Ichiran Ramen – Tokyo, JP

Ichiran Ramen
Roppongi GM Building, 2F
4-11-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 3 3796 7281


Ask any visitor as they head to Japan in search of ramen, and they will likely say, if they’ve done any reasonable about of research, that Ichiran and Ippudo are the two names that pop up most frequently in English-language sources.

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Toriyoshi – Tokyo, JP

Sekaidou Building B1 Fl.
2-10-10 Dougenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan
+81 3 5784 3373

If you were to literally translate TORIYOSHI, it would end up being something like “good bird”.  I suppose with poultry heavily entrenched in their menu, this is quite fitting and completely appropriate.  As after you’ve had a taste of their famous TEBASAKI KARAGE (deep fried chicken wings), you’ll be saying good things about the bird served at this place too!

Despite it being a “chain” restaurant, I still find the quality and dining experience here to be a delight each and every time.  Owned and operated by the Samukawa Food Planning group since 1984, TORIYOSHI has expanded in the 25 years that have passed and now encompasses forty branches spread across mainly the city of Tokyo, but also in other major centers such as Osaka and Yokohama.

My multiple visits have always centered around one of the outlets in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the second branch in this part of town.  Its located along the uphill sloping DOUGENZAKA street, and can be found hidden from the sidewalk as it is on a basement level floor of a building.

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Tamahide – Tokyo, JP

1-17-10 Nihonbashi
Ningyocho, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan
+81 3 3668 7651

As a history buff who is fascinated by all things old and the stories behind them, my interest in learning and discovering places to eat that have an established link to an ancient or significant past is very strong…

Previously on Foodosophy, I’d reported on a centuries-old establishment that specialized in Dojo fish (Japanese Loach).  But today, I thought I’d even go back a bit further in time and tell the story about an even older establishment, which is behind the birth of the oyakodon (the Japanese chicken and egg rice bowl dish).  Literally translated, oya means “parent”, and ko means child.  Chicken and egg… hope you get the reference.

Since 1760, the Yamada family has been involved with Tamahide.  Inside their restaurant located in the Ningyocho district of old Tokyo, they proudly display a photograph from that earlier time, showing the structure that housed the restaurant from its humble beginnings (when it began holding a designated role related to the food slaughtering and preparation of chicken for the ruling Shogunate of the era through three generations of the family) through to it operating as a restaurant featuring Shamo breed chicken nabe (one pot dish).

They still serve the shamo nabe in various courses and still is probably the best way to enjoy this breed of Japanese chicken through various forms of preparation and cooking methods, although the oyakodon is definitely the less expensive option here, and just as well known.

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Toride – Tokyo, JP

Shinsencho 20-23, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan 〒150-0045
+81 3 3780 4450

With the chilly weather and ongoing fog that has engulfed the west coast, it has me craving for a good bowl of ramen. Unfortunately, when it comes to ramen, my thoughts go back to Japan. No offense to the ramen operators in Vancouver, but there is just something that cannot be matched by the “real deal”. As I think about it, its not only just the difference in the taste, quality of ingredients, dedicated “masters” who put so much into their creations, but also the atmosphere that I have a yearning for on a cold winter’s night.

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Kuruma – Tokyo, JP

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Ginza 1st Building, B1
1-5-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, JP
Tel: 03-3561-9601
Hours: Mon-Fri, 5:30pm to 2am; Sat, 5pm-2am; Sun/Holidays, 4:30pm-11pm

With eight locations in Tokyo, and six locations in their homebase of the Kansai region, Kuruma has established itself as a leading group of restaurants under the umbrella of a company called Idea Co. Ltd.  This conglomerate also operates another chicken-speciality chain called Torikagura, as well as a pair of teppanyaki restaurants called Midou and Kanrou, as well as a kushi-katsu restaurant called DankehKuruma is all about serving the very best Miyazaki Jitokko (commonly shortened to Jidori).  Broken down, Miyazaki is a region on the southern island of Kyushu (which likes to call itself one of the “four season food baskets” of Japan), and Jitokko refers to an indigenous breed of free range chicken found in both Miyazaki and nearby Kogoshima.  It is recognized that through agricultural research and cross-breeding experiments (involving Jitokko, White Plymouth Rock, and Kyushu Road breeds) beginning in about 1965 resulted in the discovery of what is known in present-day as Miyazaki Jidori (officially branded as such in 2004).

Sourcing from Miyazaki Jidori producers on a direct contract basis, Kuruma is able to bring the highest quality and absolutely freshest product to their outlets (apparently, gate-to-plate in under 24 hours).  For comparison, consider that Miyazaki Jidori is raised over 180 days, whereas regular supermarket chicken is speed-raised in just 90-120 days.  The resulting difference is improved taste, quality, texture, fat, lack of gamey smell, all without the use of growth hormones.  Though this does make raising Miyazaki Jidori a very difficult proposition, and thus this premium brand is carefully protected both by farmers and their related industry associations.  Sort of like the way Miyazaki Beef is as well.  If you’ve ever had this premium beef, you’ll be even more amazed at what this prefecture does with chicken, and quickly understand why it can hold its own as a specialty restaurant serving only this product.

