I have been a regular at Shugetsu on Gough Street ever since discovering tsukemen a few years ago, the prospect of a huge heap of fresh thick noodles hot or cold piled on a wooden mat, then dipping them into a separate bowl of intensely fragrant fish and pork bone broth brings true comfort.
Tsukemen preserves the tenacity of the noodles fairly well as they are not immersed and served in hot soup like the ramen, the taste is all the more concentrated as the rich broth clings onto the noodles. This dish is also all the more fascinating in light of how it was first invented in the 1950s, the story has it that the late renowned ramen master Yamagishi Kazuo from Tokyo wanted to put together a quick meal for himself and his staff after the lunch service, a customer spotted the “tsukemen” and repeatedly urged the chef to put it in the menu, and as they say, the rest is history.
After it was invented some fifty years later, I think Shugetsu (first set up shop in Matsuyama in Ehime prefecture–about a sixty-minute ferry ride from Hiroshima) is credited for bringing the tsukemen concept to Hong Kong. The Gough Street shop is small and charming (true to Japanese style from hangers on the wall to the wooden industrial aesthetic design), noodles are made fresh everyday at the shop premise, with wheat and flour mix varying depending if it is made for tsukemen or ramen (tsukemen is much thicker and despite probing the shopkeeper steadfastly refused to give away wheat to flour ratios). The price is the same whether one wants 100, 200 or 300 grammes of tsukemen–a nice gesture particularly for those with a big appetite. Whatever the weight I normally polished off the whole plate without fail.
The icing on the cake for me is that it also serves ice cold draft Suntory premium malt beer (okay I would prefer Ebisu but that is hard to come by), there is no better way to chat on the latest and round off a meal by the cozy noodle bar. I was there as recent as last week, and everything is just as delightful. I also read that Shugetsu does not use preservatives, the broth is stewed with sardines and special sauce that are locally sourced in Ehime, seaweed from Hokkaido, and the flour for the noodles is from Japan (of course!).
Not usually very dogmatic, I am also not easily swayed, and the tsukemen served in Tokyo Agura on McGregor Street took me by surprise. The owner happened to be at the shop when we popped in for dinner (a basic no-nonsense type noodle joint), he comes from Tokyo and speaks surprisingly good Cantonese and of course is friends with the Shugetsu owner. His noodles are imported from Japan, and whilst not freshly made on the spot, each bite tasted as delicious if not more so than Shugetsu’s. This goes back to the eternal question of whether fresh noodles are better than dry ones (likewise for pasta). I still think generally fresh noodles have the upper hand but on this occasion admittedly the imported noodles definitely seemed to have more bite. The dipping broth has a very distinct flavour (salt or soya sauce), stewed for hours with pork, chicken, mackerel and other good stuff, making it an excellent combo.
I am glad tsukemen is starting to catch on in Hong Kong, with places of outstanding quality remaining faithful to authenticity. Once our noodle cravings kick in, there are some serious contenders in this city that stand up to even those in Matsuyama or Tokyo!
5 Gough St, Central
19 McGregor St, Wan Chai
Tel: 2886 3226