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.

View Larger Map

Sapporo Akaboshi


No comments:

Post a Comment