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Komagata Dozeu – Tokyo, JP

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Komagata Dozeu (Shibuya location)
4F Renga Building
1-5-9 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, JP
Tel: 03-3464-5522
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:30am-10:30pm; Sun/Hol, 11:30am-9:30pm

Earlier this year where I live, a celebration was held to mark the 150 years that have passed since the founding of what is now the province of British Columbia.  1858, that sounds like a long time ago.  But contrasting that to a restaurant that I visited that has been operating for over 207 years now and still thriving, well that really makes for a time warp.  Komagata Dozeu has been in business since the Edo Period of Japan in the traditional “downtown” of Tokyo called Asakusa (obviously benefiting from its prime location on the way to Sensoji Temple), even appearing in a food guide chronicling the city’s best offerings that was published in 1848 (yes, that’s 52 years before the first Michelin guide came out).  Currently, the head chef is in the sixth generation of the family.

It has also opened up a sister outlet (that holds only about a fifth of the customers at their main branch) in the more populous district of Shibuya, and out of sheer convenience, this is the location that I visited on this night with a pair of good friends.  So what does Dozeu serve?  Simply put, their main offering is Dojo fish, otherwise known as Japanese Loach.  Historically, this breed of fish was abundant in rice field patties and rivers throughout Japan and other parts of Asia, though since about the middle of the last century, getting ample supplies of fresh live Dojo became difficult.  Regions in Japan such as Oita and Fukushima where fresh clean water and natural grass surroundings are the perfect breeding ground.

One of my friends who grew up in northern Japan, noted that as a child he remembered playing around and fishing for Dojo in the rivers near his home.  He had an image of it being a slightly dirty fish since it lived in rivers.  But Dozeu takes pride in the preparation of the ingredients and using only the best quality, and upon his first taste, he exclaimed how impressed he was by the lack of “fishiness” or “griminess” (for lack of a better word) of the fish.  We had ordered their most popular offering, the Dozeu Nabe (1,650 yen), which came out on a shallow hotplate with the Dojo fish simmering in a light fish broth, heated underneath by hot charcoal.  A separate rectangular wooden tray was also brought to the table that was filled with sliced onions which were to be put on top of the hotplate after the fish had been cooked for a while.  By being slowly cooked, the fine bones of the fish become very soft and edible, as well the meat itself is loaded with collagen, making each bite very soft and very much eel-like in texture.  The nutritional benefits of all this calcium and iron is a key selling point, as well as the collagen which they say is good for your skin.

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Musashi Menya – Tokyo, JP

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Musashi Menya
K-1 Building, 1st Floor
7-2-6 Nishi Shinjuku
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: 03-3843-3634

The main branch of this now eight-location chain of ramen shops is located in west Shinjuku, and is the only one I’ve ever visited.

Thinking back to the very first time I went there on a cold and rainy November day a few years back, I was shocked to see that there was a lineup that snaked out the door that must have been about fourty people long.  As I stood there with two of my friends, I began to doubt how good this place could be, or was it just another case of hype getting the best of everyone, as I knew very well that Musashi Menya had in recent years been rated the number one ramen shop in all of Japan by the leading ramen fanatics magazine – and yes, they do exist in Japan!  So very strong buildup to the experience, as I stood in line for well over an hour before I was finally inside.  Only to find that once inside, the line continues before one actually gets a seat.

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Tonkatsu Tenshin – Tokyo, JP

[UPDATE: As of January 2009, closed due to poor health of the head chef]

Tonkatsu Tenshin
2-8-1 Mita, Meguro-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Open six days a week (closed Wednesdays)
Lunch: 11:30am to 3:00pm
Dinner: 17:30 pm to 9:30pm

My first ever visit to this establishment was in spring 2001, and I’ve gone back many times since, and have recommended it to anyone who’s asked, “where’s a good tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) place in Tokyo?”.

Clearly its one of my most favorite places to eat and its a dish I often make at home myself.  Served with sides of shredded cabbage, miso soup and steamed rice, it makes for a hearty meal, and Tenshin is clearly in a class of its own in my books.  I’ve only gone at lunchtime, but if you do, make sure to go as early as you can as the place is packed soon after the doors are opened.

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Foodosophy – A Donburi Discussion

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Stepping off the restaurant-specific path that Foodosophy has taken its readership on since its launch, I thought I would change lanes and hopefully create a discussion at a more general level on a single genre of food, specifically Japanese donburi (rice bowl dishes). Probably one of the most simplest yet yaried styles of eating, donburi usually consists of some main ingredient (be it meat, seafood, etc.) and/or vegetables cooked (but not always) together and served on top of a layer of steamed rice in a open-faced bowl. More often then not, there is an accompanying sauce or flavor ingredient that is mixed in with the ingredients, usually dripping down in the depths of the bed of rice, adding more flavor below. Here in North America, the ones that are probably best known from their prevalence in Japanese cuisine restaurants are the Gyudon (beef/onion), Katsudon (pork cutlet/onions/egg) and the Chirashidon (assorted seafood). I am sure each of you have your own favorites.

