Japan’s boba obsession heads into the world of ramen, but is it worth eating? We find out.
For the past several months, Japan has been experiencing a tapioca bubble tea boom of unprecedented strength. The combination of sweet flavours and playful visuals have made it the go-to drink for social media-savvy selfie-snappers and sweets fans alike, and has led to some high-profile partnerships, like the Pokémon tapioca teas that are on their way to Japan soon.
But even though tapioca pearls seem to be popping up everywhere, one place we didn’t expect to find them was in our ramen.
Located in downtown Tokyo’s Tamachi neighbourhood, Menya Musashi Gorindo (a branch of the highly respected Menya Musashi ramen chain) recently added Tapioca Tsukemen to its menu. Like the name says, this is tsukemen-style ramen, meaning that the noodles are served dry, with a dipping sauce on the side. But what sets this dish apart is that the broth includes boba/tapioca pearls.
We…honestly weren’t sure what to make of this. We like to think of ourselves as having pretty adventurous palates (the SoraNews24 taste test archives include cakes with bits of tuna in them and wasp rice crackers, after all), but tapioca ramen? That sounded like it was crossing a line, no matter which direction you’re stepping.
But still, we had to try this concoction for ourselves, and so we put our 1,000-en (US$9.25) bill into the meal ticket machine and punched the button for the Tapioca Tsukemen.
We headed into the restaurant, took a seat, and handed our meal ticket to an employee. After about a 10-minute wait, the server placed our bowl of noodles in front of us.
The noodles are accompanied by slices of steamed chicken and cucumber, seasoned in a green onion marinade, plus a few half-chopped lemon wedges. It’s all very gourmet and summery looking, but right next to it the server set down…
…a bowl of broth with the creamy colour of milk tea, plus the wide-diameter straw that’s indicative of tapioca tea!
We gave the broth a few stirs with our spoon, and sure enough, there were tapioca pearls waiting beneath the surface.
But hey, Menya Musashi hadn’t done us wrong with their chocolate ramen and sweet strawberry ramen, both of which we’d enjoyed on previous visits to the chain. So we silenced the doubt that was screaming in our minds, picked up a mouthful of noodles with our chopsticks…
…dipped them in the broth…
…and took a bite, which was when he realized that…
…the Tapioca Tsukemen tastes great!
Contrary to how the broth looks, you’re not actually dipping the noodles into straight tapioca milk tea. It’s actually a milk tea-ified broth that combines Menya Musashi’s orthodox bonito stock tsukemen broth with Earl Grey tea extract. This makes for a complex and distinct flavour that mixes salty and creamy notes, but still somehow manages to avoid feeling cloying or clingy to your tongue, and instead has a crisp, satisfying finish.
Things got even better when we started mixing in bites of tapioca pearls between mouthfuls of noodles. Like the noodles, the pearls are springy, but still have a different enough consistency to keep things interesting in the texture department, and since they’re soaked in the same broth that you use for the noodles, there’s no startling flavour transition to upset your taste buds.
The Tapioca Tsukemen also comes with a small container of almond milk, which you can pour into the broth to up its creaminess. You could opt to do this while you’ve still got noodles left to eat, or do what we did and wait until the end of your meal to turn the broth into a meal-capping beverage you drink through the straw.
We expected the Tapioca Tsukemen to be crazy, and it is, but it’s also crazy good. We’re already checking our calendars to see if we can sneak back for another bowl before the end of the month, since that’s as long as Menya Musashi Gorindo will be selling it for (and with a limited number of orders available every day, getting there early is highly recommened). Honestly, after eating the unusual ramen we feel a little guilty about doubting the restaurant, especially since our experience with tossing tapioca pearl tea into our rice cooker already showed us that boba and other starches can be a great combination.
Menya Musashi Gorindo / 麺屋武蔵 五輪洞
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Shiba 5-29-1
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
By Casey Baseel
This article first appeared in SoraNews24.