“I have a little challenge for you,” my editor began, employing the disingenuous tone of an adult trying to convince an eight-year-old that math homework is fun. “I want you to put together a food guide that would reflect what it’s like to eat in Tokyo right now, in 2012.”
I blinked, wondering where to begin. With literally tens of thousands of places to choose from, Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise, and composing a shortlist of restaurants is more than "a little challenge."
These days, the city offers a mind-blowing array of options - from traditional favorites like sushi and tempura to creative, cutting-edge cuisine that’s hard to categorize.
You can find just about anything your heart (and stomach) desires, which is exactly why I love eating in Tokyo, even if it makes my job harder.
For a lot of Tokyoites, ramen is the epitome of cheap, fast food - a simple bowl of noodles to be slurped down in a matter of minutes during lunchtime or after a long night of carousing.
Not so, says ramen mogul Yasuji Morizumi, who has made it his life’s mission to elevate the humble dish to gourmet status.
The 43-year-old chef spent 10 years working at a French restaurant before going into the ramen business, and his training shows in the classic ramen served at Cabuya in Bunkyo Ward and the modern ramen dishes served at Chabuya Zutto in Yotsuya.
Chabuya Zutto’s shoyu ramen manages to be both original and comfortingly familiar. Served without soup, beneath thick slices of buttery roasted pork belly, the noodles are bathed in an umami-rich concentrate of soy sauce, broth and oyster essence from Piedmont, Italy.
Morizumi is a stickler for texture, and his ramen noodles have the satisfying, chewy consistency of al dente pasta. In preparing the dough, the chef measures the temperature of the flour and the amount of water according to the humidity and weather every day.
It’s a lot of work for a bowl of noodles, but Morizumi would have it no other way.
Chabuya, 1-17-16 Otowa, Bunkyo-ku, +81 (0) 3 3945 3791.
Chabuya Zutto, 7 Funemachi, Shinjuku-ku, +81 (0) 3 5919 0752.
See Tokyo's best tempura, creative international, contemporary Italian, sushi and neo-bistro and what to order in CNNGo's Tokyo 2012 ultimate dining guide