When it comes to ramen, I leave that in Mr. S’s capable hands. The “S” does in fact, stand for soup noodles, haven’t I mentioned that before? All kidding aside, he does do his due diligence when it comes to finding great ramen shops about town, anything from your standard tonkatsu, miso, shoyu, and tsukemen to more specialized bowls like yuzu shio, roast beef and beef broth (instead of pork), tan tan mien, burnt garlic, and “ladies ramen” which has more veggies and a lighter broth. The sheer amount and diversity of ramen shops in this city is a testament to: (1) the popularity of ramen in general amongst Japanese and tourists (because it is typically cheap, a quick meal, and hella oishii when done right), and (2) the fact that ramen preference is highly a matter of personal taste.
Just a little background, Mr. S and I both love love love spicy food. So, after the 10th time that I heard him bring up this spicy ramen shop, I figured, alrighty then, let’s do this. So we made our way to Kanda, which is one stop north of Tokyo station on the Yamanote line. Immediately around Kanda station, the alleyways are well known for the plethora of ramen shops that draw in salarymen at all times of the day. Just around the corner from one of these alleys is Kikanbo Ramen, a ramen shop that specializes in spicy miso ramen.
Kikanbo takes spicy to another level, literally, by using 2 kinds of spice, for which the customer can choose the level of spice for each kind. The first kind is kara which is your standard pepper kind of hot (too much = pain, chug water, repeat). The second is shibi which is the spice associated with Sichuan peppercorn, which is not a pepper. Less of a spicy kind of hot, and more of a numbing, tingling, floral sensation that many have said to be awesomely addictive. We use a shitload of this stuff in Chinese cooking–anywhere from Sichuan pepper oil, to sauces, to the ground, toasted pepper forms. The combination of the two types of spice will perk up every single tastebud and nerve ending in your body.
Like many ramen shops, this is the ordering procedure:
1. You walk in and order from a vending machine. The choices are all in Japanese, but you can ask for their English menu, which I took a picture of below. You’ll also notice the many traditional Japanese demon masks that adorn the restaurant, staring at you to intimidate you into trying the hottest levels of spice.
2. The staff will direct you to a seat at the 10-seat counter. Then you’ll show your ticket from the vending machine to the staff, and they will ask you for your chosen levels of kara and shibi spices. I recommend the medium and medium (futsu futsu) levels if you enjoy spicy things but still want to be able to taste your food midway through! More adventurous spice lovers can order the “demon demon” which will blow your head off, and maybe your colon! Below is an annotated picture of the spice level menu.
3. Order a cold beer. You’ll need it, trust me.
4. Watch the kitchen staff behind the counter do their magic. For each bowl, the cook will first wok-fry miso paste with seasoning (to develop the taste) and then add in the pork-based broth along with the desired amount of spices and cook some more. The noodles are cooked separately, and all are assembled in a bowl, and then toppings are added.
I ordered the futsu-futsu level of the “Deluxe” ramen which comprises a regular portion of noodles, half portion of bean sprouts, a seasoned egg, and double pork. This was like… if really good dandan mian and miso ramen had a love child, this would be it, times 100. The broth is thicker than your average ramen broth consistency, akin to a gravy, which coated the noodles nicely with each bite. Full-bodied, and intensely aromatic with the combination of heat, Sichuan peppercorn-induced tingle, and rich miso. Every bite was spectacular.
Other ramen elements are also worth discussing here, especially the roast pork and bean sprouts. The roast pork were thick thick slices of a shoulder-cut with some fat. The best seasoned and most tender pork I have had in ramen by far. Fork-tender, for sure. The bean sprouts too were also intensely seasoned because they are cooked in the wok with the miso broth, so it arrives already wilted into the soup and flavored.
As all of these intense flavors were coursing through my mouth, my ears and body were filled with the constant beating of taiko drum tracks that the restaurant plays over the speakers. You will hear it in the short video below. The heat, spice, beating drums, nerves firing, mouth tingling…ahhhh… I felt ready to go to battle after the meal. And, without knowing it, I finished my entire bowl, and then some more of Mr. S’s pork.
Go, but be prepared for a bit of a wait. Kikanbo’s tsukemen shop is a few doors down, but they only serve tsukemen. The only other branch in Tokyo is in Ikebukuro. All addresses are below.
Kikanbo, 2-10-10 Kajicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tsukemen Shop: 2-10-9 Kajicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Ikebukuro branch: 1-13-14 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo