Day 5: Tsukemen
In every country around the world, food is constantly evolving. But the Japanese are a naturally inventive race and it seems they apply their ingenuity not just to technology but to their cuisine as well. It’s the best way to explain the creation of this dish – tsukemen.
It takes the basic idea of ramen and then throws a whole new twist on it – separating the noodles from the broth. In a similar style to the traditional soba, the noodles are cold and are dipped into a warm broth which is in its own little bowl.
At the trendy restaurant in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa area where I try the dish, the menu boldly declares “tsukemen is the new style ramen in Japan”. Actually, it’s been around for about 50 years since a man called Yamagishi Kazuo invented for himself as a simple meal to eat at work. He was then encouraged to start a restaurant serving it (which became extremely popular) and it took off from there.
But this restaurant’s boast is correct in the sense that it’s become a very hip dish to eat recently. It’s normally considered to be a summer dish and, with a warm spring upon us in Tokyo, tsukemen joints are doing a roaring trade.
The basic broth is made from soy sauce and tonkotsu and is infused with a citrus fruit called yuzu. But the best thing about tsukemen is that all the little extra bits come separately and you can choose what you want and how you want to mix it with the noodles and the liquid. I went for a set that came with a seasoned soft boiled egg, boiled vegetables, extra pork chasu and seaweed.
It’s a really fun way to eat noodles – especially if you’re bored of the traditional steaming bowls at ramen and udon bars across Japan. The food tastes fresher because it hasn’t all been cooked as much and the cold noodles are perfect for a lighter lunch. (You can actually choose what temperature you want but they recommend the cool option.)
There’s a little bonus in it for you too because when you’ve finished you can top up your broth bowl with some hot water and turn it into a big soup to finish the meal with!
This meal at Shimokitazawa cost 980 yen (US$10.20) with the extra bits and pieces. The standard is 780 yen (US$8.10). It’s usually a bit harder to find a tsukemen restaurant on the street but if you see one (or want to look one up), I highly recommend trying it.
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