A new way to slurp up ra­men

Tsuke­men is a riff-off of tra­di­tional ra­men, with noo­dles dipped into a sauce rather than soak­ing in a broth.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By SUZANNE LAZAROO star2@thes­tar.com.my

RA­MEN, reimag­ined – be­cause there’s more than one way to slurp a bowl of noo­dles.

Tsuke­men, a cousin of the ubiq­ui­tous soupy noo­dles, has ex­panded our Ja­panese noo­dle hori­zons in re­cent years. In­stead of noo­dles lan­guish­ing in a rich, steam­ing broth, this ra­men vari­ant has them served with dip­ping sauces and condi­ments on the side.

Tsuke­men was in­vented in 1961 by Kazuo Ya­m­ag­ishi, a Tokyo restau­ra­teur. The Nagano Pre­fec­ture na­tive did his ap­pren­tice­ship at a ra­men restau­rant in Tokyo – and had the tsuke­men light­bulb mo­ment when he was just 17, in­spired by the sight of a col­league slurp­ing up noo­dles which had first been dipped in soup.

Years later, when he had opened his own ra­men restau­rant Taishoken, he added a “spe­cial morisoba” to the menu – the cold soba noo­dles with a dip­ping soup were a hit, and they spawned tsuke­men as a pop­u­lar sub-genre of ra­men.

Whereas ra­men is usu­ally pip­ing hot com­fort food – eaten in Ja­pan all year round, but par­tic­u­larly sought out in win­ter – tsuke­men has a lighter vibe, still flavour-rich but nicely-suited to sum­mer months, and trop­i­cal weather. They come in sep­a­rate bowls; the dip­ping sauce is served hot, the noo­dles them­selves are cold.

The dish popped up on the gas­tro­radars of ra­men-crav­ing Klang Val­ley-ites a few years ago, show­ing up on the menus of ra­men stal­warts Ip­pudo and Menya Musashi, and find­ing a spe­cial­ity home at the now-de­funct Ieyasu Tsuke­men & Iza­kaya at Av­enue K.

But with the re­cent open­ing of Mit­suyado Seimen at The Star­ling Mall in Da­mansara Utama, ra­men’s kiss­ing cousin is back with a new lease of life.

Ja­pan’s fore­most tsuke­men spe­cial­ity chain, Mit­suyado Seimen be­gan life in 1997.

“What Ip­pudo is to tonkotsu ra­men (in pork bone broth), Mit­suyado is to tsuke­men,” said Mit­suyado founder Kiy­ohiko Naka­mura, in town for the out­let’s of­fi­cial open­ing.

The brand now has 18 branches across Ja­pan and three branches in the Philip­pines; the Malaysian out­let, its dé­cor sus­pended a funky take on Zen, will be over­seen by head chef On­odera Shigeaki, from Mit­suyado’s Tokyo out­lets.

Rem­i­nis­cent of its main of­fer­ing – a riff on tra­di­tion – Mit­suyado’s in­te­rior pays homage to tra­di­tion while segu­ing into the mod­ern, with a carved wooden wall in­vok­ing a Zen gar­den and a bam­boo chan­de­lier hark­ing back to the bam­boo forests around Ja­panese vil­lages.

Many in­gre­di­ents at Mit­suyado are im­ported from Ja­pan, such as the yuzu and spicy oils, and the spe­cial sauces which com­bine with house­made broth to ul­ti­mately turn into the fi­nal dip­ping sauces.

But fore­most among the im­ports is the wheat flour from Hokkaido. “With other kinds of ra­men, the fo­cus is the broth. But with tsuke­men, it is the noo­dles that are the most im­por­tant,” said Naka­mura. “So we use high qual­ity flour from Hokkaido for our noo­dles, which are made fresh daily.”

Mit­suyado’s noo­dles are thicker than most, with a del­i­cate but pro­nounced chewi­ness. This is par­tic­u­larly so when they’re served cold, as with the orig­i­nal tsuke­men; the Malaysian out­let also serves them hot on re­quest.

“But it is bet­ter cold,” said Naka­mura.

“The cold noo­dles meet­ing the hot broth helps to en­sure that they re­main ex­tra chewy.”

The dip­ping sauces are in­tensely flavoured, and though not overly thick, they coat the noo­dles nicely. Be­cause they’re so con­cen­trated, they shouldn’t be drunk like soup.

“Din­ers would find them too salty,” said

Naka­mura. So once you are

done with noo­dle dip­ping, turn to the handy flask of dashi broth that sits on each ta­ble – wait­ing to turn your dip­ping sauce into a broth, di­luted to your pref­er­ence.

Mit­suyado serves four dip­ping sauces – its sig­na­ture is a con­cen­trated, won­der­fully flavour­ful pork con­coc­tion lib­er­ally spiked with yuzu oil, with chunks of ten­der pork, bam­boo shoots and a mound of shaved daikon. The dis­tinc­tive fresh cit­rus zing of yuzu works ex­cep­tion­ally well to add bal­ance, lift and a hint of tang to the sauce.

To buck tra­di­tion just that bit more – which is how new tra­di­are tions cre­ated, af­ter all – have a lit­tle cheese with your tsuke­men. Yes, you read that right. Choose from ched­dar sauce or a com­bi­naof tion parme­san and ched­dar; this creamy sauce is a bit like na­cho cheese sauce, but more nat­u­ral-tast­ing. You mix it in with your noo­dles first, then dip them in the sig­na­ture dip­ping sauce.

There is also a sesame-spiked sauce, chicken soup base and a gen­tly spicy pork-based sauce.

Cheese Tsuke­men is RM29.90 for a reg­u­lar, RM31.90 for a large porTan tion; Tan Sesame Tsuku­men is RM27.90 for reg­u­lar and RM29.90 for the large; spicy, or Karashi Tsuke­men is RM26.90 for a reg­u­lar or RM28.90 for the large.

For those who want to stick to ra­men tra­di­tion, tonkotsu and tori(in gara chicken stock) ra­men choices are also avail­able. And on the side? Roast pork slices, del­i­cate gy­oza with a fill­ing of minced pork that is just nicely bal­anced be­tween the fat and the lean, and juicy karaage chicken which needs noth­ing more than a ju­di­cious squeeze of lemon.

To eat Mit­suyado’s Cheese Tsuke­nen, first mix the cheese sauce with the noo­dles, then dip the noo­dles into the sig­na­ture sauce, flavoured with pork and yuzu.

This is how you eat tsuke­men, dip­ping the noo­dles into the sauce, one bite at a time.

The wall was in­spired by a Zen gar­den; from above, a ‘bam­boo for­est’ hangs over din­ers.

— Pho­tos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

Del­i­cate gy­oza, a mem­o­rable side or­der.

Naka­mura founded Mit­suyado Seimen in 1997; he’s a firm ad­vo­cate of or­der­ing the noo­dles cold.

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