Hiroshima style tsukemen at Bakudanya, Hiroshima
Hiroshima has it's own style of ramen that not too many people seem to know about. It has come to be known in Japanese as Hiroshima-style tsukemen (広島風つけ麺). Since I've been spending a lot of time in Hiroshima, I thought I should at least be knowledgeable about its style of noodles. So I made my way to Bakudanya's honten (original shop). Here's a photo of the exterior: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2317/2284095442_3ece5068e2_o.jpg
First of all, it's not really ramen, which is probably why it's just called tsukemen. It resembles hiyashi-chuka more than ramen, as it's served cold, with plenty of vegetable garnishes, and the sauce which is made with a vinegar base is served on the side for dipping. When you order at Bakudanya, you order by size of the noodle portion (4 sizes), and then your preferred spice level of the dipping sauce. The normal range is from 1-8, with 8 being pretty spicy, but they can accommodate up to a level 20 if you so desire. I chose a level 5 to test it out. Then you can add additional toppings starting at 50 yen for things like half-boiled egg, bean sprouts, radish sprouts, katsuo flakes, or extra chasu.
Here's a photo of the menu: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2268/2283309417_c2fb024df5_o.jpg
Here's a photo of the dish itself: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2372/2283309597_100bc27525_o.jpg
You can't really see the noodles under the pile of toppings, but they were there. The dipping sauce had a good kick from the spice, and the mixture of broth and vinegar provided a good balance. And the fistful of ground sesame gave it a nice earthy sweetness that complemented the sauce.
This Hiroshima-style tsukemen is definitely refreshing, and a good alternative to hiyashi-chuka. They have branches all over Hiroshima, and they've expanded to a few other cities, with a few in Tokyo (Akasaka, Roppongi, and Shinjuku).
Bakudanya website: http://bakudanya.net/
In addition to Bakudanya, I recently tried the tsukemen at Kara-Kara Tei (唐々亭), another well-known chain-ette for Hiroshima tsukemen. I think I figured out the appeal of this style of tsukemen. As I reported previously, it resembles hiyashi-chuka more than ramen, but it also borrows the concept from neng myun (or what's called reimen in Japan, the cold Korean noodles), making it a unique tsukemen experience. While their "kodawari" seems to be the chili peppers they use, the dominant flavor of the tsukejiru (dipping broth) is a combination of vinegar, a soy based soup, plenty of toasted sesame, and whatever that something else is. Unfortunately, it's not the best choice of foods during the cold winter months, but if you order it spicy enough, you do work up a sweat.
I ordered a level 5 on their spice scale, but it wasn't quite spicy enough, so I had them give it a little more of the hot stuff (not sure to what level) for an improved experience.
Here's the shop website. http://karakaratei.jp/index.html
Here is a listing of shops that serve Hiroshima tsukemen around Hiroshima. I hope one day to work my way down this list...