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.
The quest to find a decent bowl of ramen in every country on earth.