restaurant has garnered a bit of attention. A lot of attention really, there's usually a bit of a line out of the door for the food.

But the attention spans just the price; Akaboshi is one of the top 20 rated ramen shops in all of Hokkaido on Tabelog, with a 3.7/5, significantly high for a ramen shop.

I had the honor of interviewing the owner and head chef of Akaboshi, a ramen guru by any standard. He had worked in Kitchens for decades prior to opening his tiny 8 seat shop in Tanuki Kouji. An unbelievable spot for garnering attention and easy access. He was certainly ready to talk about his restaurant, we spoke for around 40 minutes. In fact, he has already done a few interviews for TV laying out the majority of the ramen making process.

The objective was simple: Sell it for less, and make it taste just as good. I was surprised by his honesty in the interview; he told me essentially everything there is to know about how his ramen is made, without hesitation, and without secrets. He explanation for doing do was just because he wants people to enjoy this food, and even get a chance to make it them selves some day. This is extremely endearing. And this honesty is extremely rare in the food world.

For instance, he spoke at length about the variety of cost cutting strategies he implemented, many of which are merely part of the way the ramen is made. As an example, everything is made in house. Noodles, broth, toppings, as much as possible to reduce cost. This cost cut however, gains the benefit of added quality, without relying on factory produced items, the shop can have perfect control over what goes out to customers. Preparation of these ingredients is kept to lowest cost as well, the stock is cooked for only 3 hours to reduce gas use time.

I won't over elaborate with the details, but everything is meticulously planned to appeal to the consumer and reduce cost.

The shop, despite it's young roots, feels established and inviting. A few Ramen cooks and a waitress take your order after you sit down, and you watch the cooks make it in front of you, their eccentric behavior intriguing and enjoyable.

They reccomend Salt or Soy, though they also have Miso. The three Sapporo tastes after all.

This is Shio.

I ordered Gyoza as well. Considering how much money you save on the ramen, sides are extremely appealing. This is also part of the reason Akaboshi's "Seared Chicken" side dish is so popular, for 50 yen, you get this:

The chicken actually comes from the carcasses used to make the chicken based soup. Rather then just throwing away the meat, he flame broiled it and decided to initially give it away. But it became so popular that he now sells it for a whopping 50 cents. To elaborate on its popularity, If you arrive at dinner, it will be gone. More cost effective business, obviously.

The ramen itself is a wonderful representation of Sapporo's historic Ramen world. It takes the concepts of cheap and filling that historic places like Aji no Sanpei were built on, while also keeping with the times, catering to consumers tastes. Most ramen foodies currently steer away from overly rich soup, and indeed this soup has the perfect balance between light and heavy. The flavor is simple and clean, unmistakable chicken. The noodles are semi thin and curly, but white, perhaps a jump away from normal Sapporo standard thick yellow, but this was also part of cutting cost. Taste wise, the noodles are still lovely, cooked just right, pairing well with the clean. It comes with fragrant Nori and an egg, and the owner recommended adding a bit of their house made "Mackerel Garlic" powder, which adds a little complexity and further accentuates the warm chicken feel. The bowl feels well planned and constructed, intricately laid out for the diner.

This is an extremely enjoyable bowl of ramen. Perhaps I am biased because the owner was so kind and open with me, but even so, others agree. It's unanimously good stuff, and unbelievably cheap.

But why the name Red Star?

Well... the red Star is a Symbol of Sapporo, it used to ride the government office building, and Sapporo Beer uses it on a few of their products, so much so that in the early days people would order a "Red Star" when they wanted a Sapporo Beer. To take this name is to suggest a symbolic relationship to that which is Sapporo. But really, Akaboshi is this exactly.

The owner, towards the end, mentioned something to me that I found striking. He told me that places like "Aji no Sanpei", the creator of Miso ramen, and "Junren/Sumire", the brothers that evolved the concept of Sapporo ramen to luxury, aren't actually very popular among normal people in Sapporo; they are lost in the ways of being a symbol of old, and they haven't been able to escape their roots to appeal to the ever changing tastes of individuals. I agree with this completely, and it shows the business savvy of the owner.

