小浜ラーメン 若狭亭 obama ramen wakasa-tei: yep, they did!
American voters elected a president last month, and six billion people exhaled a collective sigh of relief. The world doesn’t party together very often, but when it does, it does so in some wacky and wonderful ways. Yes, a small beach town on the Sea of Japan could and in fact did manage to produce a sleeper YouTube hit, and though I doubt we’ll be seeing this bunch on a Macy’s parade float anytime soon, you’ve got to hand it to the residents of Obama, Japan for exhibiting an inordinate amount of enthusiasm over simply sharing a name with the guy who’s effectively been chosen to save the world.
You also can’t fault the ObamansTM (there, I’ve claimed it) for milking an opportunity to put their little hamlet on the map, as evidenced by the recent opening of Obama Ramen Wakasa-tei (with a heavy emphasis on the presidential nomenclature, as it’s all over the signage) in the low-key Tokyo suburb of Minami-Asagaya. And so, thanks to a tip from a very trustworthy source, I set about halfway across Tokyo on a dour, wintry evening last week in search of this fortuitously timely ramen shop as any dutiful noodler with a website should.
First off, there is no distinct “Obama-style” ramen in the Hakata tonkotsu or Sapporo miso sense of the word. Obama means “little beach”, and the town, located on Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture, is primarily known for its seafood and soba buckwheat noodles, the provincial staple. Wakasa-tei serves “Obama ramen” simply because the two dudes who run the shop, Uyeda and Ooki, packed up all their stuff several months ago and schlepped five hours to Tokyo to catch the zeitgeist of arguably the most important election cycle in American history since the Great Depression.
Second, these two chefs haven’t even had much of a chance to explore their sudden metropolis, as they’re holed up in the kitchen six days out of the week. The place has a few branches in Fukui proper, but in Tokyo, Wakasa-tei has yet to find its clientele; there was nary a customer in sight when I sat down at seven p.m. on a Friday evening.
That should change soon enough however, as Wakasa-tei’s signature bowl of Obama ramen is both simple and quite fantastic - featuring a shoyu, chicken and pork bone soup with a deliciously sweet gyoukai seafood undercurrent helped along by the presence of Fukui-area fish and shellfish in the dashi. Diced raw onions round out the proceedings and add another layer of savoriness to an already fine liquid, and the workmanlike noodles verge on chijiremen, with both a good curl and chew. The chashu is soft and tender, and the green onion and bamboo shoot are both fresh and fine. Only the naruto fish cake feels a bit obligatory - an old-school concession to Tokyo-reared palates - but it hardly detracts from an otherwise stellar bowl of no-nonsense, archetypal wafu shoyu ramen. If “Obama ramen” has yet to become a household term, Wakasa-tei is surely off to a good start.
Midway through the usual round of fumbled English and elementary Japanese, I somehow managed to convey that had I groped my way into the Tokyo suburbs for the sole purpose of trying a bowl of “Obama ramen.” Uyeda-san then asked me if I would like to have the township’s campaign flag, the one featured in the YouTube video with a goofy drawing of Barack and the phrases “I <3 Obama” and “Obama for Obama” neatly stamped all around, the very flag that was flying out front. “Sure, I can have them send me another one by tomorrow,” he said, and then hopped outside. Fukui delegation represent! Looks like I’ve got something to wave come inauguration day.
|a delectable, ultimately traditional gyoukai shoyu soup with diced onions and loads of sweet seafood flavor courtesy of the sea of japan. obama ramen is a bounty of flavors from the "little beach."||9|
|solid, workmanlike yellow noodles with a hint of curl and chew. it's amazing how many places get noodles wrong. obama gets it right. here's hoping the american president will too.||7.5|
|thin-shaved green onions, fresh bamboo, and a tender if standard slice of chashu make obama ramen a no-nonsense winner. kind of like the candidate himself, but with added toppings.||8.5|
|unfortunately, i didn't try the authentic yakisaba grilled mackerel sushi from fukui prefecture. i'm not a big fan of mackerel or battera-style sushi, so someone else report back on this one!||NA|
|wakasa-tei is spartan and no-frills like barack's campaign offices. the vibe comes from the friendly staff, just like the "change" is going to come top down from our daitoryo-elect. the place could use a few more customers though.||2|
|obama ramen wakasa-tei is an endeavor in perserverance and seizing the moment. hmm, come to think of it, that sounds just like... ah heck, you can probably guess what i would have said next.||8|
hours: 11:30a - 10p (closed thursdays)