“Chazuke” or “ochazuke” (the first “o” is an honorific prefix) combines two Chinese characters：
・“cha” the character used in green tea (“ocha” お茶)
・“tsuke” the root of the verb meaning “to soak” (“tsukeru” 漬ける).
So “chazuke” (茶漬け) could be read as “soaked in tea”, although the “soaking” liquid can also be dashi. On the other hand, the “soaked” ingredient is always rice. The dish has existed since the Heian period, over a millennium ago. Back then only hot water was used, but was replaced by tea during the more recent Edo period (dashi came even later). Originally, it was just a good way to finish that difficult-to-eat leftover rice, but over time, it evolved into a more sophisticated dish. Nowadays, there are restaurants that specialise only in ”chazuke”.
At Tai Shio Soba Toka, they have taken the concept one step further. Instead of dashi, a salt ramen (“shiosoba” 塩そば) dashi-based broth is used, as well as thick sesame sauce and various spices. Instead of plain rice, they use rice steamed with sea bream soup stock (“taimeshi” 鯛めし). Their sea bream “chazuke” set (“taichazuke” 鯛茶漬け) also comes with sea bream sashimi, which is half submerged in the small bowl containing the light brown sesame sauce. I’m a big fan of sesame sauce, which I usually only eat at Shabu Shabu restaurants, so I was quite glad to see it make an appearance.
The exact species of sea bream, or “tai”, used is the red Pacific sea bream (“madai” 真鯛 literally “genuine sea bream”). This fish is highly appreciated in Japan and is often used for meals at wedding parties and during the New Year celebrations. Ehime prefecture on Kyushu Island is famous for producing “Madai” and Tai Shio Soba Toka gets theirs delivered directly from Uwajima, in the Southern part of Ehime.
According to the store manager, the best way to enjoy sea bream “chazuke” is to first eat one piece of sea bream sashimi and some rice together. Then, after you’ve finished your ramen noodles, you can pour all the sesame sauce, and any remaining pieces of sashimi, on top of the rice. Add the spices in the other small bowl, before finally pouring the remaining soup broth over the rice. If there isn’t enough soup left, just ask the staff for some more soup only (“supu wari” スープ割) – it’s free of charge. You can also get extra soup in case you need more to finish your noodles.
Ordering your ramen at Tai Shio Soba Toka
Tai Shio Soba Toka is located in the middle of a narrow sloping street called “Shinzaka” (新坂) that in a sense prolongs Sugidaimon Dori all the way down to Akebonobashi station on Yasukuni Dori. It’s fairly easy to find since there are few restaurants on the first half of the street. In the daytime, the name of the shop in thick golden lettering shines in the sun, and at nighttime the brightly lit interior beckons the hungry walker inside. The exterior of the shop is decorated with the autographs of celebrities who have dropped by during the restaurant’s relatively short existence.
Once inside, you’ll need to purchase a ticket from the vending machine on the left:
Here are the available options from left to right, top to bottom:
- ・The Uwajima sea bream salt ramen with “chazuke” set (“taichazuke setto uwajima tai shioshoba ”｛鯛茶漬けセット｝宇和島鯛塩そば), highlighted with a small speech bubble saying “Recommended by the store manager!!” so if it’s your first time, go for this one.
- ・The Uwajima sea bream dipping noodles with “chazuke” set (“taichazuke setto uwajima tai tsukemen ”｛鯛茶漬けセット｝宇和島鯛つけ麺) According to the sign above, it is the 2nd most popular item on the menu.
- ・The sea bream salt ramen with a marinated soft-boiled egg (“uwajima tai shioshoba hanjuku ajitsuke tamago ” 宇和島鯛塩そば ~ 半熟味付け玉子~”). This option comes without “chazuke”.
- ・The sea bream dipping noodle with a marinated soft-boiled egg (“uwajima tai tsukemen hanjuku ajitsuke tamago ” 宇和島鯛つけ麺 ~ 半熟味付け玉子~”) . This option comes without “chazuke”.
- ・Rice steamed with sea bream soup stock ~ (“taimeshi taidashi takimeshi” 鯛めし ~ 鯛出汁炊き飯 ~ ). You can only order this in combination with another dish.
- ・Sea bream “chazuke” (“tai chazuke” 鯛茶漬け). You can only order this in combination with another dish.
