Jangara Ramen – Harajuku

There’s many, many different styles of ramen in the land of the rising sun. But there are only four major classifications; Shio (salt), Shōyu (soy sauce), Miso (soybean paste) and Tonkotsu (pork bone). My personal runaway favorite is Tonkotsu ramen. A specialty ramen that bears its origins from Hakata-ku, Fukuoka on the Southern island of Kyūshū. Of course, I’ve never actually been to Hakata let alone the island of Kyūshū but rather had my very first bowl of tonkotsu ramen in…wait for it…New York at an outpost of the Japanese ramen chain, Ippudo. What can I say, it was love at first slurp. But this is not a story about Ippudo.

Ippudo was my unabashed Tonkotsu ramen favorite until my girlfriend introduced me to Kyūshū Jangara in Harajuku. Only minutes away from Takeshita Dori and the legions of cosplay girls decked out in their Sunday finest is a small unasuming remen-ya serving up some of the best Hakata style ramen in all of Tokyo. A mini-chain, there are seven Jangara locations throughout the city but navigating the Japanese addressing system is so daunting I’ve only visited the Harajuku location.

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The queue can sometimes be long but it moves fast even by ramen standards, and unlike many ramen-ya’s, Kyūshū Jangara does not employ the ubiquitous ticketing machine for ordering. There’s a gentleman at a cashier station that will take your order, accept your cash, and give you tokens for what you’ve ordered. They also have a menu written in English, Korean, Chinese, and French. The half a dozen or so times I’ve been there conversing in English was never a problem. As far as foreigner friendly ramen places go Jangara is the gold standard.

Once you’ve paid and received your token, you wait until a seat becomes available. You then sit down, give your token/s to the ramen expeditor, and wait. The entire process is a lesson in the efficiency of the Japanese just-in-time Kanban system. Normally, I order the Kyūshū Jangara Ramen (1,000¥), the house tonkotsu based soup base with chasu (roast pork), buta kakuni (braised pork) , a soft boiled egg, negi (Welsh onions), beni shoga (pickled ginger), mentaiko (pollock roe), menma (bamboo shoots), and thin (and very delicate) ramen noodles. It’s the ramen to order when you can’t make up your mind about which toppings to have (why not have them all!).

The tonkotsu soup is also cut with a chicken stock  just enough to give the broth another layer of complexity you wouldn’t find in a straight tonkotsu soup base. There’s also a hint of sweetness and acidity. My guess is there are apples thrown in somewhere towards the end of the soup process. The noodles are thinner and far more delicate than their chewier Tokyo-style ramen counterpart. For my money, I’m a convert to the thinner noodles. I now find the more prevalent thick, yellow, crinkly noodles just too tough for my tastes.

I’ve also tried their Karabon Ramen, which is their spicy “wild,” soup base consisting of a slew of secret spices. Toppings are the same as with the Kyūshū Jangara Ramen. The Karabon is good, but being Korean, I don’t find it particularly spicy or flavorful. I much prefer the umami goodness of their tonkotsu offering. Whatever bowl you pick, you can always ask for refill of those delicious noodles for a mere 150¥ ($2). Just say, “kaedama,” (替え玉), and piping hot serving of noodles will be on its way.

Even as I write this post I’m salivating in a Pavlovian response to the memory of my last bowl of Kyūshū Jangara Ramen. It’s that good! This is the bowl of ramen I dream about on a cold Summer’s day in San Francisco. If only they’d open a satellite branch here…

 

 

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Kyūshū Jangara Ramen is a short five minute walk from the Harajuku station on the Yamanote line, and is open Mon-Fri from 10:45am (10:00am on weekends) to 4am everyday.

BART at SFO

BART To/From SFO

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is one of my favorite options to get to/from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and downtown San Francisco. Even with a lot of luggage  in tow the trip is relatively hassle free, and fairly convenient if your destination in the city is relatively close to one of BART’s eight subway stations in the city.

Price

At $8.10 (one-way) BART ain’t cheap but it’s still less expensive than taking a cab into the city (which will run $30-$45), or shuttle service such as SuperShuttle ($17 first person, $10 for each additional). The title of “cheapest,” route to the city from the airport goes to the SamTrans KX bus at $5. But with restrictions on the size of luggage allowed on the buses (carry-on size only), the frequent traffic delays, and spotty arrival/departure times, I would recommend paying the extra $3.10 and taking BART.

SFO Station Location

The BART station at SFO is located in the International Terminal. It’s a short walk from United Airlines in Terminal 3 and a slightly longer walk from Terminal 1. You can also take the free AirTrain from both terminals directly to the BART station. Just follow the signs to AirTrain and board the Red Line train. When you arrive, take the escalator down to the departures level and walk straight ahead to the BART station. Terminals 1, 2 & 3 are approximately a one to three-minute AirTrain ride to the BART station.

Schedule

Trains arrive at the SFO International Terminal every 15 minutes and it’s just 30 minutes to downtown San Francisco. Trains start running from the airport at 4:09am on weekdays and 6:07am on weekends. The last train from the airport runs at 11:54pm 11:40pm (both weekdays and weekends). You can use the BART QuickPlanner here to check station times.