In short, Akaboshi is a culmination of what makes ramen so enjoyable, since it captures the foundation of ramen's popularity in Sapporo with it's price and taste, but it does so without an expansive history, thus avoiding the trap of getting caught up within it's own popularity. Akaboshi is a reflection of what people of Sapporo really want, cheap, delicious, and quick food. The name Red Star is very fitting then.

This is a must go to ramen shop for any sight seer, without question.

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Sapporo Akaboshi


あっぱれ亭 Apparetei

Frequently we try to avoid the touristy spots in food especially, because they lack the higher quality and attention a home own shop attempts to maintain. Furthermore, they lack the atmosphere and warmth Ramen shops are so loved for, how these tiny shacks can produce such wonderful food with so little.

Apparetei then, is a paradox. It's big, it's in a tourism hole. And it stands out.

There is a Television Tower just at the end of "Oodori Park", a large strip of park down the center of Sapporo. This television tower is a local tourist trap, complete with pricey food and souvenirs.

Except for Apparetei. This restaurant is quite different.

Apparetei is located in the basement of this television tower. It has a 3.2/5 rating on Tabelog, which slightly makes sense, this is one of four locations in Hokkaido. The original shop is rated at 3.6/5, to put things in perspective. In this way it's not really Sapporo grown; a bit of bias may shoot out from this from reviewers.

Naturally then, like most tourism areas, the personality of the shop is fairly dismal. Bleak white walls, regular staff. A ticket machine, which is amazing for the tourist, but a little impersonal perhaps. But the shop holds a key ingredient that grants it spots in those guidebooks. It's landed in at least two.

That key is the 金ごまラーメン"Kingoma Ramen", the Gold Sesame Ramen.

Just looking at it we can tell something is rather unique about this bowl. It has amazing color, bright yellow with the subtle dots of red, and added green in the center. Despite the un-homely feel of the shop, this bowl is certainly inviting.

And of course, it tastes wonderful. The soup is complex and slightly rich, but not in the way many miso ramen soups taste. The sesame is home ground, and the shop prides itself on using local Hokkaido ingredients, which is always a plus. The pork is cut into bite size pieces of melt in your mouth perfection, mounded up in the center. Slight bit of sweet chili oil accents the richness and adds a bit more depth to the soup. The noodles are cooked well, chewy and medium thickness, and they hold up well to the soup.

I was perplexed by why the ratings for this restaurant were so low. But reading a few of them makes this clear; most people don't try the Gold Sesame Ramen.

Ah... I see.

There's a reason the guidebooks recommended the gold sesame ramen first. It's unique and absolutely delicious, and it's the must try dish of the shop. 

For those in Oodori, this is likely your best bet for Ramen. It's unique, delicious, and certainly satisfying. If you're in the television tower overlooking the city, then this is easily the best choice for your culinary desires. Though the shop look itself is a little lackluster, the food leaves quite the impression.

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11:00am - 9:00 pm


Ramen Touristy Spots

Ironic as it may be, Ramen is so ubiquitous with Sapporo that there exist actual tourism in the food. Folks from all over will come to Sapporo just to taste something in town. This has lead to some interesting tourist traps that travelers may want to take note.

Two primarily come to mind: Ramen Yokocho, or Ramen Alley, and Ramen Kyowakoku, Ramen Republic. Both are small spaces where various ramen shops have assembled to sell their wares to the masses of tourist flocking to Sapporo for culinary reasons.

But, like many tourist traps, they tend to fall somewhat kind of flat to the true food connoisseur.

Ramen Yokocho, aka Ramen Alley, has existed for around 40 years in the downtown Susukino area, as a place where Ramen restaurants came together and set up shop side by side. It would be silly for me to go in extreme depth about this place, due to the sheer tourism factor it has. There's plenty of websites about Ramen Yokocho in English, with loads of information.

