Taisho (Chinese), Shimokitazawa

Today's post is about the cheap Chinese joint "Taisho", which has been offering Ramen noodles, Chahan (fried rice) and Gyoza (minced meat and vegetables filled pan-fried Chinese dumplings) among other things for a quarter of a century now.

The shop is managed by an adorable couple, whose husband I first met at "Bear Pond" where he is a regular along with his 8 years old French bulldog.
Although I had been passing in front of their restaurant for years now, I was never tempted to go try it. The slightly cheap looking exterior never looked appealing and a hand-written poster on the door saying they serve "Gyoza without garlic" somehow seemed suspicious to me, as if they were trying to lure in customers with the promise of a fresh breath.

One day, after striking a conversation with the man over a cappuccino, and discovering that he was owning that restaurant, I asked him why he served the rare and odd garlic-less Gyoza (click here for a detailed article on the dish). The answer was interesting: Japanese soldiers and citizens in Manchuria during the war (shouldn't you be familiar with Manchuria's history, please click here) were so poor and lacking any fresh food that they started adding garlic to the local recipe and fry the dumplings in order to hide the foul taste of the half rotten meat. The spiced up version lived on when the Japanese came back to their homeland after the war, and eventually became the norm. So what he served was just what he believed to be the fried version of the original recipe.
I was so impressed by that history class that I decided to visit Taisho as soon as I could, which I did and which lead to another culinary discovery, the VERY ODD house specialty "Chikara Ramen".

The plate of 5 gyoza is at a very affordable ¥400 and the almost juicy and perfectly fried dumplings taste very good even without garlic. The master taught me another secret: instead of dipping the fried dumplings in the usual Shoyu (soy sauce)-Vinegar-Rayu (chili infused vegetable oil) mix, he uses Green Tabasco instead. I tried on the spot what I thought was blasphemy and it actually tasted good! If you ever order the Gyoza, try to ask him for the Louisiana sauce: he might be surprised, and yourself too!

Now, onto the most original Chikara Ramen. You need to know first that you will find in any Sobaya (soba noodles restaurant) menu the popular and personal childhood favorite "Chikara Soba" or "Chikara Udon". Soba being noodles made of buckwheat, whereas Udon are made of wheat flour, and Chikara designating the grilled Mochi (glutinous rice cake) that is topped on the noodles. Chikara means Strength in Japanese and refers to the belly-filling virtue of the cake.
The second thing you need to know is that you will NEVER find a Chikara Ramen, except at extraordinary "Taisho" whose owners have come up with the unorthodox menu in order to fill up the hungry belly of students, actors and musicians living in the area.
Being a major Chikara Udon fan and loving Ramen in equal proportion, you can understand how much of a no-brainer it was for me when I first saw that dish on the menu.
I'll be honest with you: I was a little bit disappointed with it because of the rather thin shoyu based ramen broth. However, I got to find out over time that this is a general rule in Taisho, where the Shoyu based, Miso (salty fermented soybean paste) based and Shio (salt) based ramen broths all taste rather watery. Most of the Japanese will probably agree in telling you that their ramen taste like the -natsukashii- good ol' ones you used to find in local Chuka (chinese restaurant), before Ramen became such a big culinary deal and thus strongly flavored.
Whether that's good or bad, I'll leave it up to your taste buds. The point here is more about enjoying the most unusual Mochi and Ramen noodles combination over an authentic late 20th century broth. I passed the disappointment phase and now regularly go catch up with the palate memories.
The Chikara Ramen comes with a sheet of Nori (dry sea weed), a slice of Chasu (Chinese style bbq pork), Menma (Japanese style Sungan) and leak.
I heard their Chahan (chinese style fried rice) is pretty good.

The place is well kept and very clean even after 25 years (they have not renovated the kitchen since opening and you will be amazed at its spotless state), as you can see from the above portrait. No, he was not posing in case you're wondering...

"Taisho" serves lunch and dinner, is closed on Thursdays and from about 14:30pm to 17:00pm on weekedays. They will be opened during the Golden Week Holidays that just started today.

The shop is easy to find at about 200m north from the West exit、little before Iseya if you're coming from the station.
Setagaya-ku, Daita 6-3-26
click here for a MAP