Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santouka Ramen: natto is nasty but ramen rocks

The English sign for Santouka is discreet -- it's the one with the crowd in front

The bonus of going to someplace I don't often have time to get to, like the South Bay, is the chance to hit someplace I haven't been on the way back. Of course, I've been to the Downtown and West L.A. Mitsuwa markets many times, but I had never hit the jumbo Torrance location and the Santouka Ramen stall in the market's food court. You know a place has to be good when it can get away with numerous rules: cash only, no takeouts, no pre-ordering by phone. To order, there's a series of choices to make. Do you want your broth flavored with shio (salt), shoyu (soy) or miso? The guy in front of me recommended shoyu, so I took his advice. Then, a small, medium or large bowl of ramen? Nice to have a choice. I took small. You can get just the bowl of ramen, or for just a bit more you can add two sides -- "fravored egg," which is a hardboiled egg in a nicely savory tea-flavored sauce, and rice topped with green onion, salmon roe, natto or chopped pork. Since Josh and I had just been discussing natto, or fermented soybeans, I felt that for just $2 more, I should finally try it. Nasty natto on rice at left

I tried the natto first, in case I needed to get rid of the taste with the ramen broth. I scooped up a bit of rice, stringy, rotten soybeans and green onion and popped it in my mouth. Ugh. Not the most horrifying thing ever, but way too reminiscent of the time in college I made red beans and rice and left the pot on the stove for a week, deciding instead to eat at Pinocchio's every single night. The result at the end of the week was quite similar to the bowl of natto in front of me -- funky and just very off. Wow, talk about an acquired taste. Ok, I tried it, can I get the badge for my foodblogger sash now? I cleared my palate with the egg and pushed the natto aside.
On to the ramen. The murky broth filled with al dente ramen noodles was supremely comforting, perfect for the blustery, drizzly day. There was a fatty, smoky piece of pork swimming around, and I wished I had sacrificed the natto for a medium ramen instead, with more noodles and pork.
Afterwards, I had a good time picking out black cod, rice cakes, nappa cabbage, sesame oil, plum wine, etc. at the market. With several more food stalls for curry, desserts, tea, a bakery and more, plus stationery, book and Hello Kitty stores, Mitsuwa Torrance is one of the best exotic vacation spots I can imagine -- and it's right in our backyard.
Mitsuwa Marketplace/Santouka Ramen
21515 Western Ave.

Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon


Anne said...

Wow. Big ups to you for trying natto. I'm half-Japanese, was born in Japan and lived half my life there but even I can't bring myself to eat it. The smell is similar to a swift kick in the head.

Keizo Shimamoto said...

Yes, props on trying the natto but the guy in front of you needs to be kicked...haha. He should have told you to try the Toroniku Shio Ramen!! That's really what they are known for. Otherwise, great review!

Alex said...

Natto is awesome! Was it bad natto or is all natto nasty?


Natto handrolls aren't too bad but generally will eat anything haha

Anonymous said...

The natto sounded nasty, but at least you know for sure now. Better your stomach than mine. On the other hand, the ramen at Santouka is amazing, definitely the best I've had. Next time, it's worth trying the Toroniku (special pork) Salt Ramen.

pleasurepalate said...

I just can't get into natto. I've tried 3 times now and it's the fact that it's slimy that totally turns me off.

edjusted said...

A Japanese girl I was interested in ages ago told me she couldn't be with anyone who didn't like natto. I haven't talked to her in years. Hahaha.

I agree, even though shoyu is my favorite in general, Santouka is famed for their shio and their toroniku pork. Maybe we'll see another review in the future? ;)

Anonymous said...

Lol, the Japanese sign is backwards!