築地井上中華そば Tsukiji Inoue Chuka Ramen
One of the places we always make it a point to visit whenever we are in Tokyo is Tsukiji Market located at the south-eastern corner of the metropolis not too far away from Ginza. Unlike other tourist sites
, Tsukiji is worth visiting over and over again from time to time. It boasts to have the freshest seafood one would be able to find anywhere and it garners the best produce from all over Japan which changes with the seasons. There is always so much to see, smell, taste and of course buy. Despite our numerous trips to Tsukiji, we’d never gotten to try much of the stuff from the cooked food stalls there. Yes we’d done the “touristic thing” and ate kaisendon at some of the small sushi delis which can be found all over the place, but we’d never gotten round to try much of the other stuff there. So for our most recent trip, we’d made it a point to have a bowl the local ramen, and have a taste of what the locals eat. One name that comes to mind would naturally be 井上中華そば Inoue Chukka Ramen.
築地井上中華そば Tsukiji Inoue Chuka Ramen, from what I know has been around Tsukiji for the longest time. Just look at the number of digits in their telephone number on their original signboard and you’d know what I mean. The variety of ramen they serve is that of the 中華 “Chuka” variety, a shoyu (soy sauce) broth base infused with the umami flavours from the use of katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes). The ingredients are quite “no-frills” too with factory processed noodles and charsiu (braised pork slices), negi (chopped scallions) and menma (pickled bamboo shoots). No narutomaki fish cakes, no ajitsuke tamago eggs with runny yolks, no toasted norii seaweed in case you are wondering. But at 750 Yen a bowl, it is hard to fault given how cheap it is. Honestly, the noodles didn’t taste too bad. Soaking up a bit of the broth, the yellowish strands turned out rather flavourful. But don’t drink the soup. The locals happily slurped down the noodles but left most of the broth untouched. Well, it has always been so with ramen eating no matter which variety it is be it miso, shio or tonkotsu based. Do not drink the soup. Sometimes, when the soup base is really good, as in the case with Ikebukuro’s Mutekiya, the urge to lap down the broth was simply too overwhelming. But with Tsukiji’s Inoue, drinking the broth is an absolute no no. Read on and you know why…
It was just reaching lunch time when we walked passed Inoue and needless to say, there was a long queue forming outside the stall which spewed slightly over to the neighbouring fruit stall on the right. Didn’t look like a strategic time to come. Then again, most of the other food stalls are also packed with diners and those waiting eagerly. So we’d decided to walk around the fresh produce section first. Yes we come Tsukiji rather “late” by tourist terms. Simply because we ain’t really interested in the tune auctions as what most others would had hoped to experience. And many locals come around this time as well. I’ll save the details for another post on Tsukiji market 🙂
So after an hour or so around the market, snacking on some random tuna croquette somewhere, a satsumaimo flavoured ice cone and a stick of tamagoyaki from a shop we always patronise, we’d decide to take a look at the perimeters of the outer market again before exiting the place. Queue outside Inoue has subsided considerably but there were still a good number of people waiting for their ramen fix. It is interesting to observe that Inoue attracts largely locals and not so much of tourists as one would have expected. The folks looked sterned and service was curt and minimal. That explained it all. Nonetheless, I joined the queue and ordered one bowl to share. We didn’t know what to expect so better to play it safe. It was a good opportunity to observe how a bowl of Inoue ramen is “constructed”
After the bowls are placed over the counter, depending on the number of orders, concentrated shoyu-based concoction was scooped into each bowl followed by a handful of chopped spring onions which was mixed with snow pea sprouts. At the same time, bundles of noodles cook away in a large pot of water in a constant rolling boil nearby.
Then comes the “magic” of the ramen bowl, inconspicuously housed within the cylindrical metal dredger placed alongside the large ramen bowls in the shelves above. The elder person took down the dredger and gave each bowl a generous sprinkling. That is not salt or pepper mind you, but one of Japan’s proudest products. Known locally as “Ajinomoto”, synonymous to the company which produces it, monosodium glutamate or more commonly called “MSG” is added in an utmost unbashful manner. The fact that it could have been pre-introduced into the broth but they didn’t, showed that the folks at Inoue make no attempt to hide the fact that they used it. Then again, why the health-conscious loathe the incorporation of such additives to foods, the Japanese seemed totally at peace with it.
Then comes to hot shoyu-based broth to dissolve the ajinomoto, but not without a good stirring with that pair of bamboo chopsticks which had seen through countless bowls of ramen. Meanwhile, the younger guy is busy slicing up some charsiu to adorn the noodles later.
And with lightning speed and clockwork-like precision, the drained noodles were slipped underneath the floating morsels of chopped spring onion by the elder ramen chef while thin disks of charsiu were placed above it, followed by a handful of menma and another handful of chopped spring onions
Their act is concerted and highly synchronised. As always, it is amazing to watch how the Japanese chefs work, be it in roadside stalls to posh dessert parlours. I especially like how the charsiu was sliced in situ, though I’m not sure if that is always the case here at Inoue.
Well, if the MSG bothers you, you’ll probably wanna give Inoue Chuka Ramen a miss. Then again, the addition of MSG in food seemed inevitable in Japan as the practice is so rampant and ingrained. With a bottle of water at hand to flush it all down, I don’t really mind the idea of standing by the walkway and slurp down a bowl of ramen as I watch the crowd go by. at 700 yen a bowl, it is a bargain which is hard to beat. Just remember, don’t drink the soup, drink lots of water and you would be fine.
築地井上中華そば Tsukiji Inoue Chuka Ramen
4-9-16 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
4:30 am – 1:30 pm everyday except Sunday
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