Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Osaka, and Looking for Ramen

It's no secret there's a noodle fanatic in my family. He loves noodles, from the wanton egg noodle soups of Hong Kong to the hand-stretched noodles in yellow croaker soup. In fact, I convinced him to visit Japan by promising authentic Japanese ramen, then ended up eating more ramen than I ever bargained for. Mainly because the Ramen-lover also held the pursestrings.

We found ourselves in Osaka again, 3 years after our first Kansai visit, drawn by ramen and onsen. Kyushu Ki-Ou Ramen was a place we "found" on our first visit to Osaka: the ramen so good, we ended up eating there three times in the span of two days. No surprise that this time, Ramen-lover wanted to head there almost immediately after we stepped off the plane.

After getting absolutely lost in the giant maze that is the Osaka-Umeda station underground metropolis, we finally found the right direction, then walked past the place half a dozen times and resorted to asking someone (working for a seafood nabe place, no less!) where that hole-in-the-wall ramen place was. Luckily, we were in Osaka, and people in Osaka are really, really friendly. The waitress called out to the owner, who then led us in person to that elusive Ki-Ou. I silently promised myself to visit their seafood nabe restaurant next time I'm in town.

The place is absolutely tiny, with a total of about 12 seats. But, good things do come in small packages. Ki-Ou is one of them. The menu isn't too big, with about 10 or so different ramens to choose from, and some sides (the requisite gyoza, simple donburi, so on). Beer is also available.

Four things make Ki-Ou special. They use ramen with different thicknesses for different ramen on their menu. You can also choose how soft or hard you want your noodles. The soups range from the very light shoyu type, to the rich tonkotsu, and even thicker for tsukemen (where soup and noodles are served separately). You can also ask for a less salty soup and they're happy to accommodate. If one serve of noodles ain't enough, don't finish your soup and they can serve up an extra half- or full-portion of noodles. Their toro-tama (boiled eggs) are made using free-range eggs, with a self-saucing yolk.

Ki-Ou Kuroniku Ippon-men (黑肉1本面)
My favourite has got to be the Kuroniku Ippon-men. A bowl of this will set you back about 860 yen, and with one of their toro-tama, about an extra 130 yen. This is not your normal chashu - this is a slab of rib, cooked to nearly falling apart, roasted, and will just melt in your mouth. The soup is rich and hearty, packed with collagen, and very moreish. I like to taste the soup first, take a bite of the meat, a slurp of noodles, then start adding condiments like pickled garlic, chili oil, and a dash of vinegar towards the end to refresh the palate. This was why I had to go back to Osaka. Why we had to go back to Osaka.

The rest of the menu are equally good. A side of gyoza never goes wrong, with its crispy bottom and juicy innards. And a glass of icy Kirin Ichiban First-Press beer washes everything down nicely.

Ramen-lover was happy. And that's all that matters.

Kyushu Ki-Ou Ramen 九州亀王ラーメン
2-7-12 Sonezaki, Kita Ward, Osaka
(Near Umeda OS Hotel)

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