Nothing says romance like chocolate noodles, right?
Mensho Tokyo is serving up chocolate ramen in honour of Valentine’s Day. For just 800 yen, you can get yourself a bowl of noodles with a generous smattering of chocolate drops on top!
And when I found this out, there was no keeping me away. You may recall I enjoyed some chocolate tsukemen (dipping noodles) last Valentine’s Day…
Luckily for me, I managed to combine work and pleasure – chocolate ramen makes an excellent news story so I was able to go along and film the staff and customers in this video below for Reuters (NB: not my edit or narration). As you can see, chocolate ramen were reaaaally popular. During the couple of hours I was there, there were six orders and no end of enthusiasm for the dish…
(I’d like to thank 店長安藤さん and his staff for being wonderfully patient and helpful whilst I was shuffling around the store with a tripod and camera!)
Mensho Tokyo is the creation of Tomoharu Shono, who has opened a string of good quality and slightly unusual noodle shops across Tokyo. In fact, TODAY (February 6th) he opens his first store in San Fransisco – and if his Tokyo stores are anything to judge by, do go ahead and check it out if you live in that part of the world. With several intriguing options including white truffle shio ramen, the menu sounds absolutely fantastic.
Shono san first started experimenting with chocolate tsukemen nine years ago and decided that the Korakuen store, Mensho Tokyo, would be home to his first ever chocolate ramen in honour of Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s is normally when girls give chocolates to boys in Japan but I like this “everybody eat and enjoy” approach better.
Mensho Tokyo is already a fairly unusual ramen store. Ramen broth can be flavoured with soy sauce or miso, but when it comes to using animal products for stocks, pork, seafood, or sometimes chicken, is used. Not so for Mensho Tokyo – they use lamb. For those of you who haven’t spent time in Japan, please appreciate just what a rarity lamb is! Let alone in an inexpensive noodle shop.
With this in mind, their Valentine’s Day was “Choco hitsuji” – literally “chocolate lamb” in Japanese.
Given that I’ve spent the last year eating everything from giant hornets and grasshoppers to chicken testicles and fish sperm, I have a more open mind than most when it comes to trying new things. (For the record, hornet larvae are pretty good fried with soy and mirin.)
So without so much as flinching, I photographed my bowl of ramen to an inch of its life and tucked in.
First of all, a sip of the soup. Salty, peppery, with a great tang, but surprisingly unfatty for lamb. I was reminded of ramen broth meets a very light gravy you might have with a roast dinner in the UK. It wasn’t until the next day that, um, the lamb taste finally arrived. And the garlic. I enthusiastically chewed gum all morning.
The noodles were thicker and chewier than those served in many ramen stores. By comparison, the broth was relatively little and so the composition and look of the dish was similar to chow mein, especially if, like me, you are broth drinker – or “brothel” as my mother and I like to call it. We’re very much in the brothel camp.
The pork was beautifully fatty and tender – the kind that melts into your mouth and makes you instantly want more until there’s a pang in your stomach that reminds you of just how rich the fat is. After two slices, I realised that the pork might even be a little too fatty – I can handle fat, rich, heavy meats, but this was almost off the scale. However, I am definitely not going to complain.
After testing the soup, the carbs, the protein, it was time to test the sweets – the chocolate. I stuck my chopstick into the chocolate drops that were now partially melted and forming a chocolatey cluster on the left side of the ball.
This was sweet chocolate – pure and simple. And it didn’t particularly go with noodles. It wasn’t so bad smeared on the pork. But by itself it was just floating around, a bit lost, like it had tried to make its way to dessert but somehow got stuck in the main course.
There was nothing for it – mix the chocolate into the soup! This is how the dish is designed to be eaten. Next to the chocolate was a copious amount of black pepper. The pepperiness was fierce but it was well-tempered by the sweetness of the chocolate.
There had clearly been some serious thought about this concoction. Lamb – and the gravy-like stock it produces – stands up well to a good amount of pepper. But the fattiness and richness of lamb means that it lends itself to sweetness – hence why we eat roast lamb with redcurrant jelly in the UK. So the chocolate gave just that edge to the dish.
Did I really taste the chocolate once it was mixed? No, not at all! If anything, I would have perhaps added a caramelised onion sauce or something similar, and perhaps a bit more chocolate, to sweeten the broth as the pepper got a little tiresome after a while. I would also complain that the copious amount of spring onions – regularly served atop ramen -didn’t really match the soup very well at all.
All in all, I was glad to have tried the ramen. But would I order it again? Probably not. Not when I can go back for a lamb-pork mix with extra meat!!! Check the menu here (Japanese only but preeeeetty pictures).
The CHOCO HITSUJI is only available until Valentine’s Day. HURRY YOURSELF! And if you’re not in Japan, please do revisit my blog/video to ogle the pictures 😉
Yours in experimental eating,