Rokurinsha - A Bourdain Flavored Meal
I find myself standing in line for ramen at Rokurinsha on a Saturday evening the day after Anthony Bourdain passed. Hung over and contemplating whether babies really have it right with the whole object impermanence thing, my meal ahead seems fitting as an ode to the man it's meant for.
I first discovered Bourdain through his books, as most did. As a cooking obsessed teen with depressive tendencies, Bourdain spoke to me... and convinced me that a chef's life was not in my future. His later writings seemed to settle in a little bit at about the same pace as I did, and I remained a fan of his blunt honesty.
The queue at Rokurinsha was about 30 minutes - faster than expected, especially given the news - but still longer than every other ramen shop lining the underground, mall-lit stretch. Either Bourdain's word travels wide in Tokyo as well, or he picked up on the local popularity with this joint. Before long, I was asked to order at the vending machine and return to line with my ticket menu (this was accomplished with minimal hold up, but still enough to stress out the host). I ordered extra of everything - both because of my carb-craving state and the expectation that I would be wowed.
The ramen that Bourdain and Chang love from Rokurinsha is of the dipping variety, and the noodles set before me are the thick and chewy kind more often associated with udon. The broth is a rich burnt orange, and a cold, seasoned ramen egg (one of my favorite things in the world) is set in a deep spoon on the side.
I happily set to work composing my first bite. After dipping a few strands of noodles in the broth, my mouth is filled with still-chilly, barely flavored wheat. I'm surprised, rethink, and try again; this time adding more noodles to the steaming broth, then stirring, even flipping them a few times for good measure. This solves the obvious problems, but I am still decidedly underwhelmed by the flavor. The neighborhood joint down my block has a more explosive broth. My mind goes back to our trip to Les Halles in New York City, where Jackson was served a tough steak and I some rather chewy mussels. But Bourdain himself admitted he was a much more skilled writer than a chef; I expected his choice of subject to be more masterful.
In a last ditch effort I open the wooden box on the table marked "shichimi pepper" and add a few spoonfuls. I love extra seasoning, but coming from a western culture I have learned it to be offensive when dining at restaurants revered for their quality. This time, with a sprinkling of red flakes coating the noodles, I try once more.
I swear to god, it felt like a completely different dish. Every flavor was deepened, made infinitely more complex, with just a few of these teeny mystery pepper flakes. It no longer felt like slurping broth, it more resembled a hearty umami chili. The pepper brought out not only the strong pork flavor, but also the layers of chicken, fish, and even leeks within the broth. A sigh escapes my lips, and I tuck into my remaining noodles with a grin. The host brings another soup to add to the remaining broth, and with a couple more dashes of that divine pepper, the meal is done. I leave happy, bloated, and in dire need of an accurate translation of "shichimi" at the nearest supermarket. Bourdain, you live on.
Price: 650-1500 yen