In Japan, there is a sense that donburi are fast becoming the local equivalent of fast food. This can easily be seen by the high number of chainstores that are operating all over the country, usually found near train/subway stations, capturing those people who need a quick meal on the go. These joints are basically composed of a continuous counter of single seating, much like a bar, with staff working directly behind the counter, taking order tickets (usually paid for in advance from a dispensing machine at the entrance) and putting together the dishes in a matter of minutes. The main ones that come to mine are the Gyudon chains of Yoshinoya (which has even branched out to parts of North America) and Matsuya. Also, adding a bit of variation are Tenya (Tempuradon) and Maguro Ichiba (Seafood-don), and many others.

I guess in essence, you could create just about any kind of donburi, by picking and choosing whatever ingredients and cooking styles that would go well with simple steamed white rice. These single serving, and cheap (as low as 300 yen, and upwards of 1,000 yen per bowl) I think will never lose their appeal for many people in busy cities such as Tokyo, where time always seems to be at a premium. Probably more appealing to the single male demographic more than anything, I imagine there will be more and more creative donburi chains coming out in the future, as the saturation of the mainstays surely must be happening.

On my most recent visit to Japan last month, I found my way to Shinatatsu Goninshu – sort of like a foodpark that was specifically limited to donburi. Located just a few minutes from Shinagawa station, a major terminal in southern Tokyo, I had been to the ramen section on a previous visit, but wanted to try the other half this time. Shinatatsu prides itself on bringing together the best of the best, and/or famous establishments serving a particular style of food, in this case, donburi. There were five restaurants in total here (all famous in their own right), each serving a different donburi item as their mainstay: Sutadon (sliced pork), Hageten (tempuradon), Donya Hokkaido (seafood), Ajimeijin (tonkatsudon), and Shun (oyakodon). After debating for about ten minutes checking out the various menus, I opted to go into Shun, well known for its charcoal roasted chicken-based dishes. For 840 yen, I elected the Shamo-Oyakodon, which came out in a simple lacquered bowl, and on first glance I knew I was in for a great meal. The egg coating on top was still a bit liquidy, just the way I like it and the charcoal scent coming from the chunks of chicken inside could be smelt very easily. My friend chose the more seperate combination of the same chicken but cooked with garlic, with the egg more thoroughly cooked and served in pieces alongside some shreads of lettuce.

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Bakurou – Tokyo, JPN

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Bakurou Ebisu
1-7-12 West Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan 〒150-0021
Monday~Friday: 6:00pm to 4:00am
Saturday: 6:00pm to 11:30pm
Closed Sundays and Holidays

Yes indeed, relatives of Mr. Ed and Black Beauty are on the menu!

Visiting some old friends in Tokyo late last month, we’ve continued our little game of going out to some obscure restaurant serving some very rare cuisine – partly just to see if they can shock me, and also just to change things up from our usual pattern of getting full and drunk at one of the many amazing izakaya that exist in this capital city. Horsemeat is still eaten in some households in places such as Akita prefecture, Aomori prefecture where historically and culturally horsemeat consumption was strong, but in the Kanto region where Tokyo is, it is not a common dish at all. Bakurou aims to change this and make it better known in this part of the country.

Bakurou, which opened for business in December 2007 and is located in the trendy neighborhood of Ebisu, in the southwest section of Tokyo. This is actually the second outlet, with the first located in Kanda, Tokyo. The west side of the main train station has many narrow streets filled with all sorts of restaurants and drinking spots, and Bakurou was slightly off the beaten path and was in a retro-looking wooden building with plenty of character. Inside, it was designed to represent a family home in the countryside, with the first floor having table seating and a steep narrow staircase leading to the second floor set aside for floor seating, with the exception of one table. In total, the whole place could handle 40 customers at once. As expected, a very homey setup, and with a packed house on this night, it was somewhat noisy but not overly so, in fact I think our table was the loudest of the bunch! I am sure the multiple glasses of shochu didn’t help – again, an excellent selection of 28 choices from around the country.

Now when it comes to horsemeat, only the freshest will do and they only serve what was brought in that day. This place has this down pat, and has their own supply chain from all over Japan, and a portion of their stock even comes from Canada too! (I know, many Canadian are probably unaware of the unpublicized ranches where horses are raised for meat consumption – in direct contrast to the image of cowboys and their farm working partners). They use only the highest grade (A5 in Japan) for the sashimi dishes, and the entire menu consisted of seventy items. As an aside, they also had an unannouced menu of even more exotic portions of horsemeat’s less popular cuts – such as the horse heart that we had! The place took pride in being able to serve this cuisine at a much lower price than other places in the city, with average take per person coming in the 7,000~8,000 yen range; whereas here, you could get the same meal for 4,000~4,500 yen.

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