Takehiro Tsujita is a man who lives for ramen. He’s also the chef and founder of The Tsujita. Early on in his life, Tsujita vowed to create the greatest tasting tonkotsu (pork bone broth, in Japanese) by becoming a student of the opulent, gravy-like elixir siphoned from slowly simmered porcine bones. He pleaded to a former employer for after-hours use of the restaurant’s kitchen to meet this grand ambition, even sleeping on the kitchen floor from exhaustion. Pot after pot, he tweaked, refined and cooked his tonkotsu, not satisfied until every detail of the soup’s scent, sapor, look and texture reached the chef’s expectations. Finally, he opened the first Tsujita in 2003 in Tokyo at the age of 24. Many ramen styles exist, but his is inspired by the Hakata Nagahama version, known for its rich, milky pork broth and thin noodles.
Is it possible to taste obsession?
Dining at a Tsujita restaurant is nothing short of a ramen pilgrimage. The anticipation is as thick as the legendary tonkotsu that’s been bubbling for 60 hours under the watchful eyes of sentinel chefs. The complexity of the soup delves deep into a sublime symphony of savory, sweet, umami and unctuousness. That is what draws the crowds, eager to wait in long lines, and the global media recognition for a ramen in a class of its own.
Tsujita is most renowned for its tsukemen (pronounced “skeh-men”), a dipping style ramen that comes in two separate bowls: one for the hefty, thicker noodles and another for the broth, which is an even richer tonkotsu enhanced with seafood stock that has a slightly sweet nuance. With char siu tsukemen, the ritual is to
first plunge the hefty, wavy noodles, nestled in a separate bowl with slices of rich barbecue pork, into the hot broth which has a seasoned soft boiled egg (ajitama) peeking out, then devour.
The server advised ordering the custom-made fresh noodles “hard” cooked, rather than medium or soft. I already knew this and smiled in agreement. “Firmer
texture,” I said.
To optimize my dipping noodle experience, I first dip the noodles into the broth as presented; next, I squirt fresh lime juice into the syrupy soup, dip the noodles and slurp; finally, because I enjoy spicy heat, I add the karashi takana—hot mustard leaf. Warning: it’s fiery! The velvety braised pork belly melts in my mouth. In the off-chance any broth remains, I order additional noodles, known as kaedama, which includes a complimentary topping off of soup.
Tsujita’s ramen should be enjoyed fresh and hot, so the soup doesn’t get cold and the noodles are still chewy. This 60-hour ramen is best when gone in 15 minutes.
Tsujita Artisan Noodle is projected to open at South Coast Plaza this fall on the first floor between Express and Casa Barilla.