Tsukemen (つけ麺) : A Japanese twist in Chinese Cuisine
In ancient times, the geopolitical sphere in East Asia has been manipulated by China. The term “中華思想” or Sinocentrism can be understood through the hierarchical system in international relations and the spread of Chinese culture such as Confucianism and Chinese literature in East and Southeast Asia. Since the Yayoi period (57 AD), Japan adopted the language, architecture, religion, philosophy and culture of China. Chinese food, as a prominent aspect of the culture, expanded to Kyushu, Japan – the southern main-island, and then to other important commercial ports. Yokohama Chinatown (横浜中華街) near the port of Yokohama, is an example of a Chinese community, which has flourished from the Japanese foreign trade treaty in the late Tokugawa period (1859). The restaurants and chefs from the Chinatown introduced many Chinese dishes, mostly of Canton and Shanghai origin, to Japanese customers. Chinese Cuisine, then, became acknowledged and adapted to Japanese tastes.
Ramen (ラーメン), or Japanese noodle soup, is a famous dish which originates from Chinese cuisine. The combination of Chinese wheat noodle, toppings and Japanese style soup, which varies in each province, for example, a miso base in Hokkaido and soy sauce base in Tokyo, indicates Chinese influences on a local level, which have then been adjusted to suit Japanese tastes. The invention of instant noodles by Nissin in 1958 indicated the popularity of ramen in Japan. Ramen, which is labeled as one of the representatives of Japanese food, is now a famous international cuisine.
Tsukemen (つけ麺) was first invented in 1955 by Yamagishi Kazuo, a chef of Taishoken Ramen restaurant. The new style of ramen requires a new way of eating. Instead of putting the noodles and soup together in the same bowl, Yamagishi put the noodles and soup in separate bowls. He first discovered the dish when he ate noodles with left broth and Japanese soy sauce. Yamagishi made a few adjustments and then put it on the menu under the name “Tokusei Morisoba” (特製もりそば). Ever since, it has become the most popular dish on the menu.
The name Tsukemen or dipping noodle comes from the way in which you eat the dish. When eating, you must take a few strands of noodles with your chopsticks and dip it into the condensed broth for a few second. The thin coat of soup on the noodles gives a subtle flavor. This method of eating also allows you to taste the full texture of the noodles. After finishing most of the noodles, you can also asks for soup-wari (スープ割り), which will dilute the broth,making the taste lighter and more subtle so that you can drink it.
Tsukemen is served in two bowls, noodles, boiled and chilled in cold water, and broth, in a smaller volume than regular ramen but with a stronger taste. The toppings are similar to ramen, including toppings such as boiled egg, bamboo shoot (menma = メンマ), leek, seaweed, sliced fishball and sliced pork. Nowadays, Tsukemen has become a standard menu in Ramen restaurants with a variety of broth bases, such as Tonkotsu, Miso and Tomato.
Higashi Ikebukuro Taishoken Honten (東池袋大勝軒本店)
Address: Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Minami-Ikebukuro 2-42-8
Hours: 11.00 – 22.30
Price: 1000 – 3000 Yen
Higashi Ikebukuro Taishoken is the place where the history of Tsukemen starts. Although the restaurant where Yamagishi worked has been pulled down due to the landscape development, the newly built restaurant still keeps the original taste of the Shoyu-based Tsukemen broth. Customers can also enjoy the interior, which is decorated in the traditional style of the Showa period.
Address: 〒171-0022 Tokyo Toshima-ku Minami-Ikebukuro１−１７−１
Hours: 10.30 – 04.00 (next day)
Price: 800 – 2000 Yen
Long waiting lines in front of the Mutekiya ramen restaurant is a very familiar sight in Ikebukuro. During lunch and dinnertime, you may have to wait around 30 minutes to an hour to taste the perfect tonkotsu and fish base broth for ramen and tsukemen.
[map addr=”Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Minami-Ikebukuro 2-42-8″]