A couple of months ago, my intern, Erica, came to me with a request. She'd just visited Los Angeles, where she fell in love with tsukemen (pronounced SKIM-men) ramen, and wanted to know where she could get it in Chicago.
First, she had to tell me what tsukemen was, since I've never encountered it before (it's much more prevalent in LA, where Tsujita is the best-known spot). A totally different ramen style than the tonkotsu, shio and shoyu we see so much in Chicago, tsukemen is also called "dipping ramen," since the noodles and broth are served in separate dishes, and you dip the noodles into the broth before eating them. In its ramen guide, Lucky Peach explains how the style "traces its history to the early postwar era, when the now-legendary 'God of Ramen,' Kazuo Yamagishi of Tokyo’s Taishoken, decided to offer his customers soup and noodles separately. The sweet, spicy, vinegary broth clinging to extra-fat noodles has spawned literally thousands of imitators—tsukemen has staked its claim in the noodle pantheon."
Instantly intrigued, Erica and I began hunting for tsukemen in Chicago—and we failed. Among our leads—Slurping Turtle had served it in the past, but no longer did. Arami, which hosts a monthly noodle night, had served it as a special before, but never made it part of its permanent menu. Its publicist told us that Arami would run it from "time to time as a special, or perhaps on a noodle night."
But that was as far as we got, until a friend tipped us off that Furious Spoon, the Wicker Park ramen spot from Shin Thompson that opened a couple of months ago, was serving it. Here, the tsukemen ($9.50) is a seasonal offering, since the noodles are served at room temperature and dipped into warm broth, which differs from the piping hot bowls of tonkotsu I want to eat all winter. We also had a bowl of the namesake Furious Ramen, and the tsukemen noodles were much thicker and came topped with shredded nori and scallions and served alongside a bowl of rich, dense broth with chashu (super tender braised pork belly) and sesame seeds.
How did it stack up? Overall, the Furious Ramen was a better balanced bowl of flavors and textures, but I'll leave it to Erica:
“Even though Furious Spoon was delicious and satisfied my craving, they still weren't quite on par with Tsujita. Furious Spoon's was harder to eat because of all the scallions and nori on the noodles, and it was a little difficult to cut my chashu in the broth. And while I wished the noodles were slightly colder, they were on par with Tsujita. The biggest thing that was missing: limes! The noodles and broth are already great together, but once you squeeze the lime over the noodles, it's like you're eating a completely different meal.”
Later this month, you'll have a second spot to try tsukemen, albeit for one night. Arami, which hosts monthly noodle nights the last Monday of each month. On May 25, from 5–9:15pm, it'll be serving a few specials, including Koji Miso Tsukemen, with a Japanese mushroom medley, asparagus and black garlic oil for $15.