With the recent opening of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (山頭火, see the May 10, 2012, edition of the Taipei Times) and Ippudo TW (一風堂, see the May 17, 2012, edition), Taipei can officially be said to be in the grip of a ramen noodle craze. Both stores specialize in the serving of this Japanese-style noodle, and they have jointly raised the bar considerably for any establishment purporting to purvey Japanese style ramen. This fact underlines the suspicion long held that quality noodles are best obtained from shops specializing in the making and serving of a specific type of noodle.
The situation with ramen applies to other types of noodles as well. The best of various styles of northern Chinese-cut noodles (刀削麵), pulled noodles (拉麵), and southern-style egg noodles (雞蛋麵) are generally obtained from shops that make their own. If you are looking for a dish in which the noodle can stand up as the main event, mass-produced noodles just do not cut it.
With this in mind, I was particularly eager to check out Dosan Kanroku (土三寒六), a shop specializing in the Japanese udon noodle, and one that has been nominated by the Kagawa prefectural government as an “embassy for Japanese udon” (烏龍麵大使館), the official home of udon.
My prior experience with udon in Taiwan had been of a flaccid noodle that failed to provide much interest in either taste or texture. They are a ubiquitous hot pot favorite, but one that I generally avoid as providing nothing more than a carbohydrate filler. As a result, my first experience of the cold udon noodles with salmon sashimi (NT$270 to NT$330) at Dosan Kanroku was a revelation. The noodles were fat and firm, with a robust texture that contrasted with their subtle flavor. You did not just slurp them in, but chewed them, coming to grips with their complex mix of qualities. Quite simply, these are exciting noodles. They’re made fresh daily, and can also be purchased for preparation at home (NT$180 a packet).
Address: 6, Ln 126, Fuxing S Rd, Taipei City (台北市復興南路一段126巷6號)
Telephone: (02) 2775-4611
Open: 11:30am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm on weekdays; 11:30am to 9pm on weekends
Average meal: NT$400
Details: Chinese and Japanese menu; no credit cards
The bowl of udon with salmon sashimi was very simple, garnished with four thin slices of raw salmon that looked at first glance a trifle inadequate, but which proved sufficient flavor highlights to the noodles and the broth. I had requested the addition of a mountain yam (山藥) puree, a recommended optional extra (NT$50), and this provided an additional level of complexity.
The dish was a relatively new addition to the menu, and ideal for the current hot weather.
The connoisseur’s udon (NT$260 to NT$290), a staple of the menu, which staff said was a favorite with Japanese guests, is also served cold, and includes a topping of tempura, including shrimp, mushroom, pumpkin, as well as tofu (there are seasonal variations to this combination). The mixture of slightly sweet tofu with the salty broth was a flavor combination that I associate very much with Japanese cuisine and one that is not altogether to my taste. It was telling that despite the lack of any instinctive fondness for this dish, the care in its preparation and the balancing of flavors was evident throughout, and it could be enjoyed for its pure craftsmanship.
Both the salmon and the connoisseur’s udon bowls were manifestly designed as “healthy cuisine.” They were low on oil and low on meat, and while this aspect of low-fat, low-calorie dining is something that Dosan Kanroku is keen to promote, there are plenty of hearty dishes that can fulfill the cravings of unrepentant carnivores. A fine example of this is the kingdom udon (NT$250 to NT$280), which is much the same udon bowl, served hot with a topping of roast fatty pork and deep fried chicken pieces.