Seeking Spice in Japan 12: Shinpuku Saikan
On the way out of Kyoto, to head back to Tokyo, a final meal here was in order.
Shinpuku Saikan lies near the railway station, so I had an easy-enough time doing a final stroll across the city.
Down a road I’d wanted to explore because there seemed to be a temple there – which turned out to have temples and shrines every few steps.
Farther south alongside a major thoroughfare, in a part of town that felt considerably more industrial, even a bit seedy, than anything I’d seen of Kyoto so far.
Over towards the railway station. And I was there and had to backtrack a bit.
Not just the location, even the place itself reminded me quite a bit of the hole-in-the-wall noodle shops I know from China.
Menu above the kitchen counter (and outside for the touristy visitors), somewhat grimy tables, cheap stools, everyman customers. And everywoman.
They found a spot for me quickly as someone left.
The four younger people on the neighboring table, three male, one female, tried to strike up a conversation. One man on another table took it on himself to chime in as translator for a bit.
Were I a different kind of person – one who drinks, mainly – alcohol might have flown. They had beer already; sake was suggested and, when I said that I don’t drink it, the idea was rejected again – but only because it was still early in the morning.
I hadn’t even expected that ramen shop to be open yet, but they were already making brisk business.
Here, the ramen is a shoyu ramen. So, soy-sauce based.
Rather quickly made (well, finished); this is a place for eaters. For salarymen on the way to work. If not for outright workers of a rougher kind.
My order came quickly; just a simple take-iri shoyu ramen. Ramen with the usual pork, but also with bamboo shoots.
Hot, not really spicy but aromatic and easily spiced up to taste, carb-rich and with just the right amount of fattiness – this was a really good bowl of ramen, I found.
Oh, don’t worry, I can be a real snob about matcha and chilli and sansho and the “need” to consider them better. And I still enjoy a hearty dish for hard-working and easy-going people at least as much as anything fancy and upscale (with the dose of uptightness with which that tends to come, especially).
Actually, Shinpuku Saikan is said to be one of the major battlegrounds of ramen competition – funnily, right alongside the ramen shop next door, Honke Daiichi Asahi.
I’m not entirely sure what it was; I wouldn’t be surprised if I hated the flavor of shoyu ramen by the third time I had it already. This was the ramen I liked the best of all I had in Japan, though.
The simple aroma and clear, but dark, broth it gets from the soy sauce somehow just really appealed to me – and it may not be half as simple as it seems. The broth is said to be made of chicken and pork, the sauce they add, giving the dish its surprisingly dark look, is said to be based on Kyoto shoyu (soy sauce) but not any one of those directly.
It looks strong, it was highly aromatic, but the taste is also quite light. Nothing like the over-hyped but horrible “Burnt Miso” of Gogyo Ramen. (Sorry, but I do find it sensible to argue against that again.)
And it was definitely early enough in the morning, and cool enough, that such a bowl of noodle soup was just the thing.
Thinking about it now, it makes me a touch nostalgic of the noodle soup stall my (now) wife and I often ate at, back in China. An old woman ran that in the mornings, in what would otherwise basically have been a garage at the ground level of the university apartment building where she lived…. And she made very good noodle soups.
Time to cook lamian/ramen ourselves again 😉
(In Japanese: 新福菜)
Price range 800-2000 JPY
Open Thu-Tue 9 am – 10 pm
Few seats, so expect a wait.