A bit of a break from the whole serious-business welcome to YNU guide: let me talk a bit about Jiro again. As in, Ramen Jiro.
So a friend from California came to visit last month — in the two weeks before he did, while he was planning out itineraries, I think even before he asked me about specific plans to meet up, there it was: hang out with Mattie in Yokohama, “…destroy a garlic ramen place.” I giggled. I was cool with that, actually; I’d not returned back to Jiro ever since that fateful first time — I was pretty ready to give it another go. He was ready to pay his respects to the garlic king, and a chat over Skype confirmed his hype.
Meeting up with him and a couple of other people — mutual friends — at Kannai station at about 1 PM, we proceeded to walk right down the street to the line already 15 people strong. I describe to them once more how the ramen is, and tell them, based on the one prior experience that I had, to get a small. They didn’t believe me — after all, all of us had been busy enough in the morning to skip a decent breakfast. I looked up and showed them pictures. They were flabbergasted. My dear friend continued to waffle for a while wondering if he should just go for it, destroy a huge amount of food, like any stereotypical American could and would.
“No,” I discouraged empathically. “You are going to die.”
“Dude, don’t worry about it, I can hella finish that off,” came the response. One by one, we entered the store and ordered Jiro’s ramen.
In the end, we all went for the standard small bowls. As I’d planned earlier, I dropped the garlic level down to chotto dake. The ramen became a bit more bearable, but the garlic was still strong; I managed to get all the way down to the broth, at which point I couldn’t continue. Gulping down the customary bottle of twice-steeped oolong tea afterward returned most of the inside of my mouth to normal, but the garlic stuck around in the back of my tongue. I’d prepped mints, too — those didn’t help, either. As the shirts the chefs wore said, in perfect English: Jiro without garlic is like a life without love.
One by one, the others rose from the store. None of them finished it — one admitted he’d left a bit of cha-shu behind, but if he’d gone any further he would’ve thrown up. Another — one of the people who’d thought about getting a large — asked me how people could ever hope to finish a large. I shrugged. (I remember asking the friend who’d first recommended Jiro to me the same thing; his response was “no normal person can.”)
And then my friend appeared, the last to come out of the store. He loved it. He’d finished the bowl, broth and everything. Apparently something had snapped inside him, gave him a second wind. But he needed a bit of a rest. He did admit defeat, at least, to the legendary large.
We walked through Isezaki-cho for a bit. All we could think about and talk about for the next fifteen minutes was the ramen and how much it destroyed us.
None of us ate dinner that night. Ramen Jiro was filling enough for an entire day. ◆