Around 12 shops to tickle your fancy. Unfortunately, they range from completely ordinary to fairly lovely. Some shops like "Shirakaba Sansou"(a miso specialist) and "Keraan" (a shop that has tomato ramen) are wonderful, written about even in guidebooks, and fairly well liked. However, other stores are images of something yearning to be better, but caught in a loop of mediocrity. It's essentially a gamble, but more importantly, it's at best a trap.

Ramen Republic is slightly different in that all of the shops located within are actually branches of already successful companies. They came together in a sort of "Republic", a representative of the main shop sent to a gathering of sorts, to sell ramen in one shared common space, somewhat like a food court. While this may seem desirable, (mutiple already popular ramen shops? sounds good) and indeed, Ramen Republic gets far more traffic than the Alley, some of the quality has to be reduced to fit the constraints of being located on the 9th floor of a multilevel shopping center near Sapporo Train Station.

As an example, Yusura is a well liked semi-chain of ramen shops in Sapporo known for their lovely smoked pork and rich soy sauce ramen. Unfortunately, in setting up shop at the Republic, certain characteristics such as the smoke, the house made stock, among others, had to be cut. The result is something that, while still delicious as Rule 1 says, is not comparable to the original.

Indeed, none of the shops in either of these locations fairs against some of the more legendary or original stops, which have the ability to more aptly deal with service and maintain higher levels of quality. This is not to say the food at either of these locations isn't good, but if one is planning on attempting to eat the best of Sapporo, one must certainly look beyond the tourist traps.

Foodies generally agree, there are very rarely any signs of high ratings for stores in either of these locations, and in the case of Ramen Republic, the original shops virtually always have higher ratings than their stripped down mall counterparts in the republic.

For the tourist that doesn't want any effort, these places will be suitable. Beyond that, it's best to avoid, even Sapporo dwellers don't go to these areas. And we want the best, right?

麺 eiji, Men eiji

There is one Ramen Shop doing things so very differently from everyone else to the greatest recognition. Number 4 on Tabelog in all of Japan, the best ramen shop in Hokkaido. It has the guidebook love, the reviews, even a deal with Yashoku.

The NAME, is 麺 eiji. Men Eiji. Noodle Infant... er... yeah.

This tinsy tiny shop is located in the Toyohira "Ramen Warzone" district of Sapporo, which makes sense considering its wild popularity.

Currently the shop has a 4.02/5 rating, which just barely scrapes by other fan favorite "Menya Saimi".  However, it doesn't seem very fair to compare the two, one specializes in Miso, the other in something called "Seafood Pork bone Broth", a combination of fish stock and pork stock.

There's one thing you notice as soon as you walk in though. Not the small size (about 8 seats), or how the shop was completely full just 10 minutes into service. Nope, none of those things.

Everything is pink. Everything. The counter wood is a light shade of pink, the walls, the seats. Everything is in a shade of pink. (Pardon my less than wonderful camera)

Even the chopstick holders and napkin boxes.

So... pink huh? I assume this is because the word "Eiji" can mean infant, though I really have no idea. Yes I translated it that earlier, but the word "Eiji" on the sign is written in Roman characters, so the meaning is truly unknown. But the place is pink. Certainly a unique characteristic by any regard.

Like many Ramen shops, both popular and not, you order with a vending machine style device. Insert your money, push the appropriate button for the type of ramen you want, and a ticket comes out. You hand said ticket to the cooks, they make your food, and you're good to go. Slurp your noodles, enjoy your meal, and no tip or extra cash to pay.

Eiji is currently known for one of two things, it's tsukemen (dipping noddles) and its Seafood Pork bone broth Ramen. Today we will focus on the Ramen of course. It goes for 850 yen. This is what came.

