One of the things I’m beginning to like about tsuke-men (dipping noodles) is that it provides you a bit more opportunity to get up close and personal with ramen noodles. Most of the time those noodles are buried in the soup under a pile of toppings and you need to trawl with your chopsticks to pull them out of their murky lair. But, with tsuke-men, they are served to you separately in a bowl next to the soup- stark, simple, usually unadorned, and coiled in a pile. At “Chuka-ka Soba Suzuran” they’ve got some very hearty looking, quite thick-guaged tsuke-men noodles that look just fine and tasty and certainly no different from other good noodles I’ve had recently (“Rokurinsha” in Osaki comes to mind). But what intrigued me about this shop, about 5 minutes walk from Shibuya Station, was that they were offering a wide and flat noodle for an extra 100 Yen. Somewhere between a fettuccine and a chow fun, I’m sure there’s a word on some continent for this particular gauge. Suzuran prides itself on these noodles and they are delivered to the shop daily and offered for a premium over the standard- a sure sign of pride in the economically competitive ramen market.
Another item they take an obvious pride in was their Kagoshima style pork belly (buta kakuni), which is stewed for a very long, stomach growling day. I’m just not sure I can get enough of this dish and over the last few years, it’s moved from a line item on menus all over Japan (particularly in it’s regions of origin down south), to a bona fide legitimate ramen topping. It’s difficult to argue against it, as it breaks up nicely in the soup. It’s often served to you on a separate plate, but in a obvious deliberate attempt to either save dishes to wash (highly unlikely) or a manner in which to show off the glory of your order, the cooks at Suzuran majestically serve your tsuke-men with the pork on top of the noodles, looking conspicuously Franco-Italian, rather than Sino-Japanese. There's no red wine in the recipe though- the pork is stewed in, among other things, awamori (Okinawan shochu).
Suzuran is no slouch with the soup. It's a standard blend of fish-pork-chicken base, the popular poison these days in Japan, with the difference being which of those elements the shop wants their broth to lean towards flavor wise. Since I orderd miso, I wasn’t able to distinguish the intricacies of the broth. (I had never heard of miso tsuke-men before and had to try.) With a tinge of sadness for ruining the beautiful looking side dish, I grabbed a healthy few ribbons of noodles and began dipping.
The whole combined savory, spicy, tangy soup was an excellent pairing with the wide surface area of the noodles. All the key culinary organs are fancied here: lips tingle as noodles come slurping up and are snapped in pleasant, toothy hold, the rich tasting miso laps across the palate, the broth slides smooth down the throat, settles in a warm, hardy manner in the gut,. And then there’s the pork, in all its rich, fatty, sinful, Kagoshima goodness. Although there’s already a medley of chopped vegetables and even bits of chashu pork floating in there, it would take only this most zennish culinary stoic to disregard a that pork belly, which is so supersaturated with its on marinade, you could hardly taste miso when you bit into it.
Suzuran is another hot ramen shop, run by a fairly young guy. He methodically assembles the meals with a small team and like a lot of the great shops around, you’re not going to be charmed by the service. But you will be by the food. And actually, Suzuran’s menu of different ramen is quite extensive. While I might try other soups, I wouldn’t miss those noodles or the Kagoshima pork.