Ramen: Ganko

Japan, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nishiwaseda, 3丁目15−1 Japan, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nishiwaseda, 3丁目15−1
Ramen: Ganko. Shinjuku, Japan

NOT far from Waseda University in Tokyo, around the corner from a 7-Eleven, down a tidy alley, lies a ramen shop that doesn’t look like a ramen shop. In fact, Ganko, as it’s called, doesn’t look like anything at all. There’s no sign, no windows, only a raggedy black tarp set like a tent against a tiled wall, with a white animal bone dangling from a chain to signal (somehow) what lies within
Past the tarp and through a sliding glass door is Ganko proper. Five stools are lined up along a faux-wood counter, and above it a thin space opens like a proscenium onto a small kitchen, crusted black with age and smoke but hardly dirty. The lone performer is a ramen chef. With a week’s stubble on his chin, his eyeglasses fogged with steam and a towel wrapped around his neck, he certainly looks ganko, or stubborn, and he speaks hardly a word as he methodically fills bowls with careful dollops of flavorings and fats, ladles of rich broth, noodles cooked just al dente and shaken free of excess water, a slab of roast pork, a supple sheet of seaweed, a tangle of pickled bamboo shoots. All is silent until the final moment, when the chef drizzles hot oil on top and the shreds of pale-green scallion squeal and sizzle.

From then on there is only one sound — the slurping of noodles. Oh, it’s punctuated by the occasional happy hum of a diner chewing pork or guzzling the fat-flecked broth, or even by the faint chatter of the chef’s radio, but it’s the slurps that take center stage, long and loud and enthusiastic, showing appreciation for the chef’s métier even as they cool the noodles down to edible temperature.

And when the noodles are finally gone, the bowl empty of everything but a few oleaginous blobs, each diner sets his bowl back upon the counter, mumbles “Gochiso-sama deshita” — roughly “Thank you for the meal” — pays the 700-yen fee (about $7.85 at 89 yen to the dollar) and wanders back out into the daylight world where Ganko suddenly seems like a hallucination, a Wonderland dream of noodly bliss.

3-15-7 Nishiwaseda, Tokyo, Japan 144-0054

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