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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Mutep­pou, 15-3 Kizu­gawa, Ky­oto Pre­fec­ture, Ja­pan. Opens 11am-3pm and 6pm-11pm; closed Mon­day. Kizu­gawa is one hour by train from Ky­oto or Osaka on the Nara line; Mutep­pou is about 10 min­utes by taxi from Kizu­gawa Station. There are branches in Ky­oto city, Nara, Osaka and Tokyo. Gumshara, Shop 211, Eat­ing World Food Court, 25-29 Dixon Street, Hay­mar­ket. Opens 11.30am-9pm Tues­day-Saturday; 11.30am-8:30pm Mon­day. The Ja­panese rail at­ten­dant looks non­plussed when I ap­proach. Few gai­jin (for­eign­ers) stop at Kizu­gawa, a small but grow­ing dor­mi­tory sub­urb on the out­skirts of the old im­pe­rial city of Ky­oto. Most pas­sen­gers are on their way from Tokyo to Osaka, Ky­oto or neigh­bour­ing Nara’s an­cient tem­ples. But I’m on a pil­grim­age of an­other kind and his face breaks into a bright smile when I say the magic word: Mutep­pou.

In Ja­panese, mutep­pou means “rash” or “reck­less” but for ra­men afi­ciona­dos it means the best noo­dles for miles. Many Syd­ney food­ies, like me, re­gard the Kyushu tonkatsu ra­men served by chef Mori Hi­gashida at Gumshara in Chi­na­town (where it’s all but hid­den in the Eat­ing World Food Court on Dixon Street) as the city’s, if not Aus­tralia’s, best. A thick, rich, broth of roast pork, mar­row and hand­made noo­dles, it’s been dubbed one of the “top 21 Syd­ney dishes you must try be­fore you die” by The Aus­tralian’s sta­ble­mate, The Daily Tele­graph.

De­spite mak­ing thou­sands of serves a week, stir­ring the broth con­stantly, Mori tastes every one be­fore serv­ing. He was a suc­cess­ful jew­ellery com­pany ex­ec­u­tive when his life was changed af­ter just one bowl of Mutep­pou ra­men. He quit his high-fly­ing ca­reer at the age of 48 and be­came an ap­pren­tice. Al­though train­ing to be a ra­men chef takes a min­i­mum of five years, Mori asked Mutep­pou founder Shigeyuki Akasako to fast-track him. Work­ing 18 hours a day, seven days a week, even sleep­ing on the shop floor, Mori made an av­er­age of 180 bowls of ra­men a day be­fore qual­i­fy­ing in less than 18 months and re­turn­ing to Syd­ney to fol­low his sin­gu­lar pas­sion and open his now-fa­mous shop in 2009.

And now, in a taxi speed­ing past rice pad­dies, I’m about to en­ter the place where Mori be­gan to ful­fil his dreams. Vir­tu­ally in the mid­dle of nowhere, a wood log cabin im­ported from Wis­con­sin comes into view and there’s a line snaking out into the carpark — and it’s not even mid­day. I in­sert coins into the ticket vend­ing ma­chine and even­tu­ally my num­ber’s called.

I’m warmly ush­ered in by Ya­suo Oshima, one of Mori’s fel­low acolytes un­der Akasako and con­sid­ered one of the coun­try’s best ra­men masters.

Cosy and busy, the cabin is filled with rav­en­ous din­ers tuck­ing in amid an in­tox­i­cat­ing aroma; walls are adorned with au­to­graphed tes­ti­mo­ni­als and kooky dec­o­ra­tions, in­clud­ing a decade-old photo of Mori look­ing just as he does to­day.

I’m served a huge, steam­ing, glossy bowl, cost­ing ¥750 ($8.80). Slices of roast pork bob like jew­els in the shim­mer­ing soup, thick as honey, and adorned only by a square of nori and some spring onions.

I’m a lit­tle over­whelmed as the weather is un­sea­son­ably swel­ter­ing with hu­mid­ity in the high 90s. But it’s more that I’ve made it, here, to this place, to taste the same ra­men that changed Mori’s life.

Ex­pec­ta­tion of­ten has a bit­ter af­ter­taste, but this ra­men is just as rich and good as that served at Gumshara. It’s the strangest, sweet­est feel­ing to taste some­thing so fa­mil­iar, so far from home.

I have Mori’s mo­bile num­ber and de­cide to call him in Syd­ney. My bowl is empty, he’s in the mid­dle of ser­vice and can’t talk long, but we’re struck by that con­nec­tion, cross­ing time, dis­tance and cul­ture, re­mind­ing us how great food can bring us all closer to­gether.

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