Change comes in subtle increments in the ramen world, rarely in sudden leaps. That is why it was exciting to stagger – literally, we'd been drinking at the nearby Awajicho Craft Beer Market – into Gonokami Suisan (as profiled in my Japan Times column) earlier this year, not too long after it opened.
Located in the back streets to the north of Kanda station, this is the third Tokyo branch of the innovative Gonokami group. So we knew to expect some interesting new noodle ideas. But even so, we were profoundly impressed by some of the bowls we were served there…
These days you won't have to wait long to get in. But last December, after it opened, lines formed around the block to sample the trademark seafood ramen. Unlike the light, clear Kyushu-style agodashi broths, the soups at Gonokami suisan are thick and comforting, in the manner of a Southern French bisque.
The basic bowl is gindara (sablefish) ramen — the one above. The noodles, all made in-house, are served in a rich broth, topped with chunks of the fried fish. Chashu pork and ajitama eggs are optional extras. There is also a tsukemen version…
Sometimes, Gonokami Suisan also offers a thin, flat pappardelle-style noodle. That’s the one that goes best with the store’s major innovation — the uni-kake (sea urchin) ramen.
This uni ramen is the one that has generated the biggest buzz. It looks simple, topped with just nori seaweed and chopped negi, but the infusion of sea urchin – about one urchin per bowl, they say – gives it a powerful, addictive richness.
Recently, a miso ramen with salmon was added to the lineup, so it pays to keep an eye on the shop’s Facebook page. That’s how you get to know about their limited-edition noodles, such as the eye-popping ebi (shrimp) tsukemen, featuring a mandala of sashimi-grade ama-ebi shrimps on top.
Ramen is too often a pursuit for otaku, but Gonokami attracts a varied clientele. For that we can thank the easygoing staff, who may look like out-and-out hipsters but are welcoming, friendly and fiercely proud of the noodles they serve.
Unlike the other branches, Gonokami Suisan also takes it to the next level with the ticket machine. All the options are penned in using an ink brush in traditional Japanese style. Which makes it hard to read, but definitely gives an extra cachet to the operation.
And if you can't figure it out, just ask: they're all very eager to help!
PS: Gonokami means "Five Gods", and it refers to the name of the shrine (Gonokami Jinja) in Hamura, where the very first branch of this group was set up.