While Hiroshima may be famed for her deliciously fat oysters and okonomiyaki, did you know that the city is also home to a unique style of ramen? Known as tsukemen, this dish is essentially a soupless version of the comforting ramen noodles we have come to know and love, paired with a bowl of thick dipping sauce to coat them noodles.
Located a stone’s throw from the bustling Hondori Shopping Arcade 本通りショッピングアーケド and the famed Okonomimuraお好み村 in Naka Ward, Bakundan-ya Honten ばくだん屋 has been earmarked by many as a must visit for Hiroshima style tsukemen.
Like so many of Japan’s local food joints, Bakundan-ya gives a somewhat aged vibe when you step into its cramped, ten seater space. But as a friend of mine once said, the more lapsup a food place appears in Japan, the better the food.
One side of the eatery’s walls is plastered with numerous autographs from local celebrities – a dead giveaway that legit stuff is served up at this joint.
While four styles of noodles (including Szechuan style spicy noodles) are served at Bakundan-ya, it’s their Cold Hiroshima Noodles (¥743) that keeps throngs of diners coming. A bowl of nondescript looking noodles arrives topped with the usual suspects of chashu, flavoured egg, bamboo slices, and vegetables – lots of it, in fact. But the real star of this dish, is its spicy dipping sauce.
This concoction of soy sauce with chillies and chilli oil is available in one hundred – yes, one hundred levels of spiciness. Level 0 is marked safe for children, 10 is for beginners, 15 – 20 is for novices and experts, and from level 40, well, you’re pretty much on your own.
The dipping sauce takes on a bright red hue that grows only more intense as more scoops of chilli oil are added to the mix. While Level 6 left a pleasant tingling sensation on my tastebuds, it was my heroic (or stupid, depending on how you look at it) attempt at a Level 15 that did me in. While most “spicy” stuff in Japan is rather mild compared to our fiery cuisine back home, Bakundan-ya’s dipping sauce certainly takes no prisoner, so be prepared for more than a kick to your palate!
The spiciness of the sauce was well balanced by the chilled noodles, which were cooked al dente and tasty on their own (yes, I stopped midway). The crunchy lettuce provided a brief respite from all that spice too, although I preferred if they were more generous with their chashu.
Your mileage might vary depending on your personal threshold for spice, so go with whatever’s comfortable for you (or push yourself if you’re feeling up to the challenge!). While Level 15 was slightly out of my personal comfort zone, I was still able to taste the other ingredients without being overwhelmed by the dipping sauce.
Speaking of meat – Bakundan-ya’s Chicken Karaaage (¥190 for two pieces), is another must-have. Fried to a crisp perfection on the outside, these bite-sized babies yielded tender, well cooked meat. Perfect if you find that Bakundan-ya’s chashu portions are not sufficient to hit your protein quota.
Service, while prompt, was on the reserved side. Then again, with all that deliciousness in front of you, you would definitely not want to be distracted by unnecessary small talk when you could be savouring all that slurping action. Whether you are a tsukemen newbie or a seasoned eater in search of new, local renditions, Bakundan-ya is a great stop to check out if you are in Hiroshima!
(Accurate as of October 2018)
Address: 2-12 Shintenchi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0034, Japan
Nearest Tram: Hatchobori 八丁堀
Opening Hours: 11.30am – 12mn daily
Check out my other adventures around Setouchi!