Ginza is a place where people who have more money than me spend it on useless trinkets that they think will make them look more special than they really are. Behind its main streets and fashionable facades, however, Ginza is also home to a rather large selection of delicious, real and satisfying food.
Ginza Ishii is one such spot. Conveniently located just one minute from exits 10 and 11 of the massive underground Ginza station complex, Ishii still feels like it’s far enough away from the buzzing shop fronts that it doesn’t feel like it’s in Ginza for the sake of being in Ginza.
It’s a tiny establishment with a ticket vending box on the outside and a single counter to service customers, which means that at peak times there is usually a queue to get in. Like the shop itself, the menu is simple: It’s all about "tsukemen" (dipping ramen), though they do have regular ramen on the menu. Each choice is essentially a topping variation of the same base, so whether you get the cheapest or the most expensive option, the masterfully crafted broth remains the same.
It’s stock is made from a balanced mix of chicken, pork bones and seafood, but an overly fishy doesn’t really make itself apparent on the tongue. The result is a creamy concoction with presence that is not too rich and overpowering, which is quite a rare achievement for meaty-styled "tsukemen." Pieces of "chashu" (roast pork), "negi" (leek) and "menma" (fermented bamboo shoots) swim around in the broth to add texture without imparting a whole lot of flavor, despite the relative subtlety of the broth.
Together in perfect harmony, the ivory to the broth’s ebony are the noodles. They’re thick and firm with a delicious bounce to them. Made with more egg than most noodles, they have a distinct taste (and visibly yellow color) that matches the soup well and and even manage to massage a few extra taste buds. The noodles are served with "nori" (seaweed) and "sudachi" (Japanese lime) but the citrus is not to be squeezed over the noodles immediately — eat the first third plain, with no augmentation.
With two thirds left in the bowl, squeeze the "sudachi" and mix into the noodles. The sharp, citrus tang — though a simple addition — transforms the meal completely and adds a new, vertical tang without changing any of its well-rounded characteristics.
When down to just a third of the noodles, add "kuro shichimi" (black sevenspice powder) to the remainder and mix it in. Ishii uses a blend of "shichimi" from Kyoto that has been made since the 1700s and its classic taste adds more fragrance than flavor, engaging the entire olfactory system helping to process the meal.
With the noodles done, pass the remainder of the bowl back to the kitchen and say “Supu wari, kudasai,” or “More soup, please.” They will add some ramen broth to loosen up the dipping sauce slightly and make it drinkable. Because they use broth straight out of the pot (as opposed to a pre-prepared soup stock specifically for the "tsukemen"), it makes for a creamy last few sips.
I got the "chuka seiro" (¥980), which is their standard "tsukemen" with with an "ajitsuke tamago" (marinated soft boiled egg) in it. Its price is a ¥100 premium over their base stock, but it’s consistent with most higher-end ramen establishments in Tokyo. There’s a curry-flavored version for ¥980 as well and a special that adds a large chunk of meat for ¥1,200. The ramen runs the gamut from ¥750 to ¥1,100.
Ginza Ishii is one of two Ishii shops (the other is in Gotanda) and they are both the progeny of Tsujita, in Kanda — the originator of the "sudachi"flavored "tsukemen" and the egg-rich noodle recipe. While I have yet to try Tsujita, I’ve become a big fan of the Ginza Ishii flavor, so I’m curious to see whether the origin story is as good as the sequel. In the meantime, Ginza Ishii’s delicious bowl is one of very few reasons why I would stop in Ginza instead of riding through to better, dodgier parts of town.
Ginza Ishii ( 銀座 いし井 ) Station: Ginza 1chome, exit 10/11 Tel: 03-62286998 Open: Weekdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat, Sun & hols, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/c3hB4© Japan Today