menya iroha toyama kuroshoyu: the black whole
Toyama s not exactly the capital of Japan. Compared to Tokyo or Osaka, the prefectures on the far side of central Honshu often get shortchanged in both tourist and marketing dollars. But turn over a rock in any corner of that country, and you might well find a few critters that exists under no other rock, anywhere else in the world. Ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but Toyama is home to a breed of noodle that, in recent years, has started to seem some popularity throughout the country - kuroshoyu, with a soup as black as an eclipse.
Menya Iroha, a mini-chain in Toyama city, specializes in two types of ramen, a black shoyu and a shiro ebi white shrimp shio. Pitched like tar, the kuro shoyu soup is something of a regional trademark, suprisingly mellow in flavor and accentuated by the fragrant kick of black soybeans. It’s good stuff, if not quite an incancatory experience out of the nama noodle bag. Those familiar with the dashi-infused sensations of a more traditional Tokyo-style shoyu might be a bit put off at first; despite the jarring color, Iroha’s soup is fairly straightforward, as if soybeans had overwhelmed the cauldron. The firm yellow noodles, slightly thicker than usual, are par for the course on Honshu, and these strands are no exception. These cooked up fine, with a touch of tooth.
Ultimately, what I found most impressive about Iroha’s black shoyu, at least this export-ready bag of it, is that it underscores the sheer variety of ramen to be found throughout Japan, even in the least-trumpeted corners of the country. Who knows what might turn up next? Colored me intrigued, but it’s hard to be surprised these days.