There's a lot of good to say about this bowl of noodles. It comes with raw diced onions, long onions, hand made noodles, slow roasted pork, and that dark orange jelly like stuff, which is collagen. The broth is rich but not overly thick. The noodles are house hand made, which like any restaurant that sells noodles, is rare, and they are perfect, slightly eggy, just cooked right. The pork is tender, but not totally fall apart mushy like some, it's maintained it's texture. The raw onions are sharp, kind of a nice bite in comparison to the smooth mellow soup, which brings thoughts of gravy to be honest. It's complex and deep, and very satisfying.

That dark collagen, which tastes like pork essence, slowly melts into the soup, making it even richer and delivering a crazy mouth feel.

In a word, it's a very very good bowl of noodles. I can easily see why it has the #1 spot. Everything about this is surprisingly unique and quite lovely. I would refrain from saying however, that it is the best shop in Sapporo, this is a title very hard to merely give away after all. But make no mistake, Eiji will not disappoint.

For the tourist then, this may certainly be worth a look. However, the unique flavor profile might not match up with some of the less adventurous eaters; to them, classics like miso may be easier. But this is clearly top grade culinary stuff. 

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Men Eiji:
11:00am-3:00pm, 6:00pm-8:30pm
Closed 3 Tuesdays a month, Closed Wednesday.


麺屋彩未 Menya Saimi

Any entry in food about Sapporo cannot be without Menya Saimi, its popularity is... obscene to be perfectly honest.

Saimi is a miso ramen restaurant that opened only about 10 years ago in the "Ramen Warzone" known as the Toyohira district of Sapporo. They boomed immediately, and to put it bluntly, are the most popular miso ramen restaurant in all of Sapporo. They have souvenirs, amazing online ratings, even ramen you can purchase in the super market. Saimi is a great success, hands down.

This is particularly interesting when we take a look at the sign.

The sign says "Saimi, from Sumire"

Sumire?? This Sumire?? The legends??

Yes. Apparently the owner had worked in Sumire prior to making his own shop. You can assume then that he attempts to take a more modern approach to Miso, and in turn step away from some of the more old school variants.

The popularity of this restaurant is ridiculous. It has an astounding 4/5 on Tabelog, officially ranking it one of the highest ranked restaurants, yes restaurants, not just ramen shops, in Hokkaido.

So we've just blown past Sapporo. That's pretty noteworthy by any standard. Other rating websites agree, and Saimi is always at the very least mentioned in some form of guidebook.

This popularity shows; expect to wait anywhere for 15-30 minutes, as there is always a line. I personally went on a Sunday and waited 30 minutes.

Out of the door...

And through the shop

The shop is so popular that the train station nearby actually lists directions on which exit to take to more easily access the shop. Just as you get off the Misono stop on the blue line, you'll see the sign.

Critics rave about how it takes the deep flavor of Junsumi style, but without the heavy richness and lard cap, a balance between light and heavy, perfect composition. Homemade noodles and fresh ground ginger complete the dish. Honestly, everyone says good things about this place.

Which honestly worries me. Why are the only negative comments about the wait? Is there such a thing as over hype?

It's possible.

This is Saimi's legendary bowl. The top rated, undisputed loved Miso Ramen.

It's... well. It's really good. As expected. I can't pick anything wrong with it. Even the way it looks is lovely, bright green, pink, yellow. popping out. The noodles are thick and curly and cooked perfectly, two types of wonderfully cooked pork, with a subtle sting of ginger in the mellow, complex soup. A touch of sweet, not overly salty, just right. Portion is ample as well. It's totally obvious why this shop is so popular. It's good.

But... a 30 minute wait for a bowl of 750 yen ramen? Let alone in far away Toyohira district. For the tourist, this may be extremely off putting; imagine going so far out of your way for food, only to be forced to wait. This isn't high class dining; it's still a ramen shop after all. Ramen is supposed to be fast.

It makes me wonder if the rating isn't just pumped up by consumer euphoria.

Furthermore, I can't overlook the issue with their ridiculous hours, which frequently include closing randomly for no reason. The fact that Saimi can pull off such wild business hours is certainly interesting however, but for the tourist, it may be weary.

