Having been urged to find this local temple of thukpa by the bartender at The Cafe With No Name, we decided to put our feeble disposition to one side, and head out into the swarming streets of Kathmandu, tempting fate at every crossing, witnessing the barrage of scooters and cars trying to navigate the tiny alleyways. Finally, the streets opened at a small square and up above, offering respite and recluse was Norling. Finding tables of agreeable seclusion, food was ordered, beers were opened and anticipations ran wild.
This was as close to good as we found in Kathmandu, and we tried quite a few spots. The broth was hearty and warming, and everything but the actual chicken was tasty.
The meat was fried and dry, but leaving that aside this was Kathmandu's best bowl of Thukpa.
It's often a foolish pursuit to try Japanese dishes in strange places, Kathmandu, for example. However, due to the large amount of travellers, and ex-pats, sometimes there are people who know what they are doing and make a decent living from keeping their regulars happy.
This place is not one of those.
Upon walking in you almost think you're in Shibuya at a small late-night ramen joint. There were basically only Japanese and Chinese tourists eating there while we hunted for a table away from preying eyes.
The meal came, and just by looking at it you could tell this wasn't a winner. Surprisingly enough, the broth was semi-decent with some hits of ginger that crept in through international experiments. The noodles were extremely boring and overcooked and the pork was tough and chewy. They threw in some greens for good measure and didn't know what a marinated egg was so I let that slide.
Fun to try new things, not always fun to pay for disappointing meals but it goes with the territory.
First things first. Wake up after a short and uneventful flight from Bangkok, head out into the blistering heat, walk 3 blocks and stand in line to eat what is reputed to be Chiang Mai's best Khao Soi. The line took about 10 minutes to dissipate, but the food took at least 30 minutes to come. Hungry revellers sitting anxiously twiddling thumbs around the table in expectation anxiety.
Our group were all slightly worse for wear and therefore needed the healing broth even more. It finally arrived, 4 steaming bowls of Khao Soi with the cripsy noodles layered atop. I dove in. Fuck me. This was already the best bowl I had eaten in my life. The next 15 minutes passed in slurping heaven, perfect noodles, moist chicken, crunchy noodles, mustard greens, red onion and specks of life-giving coriander all came together in a majestic symphony of flavours.
4 bowls left behind, scraped to the bone for the soup. Absolutely stunning, nothing can beat this? Surely?
The stifling heat of Kerala was left behind by the night trains gentle rocking. Morning came, after a night full of disturbances from screaming kids and the snoring geriatric 30 centimetres from my bunk. Three buses, a rickshaw and a short stroll later I checked into my new abode on Agonda Beach.
First step: google Tibetan restaurants for Thukpa.
Found one 20 meters away down the road and decided to wait until the next day to try it out for breakfast. Woke, showered, headed down, owner was a smiling Tibetan man who asked "You like spicy or non spicy?". I answered "spicy" of course, not knowing what I had gotten myself in to. Usually thukpa is not hot, so a spicy thukpa sounded like a relatively painless bowl of goodness.
The meal came, I dove in. The broth was a little "cornflour-thick" but had some decent flavour and then the kick came. Blew my head off. I ate through the noodles and vegetables, choking on hidden chilis strewn all throughout the bowl like mines waiting to explode. I managed to eat 4/5ths of it before having to throw in the towel. My eyes were tearing up, my nose running, my throat and tongue numb and my stomach tense at the expectation of what was coming it's way.
Apart from the intense shock of heat, the soup was a decent offering. Had better, had worse. Perhaps it was just what the doctor ordered to kill this lingering cold....
So it's Loi Krathong, I barely realised. I woke up after days of speckling the porcelain after eating a streetfood Khao Soi that was definitely not worth the pain and agony. I feebly walked the 6 blocks to this ramen spot that featured highly on all the lists and lips. The place looked suspicious, however, presumptions aside I walked in, found a cool corner (insatiable heat), ordered the shoyu with bean sprouts and anxiously watched the chefs prepare.
The food came after a delay since 5 hungry Japanese revellers ordered just before me, however, the bowl was placed and I basked in its possibilities for a second, before raising my spoon and diving in.
