Fugu, one of Japan’s most gourmet foods, is the ramen star of the classy Ginza neighborhood.

Like most forms of pasta, ramen noodles themselves don’t have much flavor, and so the deciding factor when picking a ramen restaurant is the broth. The three most popular broth varieties in Japan are tangy miso (most common in the north), mild soy sauce (a favorite of east and central Japan) and tonkotsu, a savory pork stock (prevalent in the western part of the country).

But if none of those tempts you, in Tokyo there’s a restaurant that makes its ramen broth from fugu, also known as Japanese blowfish…also known as the poisonous seafood that will kill you if it’s not prepared properly.

▼ Cute, deadly, and delicious, the fugu really is the complete package.

Tokyo’s Ginza is best known as a neighborhood of fancy boutiques and exclusive cocktail lounges. But it’s also where you’ll find the confederation of ramen restaurants called Keisuke. Each branch has its own unique take on the noodle dish, and at Hachidaime Keisuke, located in the newly built Tokyu Plaza Ginza building (where you’ll also find the gorgeous “Japanese garden” green tea dessert), the specialty is ramen that not only has fugu in its broth, but a slice of the coveted delicacy placed atop the noodles.

As with many ramen restaurants, you purchase a meal ticket from a vending machine before you sit down. If you’ve never done this before, there’s no need to worry. Keisuke has English menus with numbers that correspond to the button to be pressed for each item.

The basic ramen in salty fugu stock broth costs 1,100 yen (US$10), which is a little on the expensive side for ramen. Considering that the restaurant is in the high-rent district, and also that fugu is a classy delicacy, though, it’s a reasonable price. Ramen with a mixed fugu stock/soy sauce broth, meanwhile, starts at 1,250 yen.

▼ Salty

▼ Soy

Before digging in, take a moment to appreciate the thought that’s gone into the tableware. Not only is the inside of the bowl decorated with stylized K’s (for “Keisuke”), the outside is adorned with fugu illustrations.

▼ Pausing for a bit of art appreciation will also give you some time to work up the courage to eat the fugu.

Starting with the salt broth, there’s an immediate seafood kick, with the rich flavors of the fugu providing plenty of flavor but with little, if any, of the unpleasant aftertaste that sometime comes with gyokai (fish stock) ramen. The soy broth has slightly less fish flavor, thanks to the sweetness of the soy. In both varieties, Keisuke also makes the smart decision to let the marque ingredient do most of the work by not loading up its ramen with tons of pungent green onion or other heavy flavors.

Speaking of the star of the show, sitting right in the center of the bowl is a slice of fugu. You can eat it right away, or let it sit for a while to let it contribute even more of its flavor to the broth.

When you do take a bite, you’ll find that fugu has a pleasantly firm, meaty texture. The slice of blowfish is accompanied by a zest of yuzu, a lemony citrus fruit, that adds just a touch of tart complexity.

Also sharing space with the fugu in the bowl are hakusai (Chinese cabbage) and a leaf of shiso, a herb that’s often referred to as “Japanese basil.” The shiso’s crisp, clean taste makes it a delicious way to cleanse your palate mid-bowl, letting the flavors wash over your taste buds anew in the meal’s second half.

Each order of ramen also comes with an extra-long stalk of menma (fermented bamboo shoots). While menma are a common ramen ingredient, we’ve never seen them cut in such gigantic strips before.

▼ An added bonus to the visual impact is that if you don’t care for menma, you’ve only got one piece to pick out.

By this point you’ve probably noticed that Keisuke’s bowls aren’t perfectly round. Instead, there’s an extension at one spot, which serves two purposes. First, it makes the bowl, when viewed from directly above, look sort of like an in-profile fugu.

But the extension also serves as a pouring spout. For an additional charge, you can get an order of white rice to pour your left-over broth onto once you’ve finished all your noodles. This is Keisuke’s take on ochazuke (rice with green tea), and the ramen even come with wasabi, a common ochazuke seasoning, and a wedge of citrus fruit, the latter a true ramen rarity.

Should Keisuke’s ramen give you a taste for fugu, you’ll be happy to know that deep-fried blowfish is also on the menu. And if that has you wanting still more fugu, being in Ginza means you’re only a few subway stops from the Yamaguchi Prefecture specialty store, which sells canned fugu that you can take home to munch on at your leisure.

Restaurant information
Hachidaime Keisuke / 八代目けいすけ
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-2-1, Tokyu Plaza basement level 2
東京都中央区銀座5-2-1 東急プラザ地下2F
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24

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