Tsukemen (dipping noodles)
This post is part 3 of my series: Tribute to Japan. Other posts in this series include: Part 1: Kappabashi-dori and Part 2: Tapas Molecular Bar
There's something I can't resist about tiny, hard-to-find, authentic yet undiscovered gems that serve absolutely incredible food.
Now, I'm not sure if Suzuran, a tiny noodle bar off the beaten track in Shibuya, exactly falls in to that category. For one thing, I would hardly call it "undiscovered," as lines sometimes literally go out the door due to its popularity. However, there's definitely something special about this authentic and surprisingly hard-to-find noodle bar tucked away in a back alley of Shibuya.
Bryan and I discovered Suzuran back in 2009 while hunting for fresh, handmade noodles. We found this delightful gem tucked away behind the hustle and bustle of Shibuya. As we sat among Japanese businessmen in suits slurping up noodles for lunch, we truly felt like we were living and breathing a slice of everyday Japanese culture.
Suzuran is not your typical ramen shop for a couple reasons. First, they serve what's called tsukemen or "dipping noodles." Instead of having your noodles in the soup, your noodles and meat are served separately from the broth.
You then dip it, sort of like the way you would eat soba.
The restaurant is tiny. It's mostly KITCHEN, with barstools on three sides of the tight space.
It's very very Japanese. Both times we went, we were the only non-Japanese people there. The menu is written completely in Japanese, and the people there hardly speak a word of English. In fact, we had a hard time ordering. I have limited broken Japanese, so I was able to ask the lady to help explain the menu a bit. However, in the end, I felt that I didn't really have a good sense of the menu, and I had to order one of the few items that I knew how to say in Japanese.
The better thing to do if you're in that sort of bind is to do what Bryan and I did the first time we came. I just told her to give me their most "famous" dish. They served us their famous Kagoshima style pork belly (buta kakuni), which is delicious and absolutely worth it. You get your choice of dipping sauces (soy sauce based, miso based, etc).
This time, Bryan ordered the chasu, which is reminiscent of Chinese roasted pork. Both are delicious, and the texture of the unusually fat noodles is one of the best parts.
I got a simpler noodle dish of eggs and scallions with a miso based broth.
Here's what the humble little restaurant looks like from the outside. Nothing's written in English, so it's a bit hard to find if you don't read Japanese. The first time we searched for it was on a dark rainy night - NOT easy! This time we came out during the day for lunch. The daylight coupled with our vague memories from our past visit helped a lot.
If you're a noodle fan and you love authentic experiences, I would highly recommend Suzuran. Definitely try their signature Kagoshima style pork belly with the wide and flat handmade noodles. You can use these directions to try to find it, which is what we did.
And yes, in Japan it's totally OK (in fact, encouraged!) to slurp.
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