Another shop ticked off Japan’s Top 50 list
Last Sunday I ventured out to Hachioji, a city located way out in the western portion of the Tokyo Metropolis. I had intended to check out a festival centred around a 4km stretch of colourful ginkgo trees, but decided against it in the end as I knew the crowds would be insane. Instead, I pottered around Hachioji itself and stumbled across a little festival at a shrine celebrating the growth and well-being of young children which I’ll write about soon.
Every time I go to a new area I have a quick look online to see if there are any highly ranked ramen shops in the neighbourhood. Hachioji, as fate would have it, is home to En – a shop I have been wanting to check out for a while, and one that also features in this year’s Tabelog Top 50 list. This list is pretty definitive, with 373 restaurants nominated (narrowed down from over 100,000). So to make it into the Top 50 your shop had better be bloody good.
On a Sunday the shop opens at 11am. When I got there at 10:40am there was a queue of five people, but within ten minutes it had almost doubled. Luckily I was among the first group to be seated. What I like about En – and many shops which have been awarded high status – is that it hasn’t gone to their head. Here, a Top 50 Award poster is crudely cellotaped onto the wall outside, along with a handwritten note that basically says once the shop runs out of soup it’ll close. Inside, the shop won’t win any interior-design awards. It’s main focus is simply pumping out bowl after bowl of consistent ramen. And I think that’s the appeal of this place: it’s pretty old school, offering a traditional bowl instead of going for new and elaborate toppings. And so when serving this style, you really do have to master it. As is my current preference, I ordered the shio (salt) variety and took my seat.
Great stuff! The soup is niboshi based (small dried sardines) but it’s very subtle. I’m not a big fan of niboshi, but this had just the slightest edge to bring out the smooth and clear salt flavouring. The ajitama – marinated soft boiled egg – was equally well done, infused with shoyu, and the yoke was perfectly done. The simple toppings worked well: green onions, bamboo shoots and decent chashu pork slices. Crates of homemade noodles were stacked by the counter, and had just the right gauge. The soup was the star of the show though – very addictive.
Hachioji isn’t an area you are likely to be in regularly. But if it’s not too far from you – or if you are simply out exploring like I was – definitely pay En a visit. It’s a pure example of how traditional, simple ramen can be done very well.
Address: Yokoyamacho 21-21, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo
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