Tsukemen – City Foodsters
Not long ago, I stumbled across the show, “The Mind of a Chef” on Netflix. Five minutes into Episode One, I was already drooling. Aptly entitled “Noodle”, the show is pretty much a 23-minute montage of Chef David Chang slurping down bowl after steaming bowl of delicious-looking ramen in different kitchens, restaurants and countries, while he delves into the history (and science) behind the Japanese dish.
Because I am the poster child for the power of suggestion, I instantly became obsessed with finding “tsukemen” in Paris, a noodle dish featured on the show that was totally new to me. Invented in the 1950s by Kazuo Yamagishi, tsukemen differs from traditional ramen dishes in that the noodles don’t come in a soup. Instead, they’re served separately, and you use chopsticks to dunk them into a reduced broth or sauce, before slurping them up with delicate finesse. The noodles are coated in the flavourful sauce, but retain their natural taste and chewy texture because they aren’t sitting in liquid. (The literal translation of tsukemen is actually “dipping noodles”.)
Luckily for me, Paris’ “Little Tokyo” neighbourhood, nestled behind the Palais Royal in the 1st arrondissement, did not disappoint. Among the plethora of rue Saint Anne eateries serving everything from rice bowls and ramen to the ubiquitous beef-wrapped cheese skewers which I’m not convinced are actually Japanese, there are indeed a handful of places that feature tsukemen on their menu, although here they tend to use udon instead of ramen noodles—adapting to local tastes, perhaps?
Here are my top three picks, based on a totally random and unscientific (but very enthusiastic) survey of the tsukemen I found on offer.
Udon – Cipher
Udon Jubey – 39 rue Saint-Anne, 75001 Paris
My personal favourite, Udon Jubey offers the widest range of tsukemen options out of all the places I tried. Service is brisk and cheerful, the portions are generous, and the variety of tasty hot and cold tsukemen dishes on offer make the dinner-rush lineups worth the wait. Prices run from 12€ for a bowl of plain udon with tempura bits to 20€ for fancier fare, with lunchtime set menus priced at a respectable €15. Grab a seat at the counter if you want to watch the magic happen; those who prefer a table should head to the basement.
Tip: If you’ve got a big appetite, get an extra portion of noodles for €2 when you place your order—if you ask after you’ve been served, the price jumps to €4 because they have to boil up a new batch.
Tsukemen – City Foodsters
Udon Bistro Kunitoraya – 1 rue Villedo, 75001 Paris
Nobody takes their udon more seriously than Kunitoraya. This shrine to the Japanese noodle lists four strict commandments on its website: thou shall eat thy udon with chopsticks, thou shall slurp thy noodles, thou shall eat thy dish while it’s hot, and (most importantly) thou shall remember that udon is a living thing—the more time that passes, the less chewy and the soggier it gets. Rules to live by.
The restaurant is the prettiest of the three, with exposed brick, rustic wooden tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for people watching as you slurp down (up?) your lunch. The tsukemen options are mostly cold, except for one, and prices range from €10-€20. At lunchtime, an extra €7 gets you fried chicken or pork, Japanese omelette slices and onigiri. The restaurant recommends udon neophytes get their feet wet with Kitsune- or Tempura-Udon, while more sophisticated palettes should try the Kunitora-Udon (ground pork, radish and burdock).
Udon – Naoya Fujii
Sanukiya – 9 rue d’Argenteuil, 75001 Paris
If you get lost on your way to Sanukiya, just look for the long line of Japanese tourists, interspersed with a few Parisian locals, waiting patiently outside its front door. Located on a quiet side street away from the crowds on rue Saint Anne, the restaurant is a popular destination for visitors from Japan, which I take as a good sign. (The day I went, a couple were trailing suitcases, presumably squeezing in one last bowl before heading to the airport?) Space is at a premium here, so be prepared to jostle elbows with your neighbours at one of the counters lining the restaurant walls. Mains range from €10-20 with set lunch menus of fried chicken, Japanese omelette and chicken-burdock rice available for €5-7, plus the cost of your udon of choice.
Remember that in Japanese culture, the louder you slurp your noodles, the more appreciation you are showing for your meal and the chef—some say the act of slurping actually makes the dish taste better (think sommeliers sucking air through their teeth to amplify the wine’s flavour). So get out there and start slurping! Bon appétit!
- Looking for more Japanese food? Try Umami Matcha Café.
- For the 15 best places for Ramen and Udon, head over to Foursquare.
- For the top 10 restaurants in Paris’ Quartier Asiatique, head over to The Culture Trip.