I hadn’t planned to create a second article about the Nakano branch of Muteppō (無鉄砲東京中野店), but sometimes adventures don’t follow the path we expect. I’m learning that, more often than not, that’s a great thing.
On solo stays in Tokyo, I’m almost always based out of Nishi-Shinjuku. No matter how far I’ve ventured, I can usually make an extra loop through Nakano Ward or Suginami Ward for dinner on the way back.
This post was supposed to be about Gotaru, a tonkotsu ramen shop on the south side of Numabukuro Station.
After I arrive, I walk around the shop twice before I realize it’s there, not expecting dark windows and missing noren. I had planned carefully when I put the shop on my plan for this evening, I hadn’t made the newbie mistake of not checking beforehand, showing up on a fixed off day or after hours. With an unscheduled closing there is no tonkotsu for me, at least not here.
However, a ten minute walk in the opposite direction means Muteppō to the rescue. I feel good when I begin to know a place well enough to make changes on the fly. A year after my first visit, nothing has changed. For a ramen shop that gets everything right, this is the highest compliment.
Same “as you like it” attitude
Same convivial, warm and inviting atmosphere
Same sloppy bowl of unapologetic pork decadence
There is an extra bit of excitement this time, when the main circuit breaker trips, plunging the shop into darkness. A loud voice from the back of the kitchen shouts for everyone to grab something solid while they get the lights back, to a chorus of laughter. Seems people have been through the drill before. The photo above is taken just after the first lights around the seating area come back to life, while the kitchen is still dark.
I’m kind of hungry, so after clearing the first round of noodles I thin the viscous soup with the free fish stock and add a kaedama. I’ll be walking off this meal for a while.
Watching them sloshing around the huge vats of bones is a distinctive part of the Muteppō experience. On the previous visit, I was too shy to ask permission to shoot into the kitchen from around the side of the safety fence. I’m feeling braver now, and after my request is passed by staff to tenchō Hojo Tadashi he pauses to look up from the cauldron for just a moment, long enough to shout an ii yo! in my direction. Cleared to click away.
This makes my night. Some ramen shop kitchens are calm and methodical. The crew at Muteppō is loud and kinetic. Watching the hustle in the kitchen and the energy they throw into this work makes me forget that I’m tired. My thoughts turn to winding myself back up for the next leg of the journey.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 3. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.