tanaka shoten: nagahama to saitama
There was a time, not long ago, when Tanaka Shoten was considered the go-to spot for Hakata ramen in Tokyo. That notion may still prevail, although a bevy of similarly-styled operations have taken up residence in Japan’s capital in recent years. Nevertheless, a trek to Rokucho remains well worth it if simply for the singular pleasure of slurping down what many still regard as Tokyo’s best Nagahama-style pork bone soup.
Set in the suburbs of Adachi-ku on the northeastern outskirts of Tokyo, Tanaka Shoten is practically in Saitama. Unlike most of its Hakata ramen peers, the restaurant is neither a franchise operation nor a part of a chain hailing from Kyushu. Rather, it’s an independently-owned shop that has managed to build quite a following in its ten years in operation.
I first visited Tanaka Shoten in 2005, and admittedly, at the time, I was a little underwhelmed. Though I could understand the restaurant’s popularity, the soup had seemed a touch tame when compared to the porky funk of the actual Hakata Nagahama ramen I’d long been slurping in Fukuoka. All the trappings were correct; there was crushed garlic on the table, a sesame grinder, shoga red ginger, and yes, even spicy pickled takana greens, but it was as though the recipes had been adjusted for mainstream Tokyo diners, weaned on lighter shoyu bowls - everything was a little blander than it could be, the noodles were a little stiffer, the soup not quite as deep.
Fast forward to the present, when, on a recent visit, my old misgivings all but vanished in the steam of heady pork goodness. Tanaka Shoten had finally found its groove; whether the recipe had changed, the chef had settled in, or I had simply gone on an off-day prior, what Tanaka Shoten is serving up now is decidedly the real deal.
I won’t say it’s perfect, but as far as Nagahama-style tonkotsu ramen goes, Tanaka Shoten is definitely firing on all cylinders. The soup is unctuous and rich and the thin, al dente noodles have a nice bite. You can order them to varying degrees of doneness, including harigane, a step firmer than the popular barikata or katamen. The chashu is fatty and tender, the negi are fresh and vibrant, and it’s all topped off with a sheet of the restaurant’s trademark nori, which has “thank you” stamped on it in a multitude of languages. Not surprisingly, quite a number of Hakata-style ramen shops in Tokyo now utilize little gimmick. Funny, I’ve yet to see any actual joints in Fukuoka do the same thing.
Prior to trying Tanaka Shoten, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to find proper tonkotsu ramen (and by proper I do mean Hakata/Nagahama-style) in Tokyo. This city has everything in spades, and endless permutations at that, and yet something in me still craves that distinctly funky comfort of Fukuoka’s best ramen, as if it was missing from the nation’s capital. These days, knowing there are a few good bowls about town, here and at Yamagoya for instance, I don’t quite have to hop on that bullet train, every time I’m in the country.
|tanaka shoten dishes up a nice, rich tonkotsu soup in the proper nagahama tradition. punchy and full of flavor, it's the next best thing to a ticket down south.||9.5|
|proper texture is key to the thin, white noodles of hakata-style ramen. the choice is up to you at tanaka shoten; i do like a little bit of softness, and opt for the futsu or normal; harigane> is for serious slurpers only.||9|
|nice and fatty chashu, crisp, crunchy wood-ear mushroom, and fresh negi are de rigeur. throw in some properly spicy karashi takana and crushed aomori garlic for the full monty and the gastro-aftershocks.||9|
|the spicy cod roe rice bowl is just one more comforting touch, especially for those homesick for hakata.||7|
|clean, well-lit, and buzzing on a quite surburban street, tanaka shoten is definitely the place to go for a shot of festive pork funk.||7|
|at first i was skeptical, but these days i'm inclined to think that tanaka shoten is rightly regarded as (one of) the best hakata ramen shops in tokyo.||8|