Bassanova (バサノバ) is a one-of-a-kind ramen shop on Kannana-dōri in Hanegi 1-chome, a quiet corner of Setagaya Ward just a minute or two walk from Shindaita Station on the Keiō Inokashira Line. The shop’s best selling item is a tondaku wadashi soba (soba as in noodle, not specifically the buckwheat kind), featuring a blend of tonkotsu and fish stocks. However, a popular companion (and the favorite of the current chef) is a slightly unusual green curry soba that began as an experiment and became a permanent addition to the menu. Most people come here for the soup, which is great, but I was even more excited that this would be the first time I met in person Keizo Shimamoto, the Japanese-American who left his job as a Los Angeles based programmer and moved to Japan to train and follow his dream of becoming a ramen chef.
I had finally finished the end of a very long day of filming and shooting. Since I was already in Shimokitazawa, I just walked along the Inokashira tracks through a residential neighborhood until I hit the main road near the station.
Keizo (pictured here with co-worker Boom, also an expat) writes and photographs prolifically on ramen and his personal journey through his blog GO RAMEN! There, you can read about everything from his 2009 Dream Ramen Journey (28 days, 21 cities across Japan, 55 bowls of ramen) to the story of how Bassanova was created (including the origins of its name), to all of the everyday ups, downs and head scratching moments of running a small business. One of my favorite stories is of when he went to introduce himself the to owners of a new bar that had opened nearby. The bar menu included a bowl of ramen, but when Keizo tried to order it they refused to serve it to him.
What I like most about Keizo is that he not only doesn’t shy away from pointing out this is hard work, he takes it in stride. The wake of the most recent global financial crisis is strewn with the wreckage of people who left corporate jobs (by choice or in layoffs) and decided to make a go of their “Plan B”, often a small business in the food service industry, only to find out that the crazy hours, backbreaking work and cash flow challenges weren’t conducive to the kind of blissful dream they had envisioned. Keizo isn’t part of this group. He’s honest about the fact that he is in no danger of becoming fabulously wealthy in the near future, and is one of the few people that can regularly include “I’m exhausted” and “It was awesome” in the same sentence and actually mean it.
On this night Keizo was nursing through day two of New York to Tokyo jetlag, but he did his best to not let it show. Keizo had just returned from the 2012 NYC Food Film Festival, where Ramen Dreams, a documentary about his journey, was premiered along side servings of his ramen. The documentary was awarded Best Short.
After admiring this from afar through several years of blog posts, I finally had my green curry soba. While reading Keizo’s posts, if you come across the acronym “GCS”, this is what it refers to. The curry gives it a nice warmth, kicked up a hair more with the shaved chili, but there’s still a mighty solid and satisfyingly creamy tonkotsu underneath everything.
Boom and Keizo carry the torch for the newest generation of leaders that enrich their local communities through unique offerings and fun places to meet. With capable hands and passionate devotion to the work, Bassanova’s star will continue to rise.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.
Additional volumes: Volume 2