Tsukemen ramen, or “dipping noodles,” is no ordinary bowl of noodles. In fact, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that that noodles have no soup in them at all! In this style of ramen, hailing from Fukuoka’s Hakata region like some of our other favorites, the soup is dense and served on the side (either hot or cold) as a sauce. Lift the noodles with chopsticks and dip them into the sauce to savor the melding of flavors that only 60 hours of simmering could produce. This 60-hour tonkotsu broth, and the unique serving and eating method, is what brought us to Tsujita LA on a lovely Sunday afternoon.
Tsukemen Ramen – the setup
We met our friends Lilia & Anthony there and wow, was there was a crowd! There’s quite a wait during lunch, likely because it features ramen prominently on the menu. Dinner at Tsujita LA transforms into izakaya style fare, although they expanded across the street to add Tsujita Annex, serving up ramen all day long. On the bright side, the wait staff took our order ahead of time so the food arrived shortly after our table was ready. We were finally seated at a secluded outdoor 4-top, almost as though we had our own private patio. Best seats in the house! (Well, outside…).
First off, the traditional ramen that one usually thinks of — thin, pale noodles swimming in a creamy, fatty broth and topped with thick slices of chashu. Martin was in the mood for soupy Hakata ramen and slurped away this deceptively filling portion. He commented that he liked how the broth did not have a cloying aftertaste like Yamadaya’s, but that it was too salty and not quite as rich as Daikokuya’s. Good but not life changing. Mine on the other hand…
Well let’s start at the beginning. The noodles are thick with an excellent texture – firm, chewy, toothsome. Or as the Taiwanese slang goes, very QQ. There’s a suggested method to eating tsukemen ramen in three phases. First, dip the noodles, as is, into the thick and very decadent sauce-like soup.
This is the soup. If we refer to a regular ramen soup as “broth,” then this by comparison is practically a demi glace. Intensely flavored and incredibly seasoned with the pork bones (which, according to their website, had stewed for 60 hours). However, because it was so concentrated, I found this sauce-soup to be a bit on the salty side as well. After polishing off about a third of the noodles, proceed to phase II – squeeze lime over the noodles and enjoy a whole new explosion of flavor. It’s a different experience entirely, with the bright citrus cutting through the unctuous sauce. No bite is exactly the same.
All three of us (aside from Martin’s tonkotsu) had the ajitama tsukemen ramen. Ajitama, literally “flavor ball,” refers to the soy sauce marinated soft-boiled egg. The egg at Tsujita LA completely blew me away. I mean look at that show-stopping ooze of gorgeous bright orange yolk. AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. I would return just for the chance to split open another one and experience the joy of a perfectly cooked egg all over again.
Extra Menma (Bamboo)
Anthony mixed things up with extra noodles and Lilia made sure to ask for extra limes (proudly described as “FREE!” on the menu), so I wanted an extra of my own — bamboo! I love menma in my ramen, and you can tell by the dark color of these that they are nicely seasoned. Note that the regular order does include a few slivers of bamboo by default.
While we were all personalizing our individual bowls, our friends demonstrated a nifty little item on our table. See that red thing in the middle that kind of resembles an upside-down bird feeder? It’s a sesame grinder! Crank the little knob and you’ll end up with broken up goma dust to add a pleasant nutty flavor to your noodles. (They like it so much they bought one for home use!)
Pickled Mustard Leaves
My favorite garnish, hands down, was the spicy pickled mustard leaves. Dark brown wilted leaves coated in fire engine red chili oil, a forkful of these really pack a punch. The picture above illustrates my first tentative taste, but rest assured, after I discovered how awesome they are, I piled it on high and turned all of my noodles a festive red hue. Sniffling through my nose and sucking in air to cool my tongue, I really, REALLY enjoyed my tsukemen ramen with that addition!
Oh, yes – the third phase of eating tsukemen (which we actually didn’t get to participate in.. possibly since we were sitting outside, away from the kitchen). The staff provides hot water to dilute the dense sauce into a drinkable broth. Sounds like it would really round out the meal! More reason to return and enjoy a complete experience.
As we mentioned last week, the Best Ramen in LA is a contentious topic among diners, bloggers, Yelpers, anyone who enjoys patiently lining up to slurp away some form of this Japanese noodle soup. For me, Tsujita LA just rose to #2 on my list, edging out Shin Sen Gumi and second only to Daikokuya. Martin will may disagree but just shoot him a quick message and I’m sure he’ll be happy to share his personal list with you. ;) I’d venture to guess that every Angeleno has a ranking of favorites. But if your idea of ramen is simply soup and noodles in one bowl, you’ll definitely have to try tsukemen ramen for an experience unlike any other.
Check out Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle: tsujita-la.com
2057 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
See their Yelp reviews here!
This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. As a lover of ramen and all things noodle, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I had never tried tsukemen ramen before going to Tsujita LA. But I tried it, I really liked it, and I’m a better noodle-eater thanks to this experience.
This month is hosted by Becky at My Utensil Crock. Cheers!