Buying a Ticket

Tickets can be bought at SFO from one of the many ticket machines located inside the SFO BART station. The ticket machines accept coins, bills (up to $20 bills), MasterCard/Visa, and Debit cards. There’s even an option to pre-pay for a round trip BART voucher online although at $18 it’s $1.80 more than just buying the ticket at the station. There really is no need to buy this voucher. You will have no problems buying a ticket at the station.

Arriving in San Francisco

There are eight BART stations in San Francisco and the one-way fare from the airport is $8.10 to any of these stations. If you are staying in a hotel most likely you will get off at the Civic Center, Powell, or Embarcadero stations. Most major hotels are less than a five minute walk from these stations.

Nice

Actors say the worst co-stars are children and animals.  The original Hangover had a baby and a tiger and the actors, or at least the characters, got their revenge.  One of the protagonists pretends to sexually abuse the baby and then accidentally bangs its little head on a car door.  Someone else pretends to sexually abuse the tiger, which retaliates by savagely mauling him and destroying his classic Mercedes. As the tiger’s owner sarcastically says, “Nice.”

There’s a child and an animal in the sequel too.  The child is that least likable of juveniles, an 16-year-old pre-med at Stanford, but the worst thing anyone ever does to him is compare him to Doogie Howser (who “turned out to be a gay”).  Most of the time he is treated with total solicitude.  The animal is even less likable, that last resort of hack-screen writers: a saucy monkey.  It smokes, it deals drugs, it wears a cute little vest, it thinks it’s a little person! “Nice” is not meant sarcastically any more.

In the scabrous 1984 Bachelor Party, newcomer Tom Hanks played a groom with a hostile, unpleasant future-father-in-law.  He dealt with the situation by arranging to have the father-in-law drugged, tied up, and photographed with a naked prostitute.  In Hangover: Part II, Ed Helms plays a groom with a hostile, unpleasant future-father-in-law.  He deals with the situation by making an inspirational speech about how much he loves the man’s daughter.

You get my point.  For all the movies’s cussing, full-frontal nudity, and cocaine-snorting, director Todd Phillips is just unable to pull the trigger, to risk people not liking his characters.

It starts out well enough.  Phil (Bradley Cooper) insults Stu (Helms) and tries to steal a prescription pad from Stu’s dental office.  Alan (Zach Galifinakis) insults his mother, tries to poison Stu’s brother-in-law, and generally mistreats anyone not in the “wolf-pack”.

Sadly, it soon melts into just a nicey-nicey remake of the first movie.  So often does character, experiencing a crisis in Bangkok almost identical to the one he had back in Vegas in 2009, moan “Again?”, it becomes a meta-textual version of Groundhog Day: every day, the same three men in a different city battle organized crime, heat, and amnesia to find a missing friend; as the credits roll, they peruse photos of their forgotten antics.

No, Hangover II was not terrible.  At times, it’s very very funny — the credit photos alone are almost worth the price of admission.  There’s that rarity, a chase scene that’s actually exciting (although anyone who’s ever been stuck in Bangkok traffic knows how unlikely it is that a driver could get above 20 MPH).  Weirdo gangster Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is back, and his story about meeting his wife is a small classic.

Overall, it wasn’t the Godfather Part II triumph-upon-triumph I was hoping for, but it wasn’t the Jaws 2 travesty I was fearing either.  Rent it when it comes to DVD.

And a new feature: Malvolio’s Nitpicks, because being technically correct is the best way of being correct.

  • The gang travels by speedboat between the resort where the wedding is to take place.  Stu says that the river in Bangkok (the Chao Phraya) connects to the Gulf of Thailand.  Which is true but the establishing shots clearly show the resort is on an island in the Andaman Sea, a good 800 miles away through the Malacca Straits. (Man With The Golden Gun made the same mistake.)
  • They take an elderly and devout monk on a trip in the back of pickup.  The monk is shown leaning against a Thai woman.  In reality, a Theravedan monk would make great effort to avoid touching a woman.  Also, there’s a bouncer-like monk stationed at the monastery, enforcing the rule of silence, even on visitors, by liberal use of a heavy club.  I know this is supposed to be funny, but (a) it’s not and (b) it’s so incompatible with Buddhist dogma, I’m surprised that the Thai cast was even willing to participate in filming it.
  • Stu is a dentist so as part of his training he has taken basic medical courses, including dissecting cadavers; yet, when faced with a person who might be dead from a drug overdose, he doesn’t even attempt to revive the victim and is unwilling even to approach the body.
  • Phil is shot in the arm, but like all movie heroes, suffers not even a temporary loss of mobility or use of the arm.

And a side point: originally, Mel Gibson was cast in a small part but the “cast and crew” — apparently no one had the cojones to be identified by name — objected.  Which was too bad, as Gibson would have been perfect for the role.  The part was filmed with Liam Neeson and then re-filmed with Nick Cassavetes. But what exactly was the complaint?

Both films featured Mike Tyson, a former drug-user convicted of assaults and rapes. When Bill Clinton visited the set, he was greeted warmly, despite his history of drug use, general malfeasance, and sexual harassment, plus creditable accusations of rape.  Mel Gibson has a problem with alcohol and a history of misogyny, but no accusation half so bad as what those other two men have actually been convicted of.  Why the double standard?