One for the bucket list.
This time, I didn’t have as much ramen as I’d like to have had in Japan. You’re the master of your time if you’re traveling alone, but when you have company, there will surely be compromises that have to be made. Since my travel partner possessed zero appreciation for Japanese ramen, I had to give it up. However, very early on, I made clear of my desire to have ramen at a certain stall in Kobe – it was just too great an opportunity for me to pass up. He didn’t need to accompany me – he could go shopping (it’s in a mall, anyway) but I HAD to have it.
Ramen streets are all the rage. Often located in malls near strategically major railway stations, they either represent the best chains (such as the one at JR Tokyo station), or in Kobe-Sannomiya’s case, the city’s best picks. Just under Sannomiya station is the oh-so-Japanese ubiquitous underground mall, Santica (pronounced “sanchika”) which connects the Sannomiya stations of JR, Hankyu, Hanshin, Kobe Subway and Port Liner with the city’s main commercial district and artery. The mall’s “ramen alley”, Noodle Road, is located close to the southernmost point of the mall (read: furthest away from the railway stations). With just four shops, it’s not huge, but it’s infinitely adequate for this tiny metropolis. All restaurants are of a counter-style, with no more than 18 seats each. There was only one name I was interested in: 吉祥吉. Or Kisshokichi, for those who don’t read Kanji, old Korean or Chinese. The name’s definitely one to remember because the chain, which has six restaurants within the city, serves reasonably priced Kobe beef in a variety of ways from the favorite steak to shabu-shabu, and even in buns. The one at Santika’s Noodle Road serves it in, yes, you’ve guessed it, ramen. Despite Titus’ apparent dislike of ramen, he decided to join me for this “afternoon tea”.
At Kisshokichi, there is understandably not a myriad of choices, and we go for the recommended standard, Kobe Beef Ramen (JPY 850, SGD 12.68). Compared to Steakland, the prized delicacy manifests itself in a generally more subtle manner – the broth is made from Kobe beef bones, the miso served fuses some minced spicy Kobe beef, and there are paper-thin slices of Kobe beef itself. While the slices of thinly veiled meat were vivaciously marbled, it wasn’t much of a standout. The broth however, was a whole different story. While beef gets a lot of love atop rice immortalized by restaurant chains like Matsuya, Pepper Lunch and Yoshinoya; shabu-shabu, barbecue, sashimi and sushi, having it in ramen broth is virtually unheard of. Despite the value of the Tajima-gyu, it has never occurred to the people of Kobe to have it as a soup… until Kisshokichi.
The result is a rich, buttery beef infused broth of warm, savory goodness that flows really well. Having said that, it was immensely difficult to discern the superior quality of the Tajima-gyu as compared to the cattle used to brew Din Tai Fung’s beef brisket la mian. Elsewhere, the noodle’s not exceptionally arresting. Certainly not the best ramen, nor is it one of the best, but its unique meat base broth choice, combined with the novelty of it all, makes this one of the more memorable ramen adventures I’ve undertaken.