Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ippûdo (一風堂), Takadanobaba

[EDITED, 22. FEB: After comparing with some other tonkotsu joints, I've come to the conclusion, that I have to adjust my rating of Ippûdô to do them justice]

(JR Takadanobaba station, Waseda exit/Tôzai Takadanobaba statio, Waseda exit: Head down Waseda-dôri, after approx 7 min, you'll cross Meiji-dôri in a big intersection. Keep going for three-four minutes and you'll find it on a corner your right-hand side. Map)

What: Ramen (Tonkotsu)
Recommendation: Akamaru

over-hyped (2.5/5)

The Story
Although a branch of the main store in Fukuoka, Kyûshû, the Takadanobaba joint has gained a fair bit of reputation of its own. Not to wonder, perhaps, given its prime location between the Waseda University and its nearest JR station, Takadanobaba. While Waseda keeps its position, rivaled only by Keiô, as Japan's top private university, students are students; and students are hungry. And each day, thousands of these hungry students have no choice but to pass the tempting aromas which coming steaming from Ippûdô, as they do their "Baba-aruki" - the common term for the fifteen minute Takadanobaba walk.

The Place
So obviously, lots of students in this place - yet, it's strangely un-studenty, interior-wise. With its warm, cozy, asian-retro look, it's an inviting place. And if you don't feel welcome as you line up outside (usually there's only a line at the busiest time between 12 and 1 o'clock), the hearty, bellowed IRASSHAIMASE! (welcome!) as you step inside, will (unless it simply gives you a heart arrest). Sit down, have a look at the menu (in English! And, as far as I can remember, rather correct English, too). and place your orders to a waiter, who again shouts it out, heartily, to the kitchen staff two steps across the counter who, shouts it back with equal vigour. Lots of shouting, yes, but can't help enjoying the vigor of it.

There are two types of soup, Shiromaru (the original pork-based broth) and Akamaru (a newer recipe; richer, with red seasoning oil). Also, you can choose from five degrees of noodle texture: from yawamen (soft) to harigane (steel wire). The noodles are of the hoso-men (thin noodles) school, and the choice of texture means you can have it your way - assuming you know which way you prefer. Personally, I go for the Akamaru barikata (4/5 on the hardness scale). Note also the great lunch deal: A bowl of rice and 5 bite-sized gyôza (Chinese dumplings, steam-fried Japanese-style) for a mere 100 yen extra, available until five o'clock in the afternoon. (Which leads me to the question how some Japanese men can eat all of this, every day, even have refills on the rice, and still stay so thin)

The noodles
The first thing to say, is that the noodles are good. Although thin, they have very good texture. However, after repeated visits, and comparisons with other tonkotsu places (like Ôita Hôraiken up the road), I've reached the inevitable conclusion that the soup is thin. Thin, thin. Compared, for instance, with Kôryû (in Shinjuku, for instance), which has a more gut-striking impact, or Keika (in Shinjuku, Takadanobaba ++), which has far more personality, Ippûdô's pork broth doesn't quite live up to its fame, I'm afraid. At least not in this joint.

Has the jury reached its verdict?
Still, all said - this is decent ramen, and excellent value at lunch (if you can care to eat that much). A safe bet, but no clear recommendation.

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