The first post in a series about our honeymoon in Japan! I had thought about sectioning things off by regions we visited, but I was inspired by the travel books I read before the trip and decided to section things off a little differently and do some city posts and some food/culture posts. The first stop - an old and new favorite food.
During our second day in Kyoto, we planned to visit Kyoto Ramen Alley, located in the tenth floor of one of the department stores at Kyoto Station. I don't even remember where I got this information, but I knew it was a thing that department stores have expansive food basement floors. Of course, that afternoon when we were looking for it, there weren't big signs pointing to any such place. After a bit of trial and error, we found it across a big staircase (where there incidentally was a sign). It was beautiful. There were multiple storefronts, some with big red lanterns, some with wooden slatted doors, displaying different menus with pictures of all the yummy things we could possibly eat. It was a bit after 1pm so there were still people waiting in queues at certain restaurants.
We picked a random shop in the alley (one that didn't have a line) and paid for our meals using a ticket machine in the storefront. Micah got the house special ramen, but I had just watched an episode of Naruto where the ramen stand turned into a tsukemen or dipping ramen stand, so I ended up getting the medium sized dipping noodles. I was curious!
After the waitress seated us, we her our meal tickets and waited. We sipped some chilled water and discussed using the remainder of the day to rest. I had inexplicably gotten a lot of blisters after walking a lot the previous day (I don't usually get blisters and blamed the combination of walking and humidity swelling my feet up) and we woke up early to visit the bamboo grove in Arashiyama that morning.
After around 20 minutes we received our noodles. It was our first time getting actual ramen in Japan and I was pretty excited, even though I didn't get traditional ramen.
Tsukemen is technically ramen according to Wikipedia, but the noodles are separated from a the broth. The idea is that the dipping sauce is a more concentrated soup stock so the flavors are more intense and rich. Not only that, but it's just a bit more fun (according to Micah).
As Micah slurped up his ramen, I got my chopsticks and dipped the cold ramen noodles from one bowl into the other bowl with the sauce. The sauce was warm and thick, almost like a curry, but the noodles were cold. There was also pork and veggies in the sauce, which I would eat between dipping noodles kind of half-way in the sauce. Conscious that I might be eating it the wrong way, I looked at the table next to us and found that others would dunk the noodles in all the way, swirl them around a bit, then slurp them out of the sauce bowl. I tried that way too. I liked my halfway method because I liked the contrasting cold noodles and warm sauce, but I also enjoyed being able to get the full flavors with the dunk-and-swirl.
For the total ramen experience, I had a bit of Micah's ramen. The noodles and pork were cooked to perfection. The soup stock was different than I imagined (I usually like really rich Tonkostu ramen), but it was still very tasty.
Trying new foods was always part of the agenda in Japan, but tsukemen is one of my new favorites. Whenever we got ramen in Japan, it was exclusively what I would look for. We tried a famous tsukemen restaurant called Fuunji in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and even got some at the airport before we left Japan. Even now, I am looking for a good place to get tsukemen at home. Micah is going so far as to spend hours trying to and recreate the tsukemen we had in Japan. It was just a random choice to try something new, but it the meal fit the bill for me - it was a little different from what I'd get at home, but it was still ramen.
After our time in Ramen Alley, we got a fluffy pancake and coffee for dessert right there in Kyoto Station. But let's leave that for another time.