Usually, ramen is a particularly plebian pleasure. You can find tasty varieties of cup ramen in convenience stores for just a few hundred yen, and even in sit-down restaurants, the most expensive types of ramen usually top out at about 1,000 yen.
So our Japanese-language reporter Mr Sato, coming off recent meals involving premium-priced (but delicious) versions of the ordinarily budget-friendly options of a bento boxed lunch and beef bowl, figured grabbing a bowl of ramen should make for a cheap lunch.
Wandering down a narrow alley in Tokyo, he emerged in front of Maishi, a ramen restaurant which just opened in April. As Mr Sato approached the restaurant, with its exterior paint still bright, he glanced down at the menu board and was immediately reminded that he was in the Ginza neighborhood, one of the capital’s fanciest districts.
Instead of topping out at 1,000 yen, Maishi’s ramen starts at the four-digit price point. 1,000 yen gets you their standard sea bream broth ramen, which is served with a slice of roast chashu-style chicken. Stepping up to 1,300 yen gets you access to the sakura ebi shrimp topping, 1400 yen scallops, and 1,500 yen oysters.
What really got his attention, though, was what awaited at the eye-popping price of 2,500 yen: the Uni Sanshumori Tai Ramen, or Sea Bream Broth Ramen with Three Kinds of Sea Urchin.
“2,500 yen for ramen?!?” Mr Sato thought incredulously as he turned around and walked away…at least, that’s what he thought he’d done. It’s what his brain had told his feet to do, anyway. And yet, mysteriously, he found himself somehow seated inside Maishi, clumsily saying “I’d like the sea urchin one, please.”
“Has the summer heat roasted my brain?” Mr. Sato thought, reflecting on his apparent lack of ability not only to resist his urges, but to even be conscious of them. Still, maybe this wouldn’t turn out so bad. Sea urchin, or uni as it’s called in Japanese, is a prized delicacy in the Japanese seafood world, and Maishi is the sister restaurant of Itadori, a respected sushi restaurant in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi neighborhood.
In addition to requiring more financial resources than a typical bowl of ramen, the Uni Sanshumori Tai Ramen also requires a bit more patience. After 10 minutes, though, Mr Sato’s order was placed before him on the counter.
It was nothing less than a work of elegant art. Sitting in the middle of the bowl, as though enshrined there, was a generous serving of sea urchin, floating in the amber broth and encircled by a swirl of specially made uni sauce.
There was also a side dish with his chicken chashu and some menma bamboo shoots, but he hardly noticed it, being completely captivated by the enticing morsels of sea urchin, which were so beautiful that it was hard to imagine they started out as intimidatingly spiny sea creatures.
It’s standard ramen-tasting procedure to start with the broth, so Mr Sato filled a spoonful. After pausing briefly to admire its uniquely enchanting hue, he took a taste, and was thrilled by the powerful yet delicious flavor of sea bream.
But that elation quickly gave way to trepidation. With the broth being so flavorful, would he still be able to taste the sea urchin? Careful not to crush any of the uni, he scooped some up and brought the spoon to his lips...only to find that his fears had been entirely unnecessary. The sea urchin was in no way overpowered by the sea bream, with its rich sweetness spreading through his mouth like a cumulus cloud, making the final sensation of every bite one of unmistakable uni.
And so, once again, Mr Sato ended up paying more than he’d expected for what’s usually one of Japan’s humble comfort foods, but while Maishi’s ramen is expensive, it’s so good that it’s by no means overpriced.
Maishi / 麺屋ま石
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-4-1, Ginza A Building 1st floor
Open 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (weekdays), 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (weekends, holidays)
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