The curse of authenticity strikes again.
Drawing rabid adulation from the 20,000 strong Japanese ex-pat (immigrant) community in Jakarta, this ramen house is on the tip of everyone's tongues as being the place to go.
I read various blog posts about the Tonkotsu ramen here, and stumbled upon one by Ramengvrl who raved about it's dodgy exteriors but delicious food. Once again I summoned a Go Jek scooter, today was slightly milder so the ride was more pleasant. I'd read that its on the 4th floor of an unassuming office building and has a rather washed out sign outside. The scooter pulled up, I saw the faded sign, asked the guard and he pointed and said "4th floor". I climbed the first set of stairs which honestly looked like you were entering an abandoned building, and found the elevator. Walking out is like entering a mini labyrinth. The place is HUGE but is all dissected into seperate rooms, one brandishing an old Bar, another the "smoking room", and the one I chose was full of windows overlooking the city.
Tonkotsu Ramen, cold coke.
The chefs watched eagerly from the kitchen as I took my first sip. Hmmm... incredibly rich, with a slightly fishy aftertaste. It was decent, but no better or worse than many before it. The troubling thing was the manner in which 0.5cm lumps of white fat were floating on the surface like icebergs ready to sink the titanic. I tried to spoon them to the side and tried the egg. Marinated, cooked well, but far too sweet for my taste. The pork also was slightly disappointing, it wasn't super tender at all and was cut too thick. I added some togarashi hoping to cut the fatty taste a little, but it was pointless. The noodles were perfect ramen noodles. The soup tasted good, but it was literally like eating a stick of butter or duck fat. I only managed 1/3 before I had to throw in the towel or face a re-run of Tatsunoya where we both had to down miniature bottles of Aquavit just to keep the broth down.
I understand completely why this is super popular with Japanese people because in Japan every time we were recommended a place it turned out to be incredibly fatty or "heavy" taste. The only exception was when the 63 year old owner of JBS recommended the old school shoyu place Kiraku, which has forever remained the first stop I will ever go to in Tokyo after I land. Epic depth of flavour but no swimming pool of fat on top. Of course its a different style, but Kiraku, Danbo and plenty others manage to create immense depth of flavour and umami out of their Tonkotsu stock without it being sickly overwhelming.
Sometimes the hunt for perfection takes a sudden turn and spurs you headlong into an out-of-body experience, where life flashes before your eyes, memories of loved ones flood your sight-field, and a deep welling erupts from within at the first sip of broth.
Today was one of those days.
A literal hour spent in heavy traffic, driver blasting Ed Sheeran, finally arrive at the ramen spot and my heart sinks, there is a huge line. I hobble to the front and ask the server if I can just sit at the counter, since there are spaces for solo revellers. They go "Oh yes of course". I rush in, enormously relieved to turn my back on the screaming kids behind me, order the special Tonkotsu adding some bean sprouts..
After what felt like an eternity, the steaming bowl is placed before me and I knew instantly that this would be a winner. I took my first sip. BOOOOM! This is exactly what i'm talking about, rich, umami bomb of flavour, but not swimming in grease or fatback. Ironically enough, the place was rammed to the rafters with Japanese ex-pats too so I guess everyone appreciates a break from the gut-pummelling broths of other places here.
Noodles full of texture, chashu pork that filtered into oblivion at the mere touch, egg cooked to perfection and marinated in the exact way I like it, and the broth.. that deep, unctuous, divine broth that never got sickly or overpowering down to the last drop.
10/10 TAKE A BOW
The last time I was in Jakarta was in 2001 after an insane cockroach-infested 28 hour ferry ride from Singapore. The city was flooded, and we just headed for Jalan Jaksa like every clueless backpacker and left 2 days later on the train to Surabaya. I hadn't given Jakarta a real chance. Well, now was the time.
I headed to Mondo Bar and within 5 minutes a severely inebriated Japanese man came over introducing himself and offering me Sake! I gladly obliged, and sat with him for a few minutes chatting. He had lived in Jakarta for 15 years and immediately asked me if I liked Ramen. Well, yes.
Chicken broth Ramen: Seirock!! OISHI!
I woke up a tad worse for wear, and grabbed a Go Jek motorbike and rode 20 minutes through swarming traffic and the cough of exhausts. He dropped me off right outside the restaurant which boasted a huge NO PORK RAMEN sign outdoors to assure the Muslims. The ground floor was completely packed, and the sweat started appearing at the thought of having to share a table. The waitress came over and motioned for the 2nd floor... Hallelujah! Almost nobody upstairs, so I could find a distant table on which to focus my attention. I had heard good things about their Shio Ramen so I opted for that as an introduction. It came surprisingly fast along with a cold coke to mend the discrepancies of last nights enthusiasm.
This was a good bowl of ramen, in fact, it was a great bowl of ramen. There's only one problem. It was totally authentic, made for the Japanese palate, and not for westerners. This is a good thing, of course, but one thing that stumps me always in Japan is when the soup is too "thick", "heavy", "rich". Its literally like drinking gravy out of a saucepan, something that could be delicious for a couple of mouthfuls and then begins to tire you completely and cause your system to shut down.
I can't fault them for the execution, it's literally just down to what you're used to, or grown up with. Some things you can adapt to over time, for sure, but some things are just a stretch too far (like stinky tofu in Taipei).
Noodle-wise, they were excellent. Chewy and textured. The brown meat of the chicken was superb, really flavoursome. The white meat was rather dry and tough, much like the chicken in the fridge the second day of Christmas. The egg was nicely seasoned but slightly overdone for my taste. The broth was unctuous and rich, but incredibly fatty, so much so that your entire mouth was coated with it long after.
Thank goodness not all Ramen shops follow the "Heavy-Taste" ethos, so the rest of us can escape after our meals without having to lie down and drink gallons of Aquavit to cut through the curdling oils and fatback pieces. Each to their own
The quest to find a decent bowl of ramen in every country on earth.