But, to be honest, the experience in itself is unquestionably remarkable. I've never seen a place so packed. It's clearly hit home with Japanese people as being absolutely delicious. For those feeling like going on an adventure, this is the spot.

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Menya Saimi
11:00am-3:15pm 5:00 pm- 7:30
Closed Mondays and two times randomly per month.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

札幌ラーメン零 Sapporo Ramen Zero

There are a variety of toppings ramen shops like to put on their dishes, called "Gu" 具. They range from bamboo shoots to sliced onions, and of course the infamously delicious roasted pork called Chashu.

In Sapporo, usually this roasted pork is only a part of the whole meal.

Except at Sapporo Ramen Zero. Zero has pork. An insane amount of pork.

Interestingly enough, the Calligraphy symbol there means "Zero", and since zero as a word was imported into the Japanese lexicon, the kanji itself can be read as Zero, rather than the Japanese concept of "nothingness"

I have to admit something before we begin; Zero was the first ramen shop I visited in Sapporo, so I suppose there is some bias in my analysis of this shop.

Anyways. Zero is a pork legend. Their ramen is renown for the massive chashu slow cooked pork they serve on top, approximately 3.5 ounces/100grams of pork steak per order. Considering basically all other shops have less than a single tiny slice, this is a huge selling point that Zero certainly doesn't hide.

Zero is actually an experimental shop owned by the semi-chain Barikiya, which is known for selling Kyushu style ramen. So what does a Kyushu style store know about appealing to the more Sapporo style of ramen?

Apparently a bit. Zero has been written about in quite a few books based on this massive pork steak they serve. But despite the publicity, this shop's reviews are fairly average, mostly due to the tsuke-men (noodles you dip into a separate bowl of soup) craze currently sweeping Sapporo.

Which brings me to rule 4.

4. Order the shop's specialty; avoid trends and "limited time" gimmicks.

This may seem like an obvious rule, but regardless, I believe it to be true. Frequently a shop will attempt to boost sales by jumping on a food bandwagon so to speak. Sometimes this has good results, but frequently, a shop with a distinct style attempting to cross over elsewhere fails. Stick to what the shop is known for. In this case, this is the pork.

Zero is located in Tanuki Kouji. As I've explained earlier, this is pretty much one of the best spots shops can pick for tourism and business. Excellent.

Furthermore, Zero has a ticket machine, and the Barikiya Company is working on English menus. Also excellent for the tourist.

The inside of the shop is nice. Fairly small, 16 seats, 8 of which are composed of 2 tables. Dark wood tables and walls, shades of red and brown on the walls. Pretty standard. But we're here for the bowl. So here it is.

Oh... oh boy I didn't expect it to be so massive. Pork comes with all 3 main types of Ramen, Salt, Soy Sauce, and Miso, however, the Miso is recommended by guidebooks.

The pork here is massive. It totally dominates the dish. 100 grams, they weren't kidding!
The pork is made with a combination of slow cooking and fast flash broiling at the end. It tastes, well. Amazing. It's easily the best roasted pork in Sapporo.That's all I can really say about it. It's succulent, rich, with just a hint of char and crisp, and totally flavorful. Amazing stuff.

Unfortunately, such ramen will cost you a bit of cash. Be prepared to spend anywhere from 750-1000 yen for a bowl. But such is the price for godly pork.

You'll notice however, that this analysis isn't really about the actual dish overall. The reason for that is rather unfortunate: the pork totally overplays the ramen itself. By comparison, the noodles and soup can't even come close. The ramen is good no doubt, actually above average if anything; the noodles are well cooked, thick, yellow, curly, and the soup has some interesting components, a little bit of sweet, and caramel notes float through the savory miso. But there's a reason this shop has a 3.1/5 among eaters: the actual dish feels like it has too much emphasis on the pork, and not on the overall dish.

For the meat lover, you pretty much can't beat Zero. Honestly. The roasted pork here destroys just about any pork period. It's that good. But as a ramen dish, some of the components can't keep up with the insanity that is Zero's Chashu. Which isn't totally fair; since the pork is so unbelievably good and huge, it's hard to imagine anything could even match it. But this is Sapporo Ramen, not Sapporo Pork; these characteristics have to be taken into consideration as well.