- ・Sea bream salt ramen (“tai shio soba” 鯛塩そば )
- ・Sea bream salt dipping noodles (“tai shio tsukemen” 鯛塩つけ麺)
- ・Seasonal noodle dish (“gentei men” 限定麺 a handwritten sign on the vending machine. I haven’t had the summer one but the pig cartoon on the sign says it’s cold and tasty!
- ・Boiled gyoza (“suigyoza” 水餃子), which is apparently a store speciality.
The two bottom rows are for alcoholic drinks and various ramen toppings. There is a very basic English menu with pictures, hanging at the bottom of the vending machine. So in case you can’t figure it out, just show and point at what you want. After buying your ticket (or tickets), hand them over to the staff and sit down at one of the ten seats on the two-sided counter.
The interior of the shop is very new, bright and with a minimum of decoration. There is a sign inside, above the wide front window and facing the cooking area, which could translate as “smiling, quick and energetic” (“nikoniko, hakihaki, kibikibi” ニコニコ、ハキハキ、キビキビ). Perhaps it is the store motto? The two staff members definitely gave the impression that they followed it closely. Actually, Tai Shio Soba Toka is part of a “keiretsu” or set of companies called the Toka Group, which includes 3 other restaurants, all located in Arakicho and all specialised in ramen. Tokabenizaru, which I wrote about recently, is one of those places. However, they updated the name and menu of the store at the start of July 2018, and it is now called Temomi Chukasoba Mugi no Hana (手もみ中華そば麦の花).
Regular or dipping ramen?
Since all ramen dishes use a broth based on sea bream and salt, the main choice is between regular ramen or dipping noodle. So let’s now go over these two options. First of all, you may be wondering, why their ramen is always referred to as “soba”. Aren’t soba noodles very different from ramen noodles? Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, whereas ramen noodles are usually made from wheat flour. In the past, ramen used to be called “chuka soba” (中華そば) which means Chinese noodles. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the name “ramen” started being used. Using soba or “chuka soba” to refer to ramen, makes it sound more authentic, so that’s why some shops prefer it.
“Shio”, or salt, is one of the four main types of ramen soup (the others being miso, shoyu and tonkotsu). In addition to the noodles and the broth, Toka’s ramen comes with a big slice of “chashu” (braised pork) on top of which some slices of “yuzu” (Japanese citrus), “kamaboko” (fish paste cake) and “negi” (welsh onion) can be found. There is also some “menma” (seasoned bamboo shoots). Before slurping some of the piping hot noodles, I recommend first tasting the clear soup with the provided “renge” or Chinese spoon to appreciate its light, salty but at the same time rich taste. Between mouthfuls of noodles, you can enjoy some more of the soup by itself, but be careful to leave enough to make the “chazuke”. You can of course reorder some soup for free but you’ll need to ask the staff.
If you have ordered the dipping noodles, you’ll be asked if you’d prefer a small (“sho” 小), medium (“chuu” 中) or large (“dai” 大) amount of noodles. Unless you are a big eater, I’d recommend going for the small size, for 3 reasons: First, as you can see from the picture, even the small size has a fair amount of noodles. Second, if you have ordered the “chazuke” set, you’ll need to save some space for the rice. Finally, it is considered bad manners to leave uneaten food on your plate (or in your bowl). Read this article on how to eat dipping noodles the correct way. The key thing to remember when ordering the dipping noodles and “chazuke” set is, that the soup is too thick to pour over the rice at the end. Once you’ve finished all the noodles, you’ll need to ask the staff to “thin” the leftover soup by saying “suupu wari onegaishimasu” (スープ割、お願いします).
If you want to see a short video of what their ramen looks like, I’d recommend going to the top page of the Toka group website which shows in a closeup loop the preparation as well as the final dish. In the “About Toka” section, one can read the group’s mission, which translates roughly as “Made in Japan: arising in Japan and sweeping over the world, supplying the best noodles and contributing to the happiness of people around the world” (『メイドインジャパン』で日本を覚醒、世界を席巻し、最高の『麺』を提供する事で、世界中の人々の幸福に貢献する). Quite a bold statement, which seems to imply that the Toka group has plans to become a worldwide brand. So before they break through, why not taste their ramen before the rest of the world?
For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:
Enjoy ramen and “chazuke” in one meal at Tai Shio Soba Toka
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