By Chris Glenn
Menya Hanabi (麺屋はなび) serves up maze-soba (soupless ramen) in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture. Taiwan ramen has been something of a Nagoya specialty since the 1970s (accredited to Misen), but Hanabi's arrival in 2008 made people start to take notice – their original spicy soupless ramen with distinctive egg topping becoming an immediate hit.
Whilst Hanabi does serve regular styles of ramen, practically everyone is here to try their Ganso Taiwan Mazesoba (元祖台湾まぜそば), ¥810, often super-charged with extra toppings as laid out besides the shop entrance.
The mazesoba bowl is a work of art to look at – spicy minced pork/beef, spring onions, chopped seaweed, gyofun/fish powder, char siu pork (though optional) and topped with a raw egg yolk. It's an explosion of colour as bright as the Hanabi ('fireworks') name would suggest. Whilst I'm not the biggest fan of raw egg in any meal, mixing it up (as is the point of maze-soba) alleviates most concern.
The experience itself is incredible and unlike any other style of ramen previously tried – I was impressed by the maze-soba at Kajiken, but this is on a different level. Mixing everything together turns this into quite a dense, viscous mass of noodles, but the intense flavours and spices combine perfectly thereon. Different textures contrast really well, and though being quite spicy to begin with, they encourage you to customise to taste with extra chili oil or vinegar. The grilled char siu pork here was succulent and perfectly cooked. At the end they offer to serve you free rice to help finish off the remaining spicy, oily sauce in the bowl – but I couldn't manage it on this occasion.
Orders are placed at the ticket machine inside and you can expect to queue during peak hours, especially on weekends (around 60 minutes). There's a great energy and vibe inside the shop – you can tell the owner is a fan of Japanese rock group Southern All Stars too, with memorabilia plastering the walls and rock ballads on the radio while you wait. For those who can't make it the original store, there are several chain branches around Aichi – with one in Tokyo's Shinjuku and a sister shop (Haruka) in Akihabara too.
Hanabi is half-way between Takabata station (Higashiyama line) and Arako station (Aonami line) – both around a 7 minute walk.
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