To be fair the broth was acceptable... in that "could have been more flavour" way, but acceptable. The noodles were cooked well, sustaining some personality in their mesh of spiderweb constellations. Pork, rather tasty but rather chewy. FAAAAR too many bean sprouts in proportion to the rest, egg decent. The thing that brought it down a notch from a solid score, was the broth just lacked that little umami-kick that elevates everything. Be it more tare, MSG or tender loving care, I don't give a fuck... just give me the flavour and i'll be happy.
An altogether forgiveable effort, but there are far better ramen shops in this small town for those who are dependant on a bowl now and then.
Airport food is usually a ramshackle event. A conscious choice to get a cheeky McDs or BK, or a microwaved burger sold in a "Irish Pub" called Flanagans or Molly's. Either way, its a tie-over until the grave disappointment of in-flight food comes rolling your way.
At Don Muang Airport, they opened a branch of Ippudo in Terminal 2. Not my favourite place to eat ramen, generally, but a far better option than the golden arches at midday with a slight groggy feeling resonating deep inside.
It looks like this place hasn't been here long since the staff were in complete disarray, beside the fact that there were only 3 customers and 9 staff members. I ordered, the food came, they had "run out" of eggs already at lunch-time. Not a great sign.
What followed was a fairly ok attempt, for being an airport. The broth was so-so, the noodles were boring, the pork was sufficiently tender and they added beansprouts which I loved. Nothing to write home about, but better than popping next door to the countless fast food options.
I'm not going to go through the usual rant about always wanting to try Ramen wherever I am. I spent an obscene amount of time at the immigration office getting my papers in order after my journey through Transnistria. Popped into a pub for a few beers to calm down afterwards and then ploughed through the rain to Kotobuki to try their ramen which came highly recommended.
The broth was pretty fair. The noodles were crap instant noodle pack ones so that was a let down. The egg was overcooked and not marinated, BUT the pork was some of the most tender pork I have eaten. Really superb. That bumped the ratings up by a full point due to its perfect melting deliciousness.
Never discount the fact that ex-pats live all over the world and some of them are passionate about food, so it's always worth trying out.
The best Khao Soi I ever had was in a now demolished hotel in Chiang Mai back in 2003. Memories of that bowl always flood back to me whenever I take a chance on a new spot, and invariably I am left comparing what was to what could be. Coincidentally, last night I was chatting with 2 chefs in a bar and both of them highly recommended Hom Duan saying they eat there twice a week religiously. I grabbed a cab, headed to Ekkamai, found the spot, noticed only 1 foreigner in there and a packed restaurant full of locals slurping down big bowls of hot soup. Ordered at the counter, within 3 minutes my Khao Soi arrived with the regular mustard greens, lime slice and shallots on a small side-plate.
I dug in.
The broth became more and more complex the further down you got, a characteristic I prefer since you don't get tired of it as easily as super rich flavours. I read a few online reviews and one mentioned that the cumin content here was a tad higher than normal places. I can't say I would have noticed that without the words ringing in my brain, but I did think it was a touch too much. However, this hardly took anything away from what was a great bowl of Khao Soi, and priced at 90 baht with a coke you could hardly complain.
I'll be back here if i'm in the Ekkamai area again.
With jet-lag still punishingly strangling the life out of me, I awoke at 01.00 am, fell back asleep at 7am, got up at 1pm and decided I deserved a good bowl of Ramen.
Ikkousha was a short cab ride from my hotel, and had very favourable reviews online. The fact that the broth looked good in photos also helped, as that can very often be a litmus test in such cases.
The service was quite slow, but friendly. The prices were reasonable. Ramen arrived with a glass of soda water, and I dove in (taking photos beforehand of course). The broth was solid, slightly more fatty that Kio but not as rich as Bankara, the egg was cooked well but not marinated so it was a little boring, the noodles were regular ramen noodles and cooked well, the pork flavourful but lacking a bit in the tenderness department. All things considered a very decent bowl, but not pushing for the top 3 spot yet in Bangkok.
