A busy schedule and a bout of whininess (“it’s hot”…”it’s so far”…”my stomach feels funny”) almost stopped me from going to the Mitsuwa Kyushu & Okinawa Fair this weekend. But a combination of reading some positive reviews from bb’s (“blogger buddies”) Go Ramen, Waseda-ramen, and Exile Kiss this morning and a craving for mackerel sushi and custard cream puffs put me over the edge. Who kind of nut forces his wife to go with him on a 50-min drive (one way) for ramen? Ahem…(thanks for indulging me, sweetie!)
Before we left on our adventure this morning, I spent some time reading up on Tatsunoya (the Dragon’s House) ramen. Tatsunoya is one of those “renowned” ramenyas that hail from Kurume, epicenter of Kyushu ramen. Chef Tajiwara Ryuuta uses only pork bone (from the pig’s head!) and water for his tonkotsu soup, and lovingly boils it for 20 hours, creating and “splendidly rich and mild taste.” Hmm…rich and mild. The noodles are homemade using an especially fine flour. And the chashu is supposedly cut from a perfect balance of lean and fatty meat, and simmered for 5 hours. This was going to be a loooong drive!
The line was surprisingly short when we got there, and I had my ramen a few quick minutes later. The ramen comes with an abbreviated version of the toppings they serve in Japan: a piece of nori, green onions, moyashi, and 2 pieces of succulent-looking chashu. There were no kikurage, beni sh?ga, or sesame seeds. But there was a small spread of their homemade spicy miso paste.
The soup was fantastic! It’s amazing what Tajiwara-san can do with pork bone and water! The soup is rich enough that you can even see small clumps of pork fat floating on top, yet not overwhelmingly “porky.” I finally get what the Mitsuwa ads mean by “rich and mild.” And when you mix in the miso paste, it releases a touch of nuttiness into the mix. The miso really isn’t spicy at all, but it added just a hint of chili pepper to the flavor.
The homemade noodles were nice and firm, as they should be, and served their purpose as something for the broth to cling to, but hakata ramen noodles have never excited me as much as the curly, thicker noodles found in shoyu ramen. The chashu was both good and disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I found the lean and fatty parts of the chashu to be too distinct. With really good chashu, the whole piece just blends together like a perfectly harmonized duo. The lean parts of the Tatsunoya chashu was too distractingly dry, and a piece of it was too jerky-like in texture, while the fatty side was good for the most part, but not spectacular. These are nit-picky criticisms, though, and the chashu is definitely above-average compared to the chashu at most of the ramenyas around here.
Skip this paragraph if you don’t care about anything not ramen-related…I must have a star-crossed relationship with the Kazuya Mackerel sushi. This is the 3rd Mitsuwa fair I’ve gone to that advertised this gorgeous-looking sushi. At the first fair, I was just too stuffed to try it. Ok, strike 1 was my fault. At the last fair, I found a hand-written sign saying that the sushi had problems clearing customs and wasn’t available. Strike two. Today, the sushi was sold out. Sigh. But at least I was able to try the Pie Fresh Custard Pudding on Choux from Kikuya before they sold out. That was good, but a bit too light-flavored for my taste. I’m still a Beard Papa loyalist, I guess. And we wanted to try Iron Chef Sakai’s roll cakes, but again…all sold out! So, dear readers…has anyone managed to try either the Mackerel sushi or the Sakai roll cakes? Were they good? Am I missing out?
Tatsunoya’s tonkotsu ramen was great, and worth the almost-hour drive. I don’t want to sound like a Mitsuwa food fair shill, but if you missed out this weekend…well, you missed out, but Jersey residents get their taste of Tatsunoya next week. Tatsunoya gets an 8 out of 10.
(inside Mitsuwa Supermarket)
21515 Western Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501