You may find yourself on one of the long, winding roads of Shikoku when the pangs of hunger begin to bite. You look here and you look there for a place to eat, but you can see nothing that you recognize. Then, up ahead in the distance, you see a huge red diamond against the sky, like a beacon of hope. As you draw closer, you make out the kanji for Tontaro – very roughly translated as Pig Boy. At last, you’ve found somewhere to eat!
Tontaro is a Shikoku-based chain serving reasonably-priced, reasonably good ramen, gyoza and chahan – noodles, dumplings and fried rice. There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about Tontaro. The interiors are simple, featuring bland, pastel colors. The kitchens are always visible so that you can see the food being prepared. The kitchen is also audible, with a merry clatter of frying pans, and the clink of plates and glasses being loaded into the automatic dishwashers. The kitchen staff wear white rubber boots, and when they bring out your ramen, they inevitably trail out a good deal of grease too, so the floors tend to be slippery.
I usually opt for miso ramen and gyoza. You’re offered free garlic with your ramen, which I decline, since the gyoza have plenty of it in anyway. The ramen comes with sliced pork, boiled egg, and bamboo shoots as standard. For a little extra, you can add toppings to the ramen. I like the generous lump of butter and maybe some corn or seaweed. The butter adds an extra touch of richness to the soup. The gyoza are some of the best anywhere – crispy yet succulent, with a good balance of meat and vegetable.
Oden, another favorite of hungry people, is available year round. Skewers of meat, processed fish, boiled egg, fried tofu and other good things sit stewing in fish broth. You’re free to go up and select any skewer for 100 yen, and dab some of the tasty miso paste on it. This is a popular option for teenagers who tend to be too hungry to wait even the short time before their ramen arrives.
Tontaro’s filling and reasonably-priced fare makes it popular with families, students, workmen and commercial travelers. The seating meets all needs – there are counter stools, tables, and tatami booths with low tables, where small children can be packed in, or sprawl about.
At Tontaro, you can eat your fill for a reasonable 700 yen or so, and you can be sure to get the same menu and service wherever you go in Shikoku.
Name in Japanese: 豚太郎 tontarō