Can't forget about the noodles and soup!

If you're around Tanuki Kouji, this is certainly a viable option. This is pretty much a viable option any time if you like meat.

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札幌ラーメン零 Sapporo Ramen Zero
11:00am-10:00 pm
Closed Tuesdays


ほたる火 Hotarubi, Firefly's Light

Most if not all of the Ramen covered this far has been Miso. While this makes sense - Miso Ramen was invented and perfected in Sapporo - we should not discredit the other two main flavors, Soy Sauce and Salt.

Perhaps the reason that the other two are less focused on is merely because of the ambiguity of their use. Soy sauce, and especially salt ramen, can have all sorts of flavor; if anything these ingredients merely compliment the broth. In this case, the broth is the star.

After all, what does it really mean to be salt broth? That can taste like just about anything. Chicken, fish, pork, bonito, vegetable even. Depending on what else you add to the soup, the flavor can change so dramatically, it's hard to even classify all Salt ramen or Soy Sauce ramen as the same category.

By contrast, miso is a specific, complex flavor. When we eat miso, we expect at the least to taste miso as a flavor. This is not usually the case for Soy Sauce and Salt.

Except at Hotarubi. Hotarubi does Soy Sauce ramen rather differently.

Hotarubi's Soy Sauce ramen is specific in it's uniqueness for... tasting like soy sauce.

If you can't imagine soy sauce tasting like much of anything, well, this shop will change that for you.

Just off of the Hachiken 八軒 JR train stop, Hotarubi opened fairly recently to positive reviews, spinning the concept of Soy Sauce to focus on... the soy sauce.

As of today however, Hotarubi's rating currently sits at around 3.1/5. This make some sense, as this website claims their ramen is reminiscent of Junsumi style, and this is a fairly polarizing, old world style. Most Sapporo dwellers tend to enjoy less rich styles (though your palate and mine may certainly be different), and thus the rating reflects this.

But a 3.1 rating? Seems fairly low.

To be honest, I don't have much information about this store beyond that it opened just in 2006, and they specialize in rich ramen, which is the shop owner's preference. Since the ramen book I found the store in, "One Day One Noodle 2", recommended the soy sauce ramen, I figured this was the way to go.

So let's take a look.

Right off the bat, we notice the insane color. This is a dark bowl of ramen; it looks like it has been steeped in soy sauce. I thought the color was remarkable, and rather unique, though certainly not black miso unique.

The soy sauce flavor is quite potent, which is pretty impressive. This honestly tastes like... soy sauce. It's actually appealing to me at least; it has a sort of old world soup feel to it, with a concentrated, yet fairly simple flavor. However, this soy sauce focus also means it has a good amount of salt; I would be silly to suggest that this bowl of ramen isn't salty. Still, I wouldn't say it was an unbearable amount. The soup, as it seems, is certainly rich; it has a good bit of oil on the surface, which helps cut some of the powerful taste of the broth. I had no problem drinking some of the broth, though I did feel guilty at times. Toppings were good but not incredible. Noodles were thin style and well cooked and don't fall to the soup. The bowl was quite good, and leaves a rather interesting impression.

All meals come with complimentary 杏仁豆腐, Annindoufu, or Almond Tofu Pudding, which is an excellent compliment to the savory, salty, rich ramen. Sweet, milky, and a good way to end the meal.

To put it bluntly, if you love soy sauce, then this shop is for you, without exception. Soy sauce as a single component being highlighted in ramen is rare, and this may be the only shop to do it in Sapporo with any sort of prowess. Otherwise, considering its location, the appeal of this bowl doesn't climb high enough to urge anyone to go out of their way for it.

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ほたる火 Hotarubi, Firefly's Light
Mon-Sat: 11:00am-3:30pm, 5:00pm-9:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am-9:00pm