I love ramen. Much to Ryosuke’s dismay, often when we are out and I get hungry, I drag him to the nearest ramen shop.
Now ramen shops in Japan are nothing like the “one cup” ramen noodles or Maruchan Ramen packs you can get for $ 0.11 a pack at Wal-Mart. I don’t know how exactly they cook the ramen in Japan, but they come out in this hot, oily, rich heap – just for me. Just so you know, typical Japanese ramen noodles are a yellowish-colored wheat noodle, served in a miso or soy sauce flavored broth.
But it’s summer.
And in summer, no one wants to eat a hot soup. So somewhere around the third or fourth time I made Ryosuke get ramen with me, he introduced me to “Tsukemen” (つけめん). Tsukemen is ramen… but a little different, and that’s why it is perfect for summer. Tsukemen is dipping noodles, cold ramen noodles served in a bowl without broth. Then, in a smaller stone bowl, they serve you the broth – usually still hot.
You get to dip the noodles in yourself, so by the time it gets to your mouth, you get the wonderful flavor of ramen without the horrific heat – so you can still combat the summer humidity in Japan.
So here is a guide on how to eat Tsukemen… Even though it’s really easy to eat and kind of self-explanatory.
1. Find the shop, go in, and order.
Some shops you can order at the counter, but that is rare. In most places you will find a machine that looks like this.
Order your food BEFORE you sit down, every once and a while, when I’m tired, I try to put my bag down and they kind of yell at me and point to the machine. I think they think that because I’m foreign, I don’t know the rule – and are trying to help me, which is nice. But in any case, order first, just to be safe.
To order, put your money in first, then press the button of the type of ramen you want. I’ve never actually seen one of these in English, so I usually just kind of push a pretty color that isn’t too expensive. It you particularly want Tsukemen (which you should) look for the kanji: つけ麺。You can ask someone for help if you need to. As I said before, most shops serve tsukemen; most people know how to eat tsukemen and the difference between tsukemen and ramen.
Once you order, pull the lever at the bottom to get your change. Some machines don’t automatically dispense your change, in case you want to order more than one thing.
2. Hand off your ticket and wait at your seat until the food arrives.
I like chairs with backs, but most places don’t have them. Also, at some joints you have to stand and eat. Most shops only have a single counter surrounding the “kitchen”, so you face the cooks as they prepare your food. It’s unbearably hot during the summer, but must be nice during the winter.
3. Add toppings to your sauce. Sometimes they have a sort of chili powder or various other things you can add. General rule of thumb, though, is that the cooks know best. I usually just eat it how it’s served.
(Look at all the extra flavors! The red is spicy)
Some places let you flavor your own broth, some don’t. It depends on the shop.
4. Grab a hunk of noodles with your chopsticks, dip them briefly in the soup, and eat. Hopefully you can use chopsticks!
Eating tsukemen ramen dipping noodles is harder than it looks, the thick broth makes the noodles difficult to grip with chopsticks.
I also like to take the occasional sip from the soup bowl – since tsukemen broth is very rich and delicious.
5. If you run out of noodles (and you’re still hungry), you can easily order more
Told you it was easy.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother writing these things.
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