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Taishoken


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#1 skchai

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Posted 07 June 2004 - 01:32 PM

Taishoken
903 Keeaumoku St., Suite C101A
Honolulu HI 96814
808 955-8860

Taishoken is one of the most famous ramen shops in Tokyo, and thus the world. Or I should be more specific - the shop named Taishoken in Tokyo's Higashi (East) Ikebukuro district is. The shop has spawned a horde of imitators throughout Japan with similar menus, many also calling themselves Taishoken. The vast majority have no ownership or franchise connection with the Higashi-Ikebukuro shop. Thus ramen afficionados in Japan distinguish the famous Taishoken from others by calling it "Higashi-Ikebukuro Taishoken" or "Taishoken@Higashi-Ikebukuro".

What's all the fuss about? Kazuo Yamagishi, owner and chef of Taishoken@Higashi-Ikebukuro, is famous for having invented "tsukemen", which is a kind of cross between ramen and morisoba. In the original version, a broth made from pork, chicken, and anchovies is boiled down until it is extremely concentrated, and is served, along with additional seasonings (primarily shoyu or miso) and toppings, in a small bowl beside a plate of plain ramen noodles. You dip the noodles into the soup before eating them. This is the "Kantou" tsukemen. There is another kind, "Hiroshima" tsukemen, which uses a dip of cold spicy soy sauce, that seems to have been derived more from "hiyashi chuuka" (a cold garnished Chinese-style noodle salad) or directly from a Chinese source rather than from ramen. This version has nothing to do with Taishoken! (For more discussion on tsukemen, see this thread on the Japan board).

The whole business of which Taishoken is "related" to which is a murky affair. This is complicated even further by the fact that there is a completely independent Taishoken@Eifukucho, which offers a different ramen menu and concept, that itself has inspired a horde of followers (I don't know which one is older. The name "Taishoken" has been around longer than either restaurant, dating apparently to the days when trademarks were not such a big deal! I searched for an official website for Taishoken Ramen in Tokyo and came up with quite a few such as this (@Shibuya + a lot of other places), this (@Shinjuku and @Ginza), this (@Nakano), and this (@Shonan, a resort area south of Tokyo). But none of these seem to have a formal link with Taishoken@Higashi-ikebukuro, which does not seem to have an official website. It does however seem to have a number of apparently "official branches", including this one in @Kichijoji, an affluent suburb of Tokyo. This branch actually calls itself "Higashi-Ikebukuro Taishoken" even though it is not in Higashi-Ikebukuro, in order to bolster its claim to parentage.

Got it all straight? I don't. Where is BON when we need him? Speaking of the one-time (and still?) eGulleter, please do look at his review of Taishoken@Higashi-Ikebukuro on his premier "real" ramen resource site, WorldRamen.net. There is a touching story there about how Yamagishi closed down his own place several years ago after the death of his wife, but was convinced to reopen by hundreds of small notes of encouragement taped to the door of his establishment by his loyal customers.

Yamagishi first came up with tsukemen in 1961 at the restaurant that is now Taishoken@Nakano, then used his invention to open the Higashi-Ikebukuro establishment, where he can be seen cooking to this very day. So in some ways, Taishoken@Nakano is the "original tsukemen restaurant", though most ramemophiles would attach the more salience to Yamagishi himself than to the particular establishment. An detailed history (in Japanese) of all this can be found on this page at the Taishoken@Nakano official site.

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I'm writing all this because a new branch of Taishoken@Higashi-Ikebukuro has apparently opened in Honolulu, on Keeaumoku St., near King St. next to the Sino-Korean "Beijing/Bukgyeong" Restaurant. As far as I know, this is the first official branch of Taishoken located outside the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

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The restaurant definitely plays up the fact that it is an official branch, with photos and articles about the Higashi-Ikebukuro restaurant pasted on its wall, as well as the characters for Higashi-Ikebukuro prominently displayed on its "noren", the short curtain that marks the entrance to a traditional Japanese restaurant, though in this case it is located on the entrance to the kitchen from the eating area. The restaurant is apparently doing great business since it opened a few weeks ago, as there is a sign in front saying that they will not do any takeout orders due to the high volume of customers. I went at 11am, right when they opened, and there was already a short line of Japanese tourists waiting outside.

