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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Couple of Cold Ones at Kirimachi: Hiyashi Chuka Ramen and Tsukemen

Hiyashi Chuka Ramen at Kiramachi (I call this shot my Busby Berkeley view)
With the temperature approaching the 90s on Tuesday, I figured it was an opportune time to try out the cold noodles my local ramen-ya, Kirimachi Ramen, was featuring. It turned out that they had not one, but two cold noodle offerings, Hiyashi Chuka ("cold Chinese [noodles]") and Tsukemen (dry noodles with a dipping sauce).  Since the tsukemen isn't really eaten cold (because the noodles are dipped in a hot broth) I decided to go with the Hiyashi Chuka and try the Tsukemen the following day when odds were that it wouldn't be quite so hot.

Hiyashi Chuka consists of a selection of chilled strips of seasonal vegetable and animal material arranged on  a bed of ramen noodles that have been bathed in a sweet-sour tare. It is served with a dab of very spicy mustard which can be stirred in to add a little heat if you desire (and I did). In essence, it is a cold noodle salad, and as such is very satisfying on a very hot day. The temperature in San Francisco hit 94° that day, hottest of the year, and the cool medley of textures and flavors was indeed extremely refreshing.

Tsukemen with dipping sauce at Kirimachi Ramen
The Tsukemen, which I returned to try a day later, on the other hand, was visually as plain as the Hiyashi Chuka was colorful. A shallow plate of dry (i.e. drained) noodles comes topped with bamboo and green onion, accompanied by a bowl of broth to dip the plain noodles in. The artistry is reserved for the complex broth, which at Kirimachi is pork-based. The naked noodles also give one the opportunity to taste the alkaline noodles for what they are, before dipping them into the broth provided.

To a Tsukemen novice like me, the dish is considerably less appealing than the Hiyashi Chuka ramen at Kirimachi.  However, Tsukemen is reportedly the hottest noodle fad in Japan. Leo and Febry, proprietors of Kirimachi Ramen, will be traveling to Tokyo after the conclusion of the Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center season, and one of their priorities will be to investigate the state of the art in Tsukemen crafting.  I'm looking forward to their help in developing my palate after they return.

Where slurped: Kirimachi Ramen, 450 Broadway, San Francisco

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