Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tsukemen - Ramen House Ryujin

I believe my history with ramen dates back to when I was around five, before I even learned how to use chopsticks. My first ramen dish was probably spoon-fed to me by either my mom or grandma. And since it was introduced to me so early in my life by those who loved me dearly, it has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. I can enjoy it anytime of day, anytime of year. Even on a 100-degree day, I still wouldn't say no to a hot bowl of delicious ramen. 

When we hear the word "ramen," most of us would think of a steamy bowl of noodle soup, wouldn't we? At least, that's the definition in my dictionary. Recently, though, I've tried a different version of ramen at Ryujin. The dish is known as Tsukemen, which is chilled ramen served, not in a bowl of broth, but on a plate accompanied by a warm dipping sauce. Legend has it this unorthodox dish accidentally came to existence in 1955 when Kazuo Yamagishi, a young apprentice at a ramen shop, was trying to be economical and resourceful. He gathered leftover noodles from the kitchen, then instead of adding some broth, he just dipped them in a simple soy-and-vinegar-based sauce. It could easily have been a one-time thing. Yamagishi could have thought to himself, "Eh, silly me. What the heck am I eating? Never again!" But no, it was his lucky day. Some customers witnessed his improvisation and were curious to try it too. And of course, they loved it! A few years later, Yamagishi opened his own shop, and his business phenomenally thrived, but Tsukemen didn't really become mainstream until the early 2000s when the Japanese media started to give it overdue attention. Now Tsukemen is offered in most ramen houses in Japan, and Yamagishi (who recently passed away) will forever be remembered as the Ramen Godfather of Tokyo.  

And now back to my first experience with the dipping noodles--well, I did enjoy the dish a lot. The fusion of chilled noodles and warm sauce (which was very tasty) kind of caused a whimsical yin-yang sensation in my mouth. Although I myself prefer the traditional soupy version, Tsukemen is something I would wholeheartedly recommend to ramen enthusiasts who haven't tried it yet. 

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