At Taishoken@Higashi-Ikebukuro@Keeaumoku, you can order one of two kinds of tsukemen broth - shoyu (soy sauce) or miso flavor. You then select a quantity of noodles (small or large), then a set of toppings from chashu (sliced boiled pork), menma (young bamboo shoots), yasai (mixed vegetables), ajitsuke tamago (seasoned eggs), and nori (dried laver). You have to pay of each of your toppings separately - if you don't order any, you get plain noodles and broth. You can also order ordinary ramen as well, with the exact same permutations and prices. Gyoza (potstickers) are available in quantities of 5 or 3 (the latter available only if you order ramen as well). Fried rice, curry, and pork and chicken katsu round out the token additional offerings. "Is your tsukemen the same as what is served in Higashi-Ikebukuro?" I asked the restaurant manager. No, unfortunately not, he said - it's not possible to buy the same kind of noodles and meat. However, he promised that the recipes were otherwise the same.

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I ordered a large shoyu tsukemen with chashu and yasai, total price $9.20. After about 10 minutes, I received a huge mountain of noodles and about a pint of soup. Lying in the soup were about four slices of pork with a mixture of cabbage, mung bean sprouts, and green onions. There was single gratis slice of nori sticking out of it as well. The noodles were squiggly egg noodles, soft but still slightly chewy, extremely eggy. They were served lukewarm (as is apparently the tradition in the Taishokens), while the soup was hot. The soup was extremely salty and porky, and dark with soy sauce. It had notes of fishy flavors, and was very faintly sour. While they provided a spoon of the sort that you get in Chinese restaurants, it would be only a very brave person so who would drink the soup straight from the bowl.

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Intimidated by the gallon or so of noodles, I started out by nibbling on the pork and vegetables to clear out some room in the soup bowl for dipping. Then I dipped and ate the noodles, and dipped and ate some more. . . About halfway through, the store manager came through and asked me if I was about ready to quit. No, I said indignantly, and kept on going until even though I could feel my abdominal muscles stretching out as I downed each skein of noodles. So much for the low-carb diet, but I finished it all.

Very nice experience for those who of us prefer strong flavors for our noodles rather than a lot of broth. But I think I'll order the small next time.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#2 skchai

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 02:13 AM

Thanks, Kristin!

From the links that Hiroyuki put up in the Japan forum tsukemen thread, it seems that broth made by Mr. Yamagishi has a lot more green onions than the one served in the Keeaumoku location. Hmm. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#3 LarryG

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 10:32 AM

Thanks to your detaled review (and awesome photos!) we learned about this place, which we would not have found otherwise. On Friday we tried it out.

( eGullet needs to add some more smileys to the little list over on the left: maybe Burp! or Yum! (yeah... how come none of the smileys relate to food ? ) So just imagine a smiley here that is licking its lips in satisfaction. )

The noodles, which they make themselves, were the best I've had in Hawaii. I tried the curry broth and it was just right, neither too spicy nor too mild, with veggies and some meat included, to which I added an egg. As you would imagine, the place was spotlessly clean. Staff were quiet and very efficient.

We also did a drive-by of Okonomi Yaki Cuisine Kai, which is nearby and which we haven't tried yet (couldn't find it when I was looking earlier because I forgot to take the address with me, dumb me). It looks very spiffy for an okonomi-yaki place, clearly it is a formula restaurant, classy and no doubt pricey.

Keeaumoku is a strange neighborhood, a mix of quality, mediocrity and sleaze. And soon to have a giant Wal-Mart. I wonder what effect that will have...

Cheerz,
--Larry

#4 skchai

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 10:54 AM

Larry, there's some strange karma going on. I almost simultaneously posted a link to your site, as well as Okonomi Cuisine Kai, in a new thread on foodblogs !

Thanks for the nice comments. I do wonder about what's going to happen to the Keeaumoku neighborhood. Ala Moana Ctr itself has always been a strange hybrid . . . Gucci, Chanel, Neiman-Marcus, etc. just down the corrider from Sears and Longs Drugs, and the whole thing surrounded by small ethnic shops, restaurants, and bars. Now Walmart right next door . . .

Back to Taishoken - I hadn't tried the curry ramen, but it's something I'll definitely try next time I go there!

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#5 LarryG

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Posted 25 July 2004 - 04:02 PM

Thanks for the new thread on Hawaii food blogs and for the link to my own humble effort (I did put in a link on my blog to your eGullet page the other day, this is such a fantastic cyber-spot to visit).

Probably there should be a separate topic on the Keeaumoku area, it's interesting enough and changeable enough to have its own discussion (oops, maybe it does already, I'm new here). For the moment, though, just let me comment that I did see the Okonomi Cuisine Kai web page earlier, in fact that's how I found out about the place. We were lamenting the lack of good cheap Japan-style street food such as was everywhere around us when we lived in Japan. On a cold day one could stop at a yatai (street stall) for steaming hot mochi, and okonomiyaki was a cheap snack at almost any festival. I miss that, and also the festival eels. But anyway, I was looking for the name of the shop we used to duck into after work getting off of the train at Nishiogikubo, and didn't find it. Instead I hit Okonomi Cuisine Kai's web page. Such are the foibles of the Internet. So I ended up right back here in Hawaii.

