They wanted to know what we were doing in Ueno. We wanted to know where to eat lunch.

As we’ve mentioned before, our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato tends to get stopped on the street by the police a lot, and not because he’s up to no good. It’s not unusual for him to get randomly stopped on his way to or from our office, for example.

Granted, SoraNews24 headquarters is in one of Tokyo’s major bar/nightclub districts, where the police are keen to stop potential problems before they start, but he gets stopped in other sections of the city too. On the bright side, the police are generally polite when they stop him, so he’s gotten used to the routine of being asked his name and place of work, what he’s doing in whatever part of town he happens to be in at the time, and sometimes to show the contents of his bag.

Big-hearted guy that he is, Mr. Sato doesn’t get angry about it, as the questioning doesn’t include any intimidation, and ostensibly is meant to keep the city safe. Still, it can be a time-consuming hassle, especially since he’d already gotten stopped three times in the last month. And sure enough, he got stopped for a fourth time just the other day in Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood.

Mr. Sato was on his way to do some shopping at the Ameyokocho shopping street, but as soon as he passed through the gate at Ueno Station, before he was even out of the building, he heard the familiar courteous yet authoritative “Excuse me, one moment, sir,” and even before he turned around, he knew there was going to be a police officer standing there.

So he went through the familiar series of questions, which ended with the officer thanking him for his time. Before he continued on his way, though, Mr. Sato decided to ask a question of his own to the officer, and said:

“By the way, do you happen to know any good restaurants around here?”

To Mr. Sato’s pleasant surprise, his question immediately cast off the awkward tension that always accompanies a police stop. “A good restaurant…” the officer repeated, as a relaxed, friendlier expression appeared on his face. “What are you in the mood for? Fish? Meat? Maybe ramen?”

“Anything, as long as it’s tasty” Mr. Sato replied.

“OK, then how about one of the Musashi restaurants?” the officer said, referring to the league of ramen sister eateries found in downtown Tokyo. “There are two in Ueno, but my favorite is the one underneath the tracks.”

“Ah, yeah, I think I’ve seen that place. Thanks, I’ll check it out!”

With that, Mr. Sato was off for his police-recommended lunch at Menya Musashi Bukotsu Soden, or just “Soden” for short. Stepping inside, he immediately spotted the terminal to buy a meal ticket out of, and selected the house specialty Soden Rich Black Tsukemen for 1,250 yen (US$12.10).

Handing the ticket to a staff member as he took a seat at the counter, Mr. Sato has high expectations. Soden will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer, and being in business for so long in such a competitive restaurant neighborhood means they must be doing something right. As he watched he cooks prepare his food, his anticipation only grew as he admired the steam convection oven in the middle of the kitchen where they were cooking the chashu roast pork.

When his order was set down before him, the visuals did not disappoint. Since this is tsukemen, the noodles and broth are served separately, and you dip them while you eat.

Ramen fans will tell you that you’re supposed to start your meal with a sip of broth, but Mr. Sato couldn’t help breaking with convention here. That slow-cooked pork looked too good to wait another second before tasting, so he grabbed one of the thick slices with his chopsticks, took a bite…

…and was transported to porcine paradise. The meat was soft and succulent, and if it wasn’t accompanied by a pile of noodles and ramen broth, you could have told him the meat had come from a fancy French restaurant, and he’d have believed you.

Of course, Soden is a ramen joint, so next Mr. Sato turned his attention to the rest of the ingredients. Soden’s special broth is seasoned with onion, garlic, and extract from oven-roasted coffee beans. That gives it both an appearance and a flavor you’ll find nowhere else, savory with a faint but enticing touch of bitterness. The thick noodles have just the right amount of elasticity, and each dip brings plenty of broth to your taste buds.

So in the end, the police officer’s recommendation turned out to be spot-on, and it makes sense that it would be. Patrol officers are supposed to know their assigned territories inside and out, and being in the area on a day-to-day basis gives them plenty of opportunities to see which eateries seem to have the most loyal customer bases, and naturally they’ll end up trying some for themselves.

Mr. Sato being randomly stopped by the cops is something that’s been happening for years, and he doesn’t expect it to change anytime soon. But with how well this day turned out, from now on when they ask him for his name, he thinks he’s going to ask them for the name of a good restaurant in return.

Restaurant information
Menya Musashi Bukotsu Soden / 麺屋武蔵 武骨相傳
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno 6-11-15
Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (reduce hours during pandemic state of emergency), delivery/takeout orders 8 p.m.-10:15 p.m.
Closed second Tuesday of odd-numbered months (i.e. January, March, May, etc.)

Top image: Pakutaso, SoraNews24
Insert images: SoraNews24
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