Knowing my propensity for pleasure found at the bottom of a bowl of noodles, it didn't take long to find another one. I landed late last night in Kochi after an uneventful flight from Malaysia. Managed to find the guesthouse and hit the hay around 3am. Woken numerous times by screaming kids, then by adults screaming at the screaming kids, I gave up sleep around midday and started searching for lunch.
Just down the lane was a highly rated Tibetan place which was perfect for a brunch-type deal. It was located after the turn in a very narrow alleyway, and another Indian restaurant had sprung a genius plan of sabotaging the Tibetan place by having a huge banner saying MOMOS on their wall so that the unsuspecting tourist would think this was the spot. In fact the real place was out of view around the corner. I almost got duped but had seen photos of the interior online so I knew something was fishy.
I sat upstairs, away from the German tour groups peering eyes. Chicken Thukpa, Lime Soda plain no sugar no salt.
The broth was rich and delicious, the noodles were the packet-type affair, the chicken was tender and the vegetables added a nice crunch. Delicious start to my 2 months in India.
Seriously? Third day in a row?
Yes. I have just spent 5 months in Norway where I have not been able to find a decent bowl of ramen, so coming to the land of Thai food it sound incredulous to spend my first few days gorging on ramen, but I am an addict.... and I am not ashamed to say it. Besides, I already had a couple of great Thai meals and will be here another month so there is plenty of time.
Now onto the ramen. Uma Uma, never been before, took a cab, ordered, waited patiently in the hopes that this could be the next best thing... it ALMOST was.
Noodles were of the ultra-thin type which is not my personal fave, but still had some bite to them. The broth was deep, rich, not too fatty, perfectly balanced, the Chashu was up there with some of the best ever: MELT-ON-YOUR-TONGUE tender, full of flavour, absolutely incredible. Egg was cooked a few seconds the wrong side of perfect, but made up for it in leaps and bounds with the marinade, a deep smokey soy flavour. I also love when anyone puts bean sprouts on as garnish, adding that crunchy element. All in all this doesn't topple Bankara or Kio but sits strongly in third place. A crowning achievement and proof that you should always try new places.
The holy grail for Shoyu Ramen in Bangkok has surely been found? Upon publishing my review of Uma Uma, one of the managers kindly wrote to thank me for my review, but also suggested if I wanted a great Shoyu Ramen, to head to his personal favourite. Since it was just around the corner from Studio Lam, and a 15 minute walk from my hotel, I simply had to try it today for lunch.
The spot is a small, cosy ramen shop with counter space up front and seating in the back for families and bigger groups. I hid on the corner part and ordered their speciality Shoyu with extra pork. The menu described it as the stock being a mix of vegetables, chicken and pork bones, and bonito (which can polarise some people due to its "fishy taste") so I already had in mind what it would taste like. However, this was flavour +
Dark, umami-packed broth, absolutely sensational pork (some of the best I've ever eaten), and a well cooked egg along with the slight difference of Soba Noodles instead of "regular" ramen noodles. The soba were cooked to perfection, the chew was excellent and the overall texture was spot on.
I was dying to find a good Shoyu place in town since its not every day you feel like eating a calorie-laden bowl of Tonkotsu, so I am forever grateful to the Uma Uma person for tipping me off about this. In the years to come this will feature heavily on my Bangkok agenda.
Ichiran and Ippudo are simultaneously average, but sometimes offer a glimpse of real ramen flavour if you visit late at night or have gone months without. This time around I hadn't had a ramen in almost 6 months, and was at the airport with 3 hours to kill. Burger King, McDonalds or Ippudo. I went for the latter.
Having tasted their Tonkotsu broths before and never been largely impressed, I opted for the special Shoyu Bowl and found a quiet place away from people at the back. The bowl came, I kinda knew straight away this was going to be average. First sip the soup, SALT BOMB! I know it's Shoyu but holy hell this was literally just soy sauce. The pork was chewy, the egg was alright, the noodles were standard and the menma ok.
A disappointing bowl, but you know it as soon as you enter. Its the lesser of a few evils.
The quest to find a decent bowl of ramen in every country on earth.