Japanese web pages often reproduce area maps with little circles and numbers keyed to where restaurants or shops are (of course, they really need those maps there). I'd love to see something like that for Keeaumoku, maybe for Kaimuki. The Japanese-language guidebooks probably have examples. Here's a pdf file from the web. I really miss all the food possibilities in Kichijoji, by the way.

Anyway, I think that kind of map would be useful to keep in my glove compartment for wandering around the area. With the little dots corresponding to eGullet Hawaii reviews, of course. Maybe a PDA version too, one day, for those with PDAs (in Japan you just bookmark the map on your iMode phone and it's always with you).

Cheerz,
--Larry

#6 Quark

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Posted 07 September 2004 - 11:50 AM

Great post Sun-Ki. I gotta check this place out. Geez, you really know your ramen!

#7 skchai

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Posted 08 September 2004 - 01:19 AM

Thanks, Burt. We've really got a lot of ramen restaurant choices here, for some reason, even more than other Japanese food. Not to mention saimin, whihc is a close cousin. . .

BTW, a new Kyoto-style ramen place just opened on the second floor of the McCully Shopping Center, next to Tiffany's Hair Salon. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#8 Quark

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Posted 09 September 2004 - 12:44 AM

BTW, a new Kyoto-style ramen place just opened on the second floor of the McCully Shopping Center, next to Tiffany's Hair Salon.  .  .

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What is Kyoto-style ramen? I'm curious. Have you done a review of the place yet?

#9 skchai

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Posted 09 September 2004 - 02:18 AM

I haven't been there yet, but will write a report once I have a chance! Kyoto-style ramen is generally defined (I think) as being lighter than Tokyo style and seasoned with salt rather than soy sauce.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#10 reid

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Posted 09 November 2004 - 04:27 AM

Hi Sun Ki,

I finally got to go to Taishoken and thought it was quite good. I had the regular size and even then felt full after eating all the noodles. Don't know how you could have managed to finish a large one.

I did get to visit Yotteko-ya Ramen which is at the McCully Shopping Center on the 2nd floor. The ramen was excellent, but like a reader on my blog pointed out, the ramen was probably Hataka.

You can see my post here.

#11 skchai

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Posted 10 November 2004 - 01:24 AM

Nice posts on Onokinegrinz, Reid. They come so fast and furious I gotta check every couple days to keep up!

I haven't been able to Yotteko-ya yet, but your blogfriend is right, the broth is definitely more Hakata-style alright with the cloudiness and the boiling for ten hours "high collagen" stuff. Hakata is in Kyushu and is nowhere near Kyoto. There really isn't any well-known Kyoto style that I'm aware of, though there is a Kansai (greater Kyoto-Osaka area) style that is usually distinguished by use of salt instead of shoyu or miso. However, it's not usually boiled as long or as vigorously as what you got at Yotteko-ya.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#12 Kiem Hwa

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Posted 15 January 2005 - 12:58 AM

I just ate here - yum!
I ordered the Char Siu Miso Tsukemen, BF got yasai Shoyu ramen, and BF's mom got Yasai Miso Tsukemen.

I really enjoyed my miso tsukemen broth - at first it was a little strong, but after a few slurps, I really liked it, and my BF's shoyu ramen broth tasted so bland in comparison! It was a little spicy, and so yummy!!! I definately recommend getting the tsukemen.

Also, in comparison with the pictures posted by skchai, the tsukemen broth bowls are now a bit larger, so it was no problem dipping noodles in.

They also have added some curry items to thier menu, and I want to try the curry tsukemen next time.

What made an even better experience was the super-friendly owner who kept talking to us and telling us about the gyoza - they have a gyoza-making machine in the front of the shop where you can watch the machine plop gyoza stuffing into the wrapper and fold it in half, then the owner's wife and a helper pluck them up, and shape them nicely. We were told how she got so worn out from constantly making gyoza that they had to buy a machine and now instead of making them all day every day, they make them twice a week and store them in the freezer.

Also he told us all about how they make thier own noodles fresh every morning, and also make thier own pickled bamboo... (in much more detail).

Only, if you are looking for the best Char Siu, the one at Yotteko-ya is fabulous.

#13 dornachu

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 11:51 PM

I am so glad that I encountered this thread and ate there!
I ordered the Char Siu Miso Tsukemen with 3 gyozas! Very yummy, i got there around 6:30, and it's not crowded at all. The soup was very salty but when i dip the noodles in, I like it alot. The gyoza was also very very tasty, super juicy!!