Why did Ippudo collaborate with a long-established eatery?
Let’s hear about the buzz happening around Daimyo where it all originated.
“Ippudo Tenjin Nishi-dori Stand” which opened in February 2017 as “Ippudo where you can drink while standing up” commenced a unique undertaking. In April of this year it collaborated with “Mogura ga Ore wo Yondeiru (a mole is calling me)”, a ramen Izakaya located in Daimyo, Fukuoka and released a limited menu called “Mogu Zero Ramen”. And in July, as part of its second collaboration, it is mutually providing a limited menu with “Ichizenmeshi Aokido”, a long-established eatery celebrating its 60th anniversary since its foundation. Why is Ippudo collaborating with local stores, now? To find the answer, we spoke to key persons from the three stores that are involved.
WORDS ＆ PHOTOS by YUICHIRO YAMADA (KIJI)）
Next, a collaboration with a long-established set menu restaurant.
It has been a while, I’m Yamada, a noodle writer. Last time I wrote an article on “Black Mont Blanc”and this is my first appearance since then. This time I would like to present a collaboration with Ippudo and “Aokido”. Aokido is a familiar eatery for people of Fukuoka located in the center of Konnyamachi shopping arcade in Daimyo.
This is “Ichizenmeshi Aokido”. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It opens at 8:30 am and at lunch time it is always crowded. An eatery is a place that makes you feel like home, especially for people around Daimyo.
One day in June. The clock needle has turned 10:00 pm; time when night turns completely black. The lights from the street lights seem even brighter. The place Mr. Tomoaki Shimazu, sales manager of Ippudo, took me was “Ichizenmeshi Aokido” after it has closed for the day. I was invited to witness the final trial dish that was being made together with the third-generation owner-chef, Mr. Hidenori Aoki, towards the upcoming collaboration.
- SHIMAZU：Good evening! I’m looking forward to today.
- AOKI：Hi! I am as well. I’m kind of nervous.
Greetings were exchanged nicely. You can tell that they seem to hit it off well together. I thought for sure they were buddies from long ago, but it was only recently that they’ve become friends. The previous collaboration between “Mogura ga Ore wo Yondeiru” (Mogu Ore from hereonin) and “Ippudo Tenjin Nishi-dori Stand” led to their chance meeting.
Mr. Hidenori Aoki, third generation owner-chef of Ippudo (right) and Mr. Tomoaki Shimazu, sales manager of Ippudo. Mr. Aoki is also a town development executive committee member of Daimyo. Mr. Shimazu returned to Japan having spent approximately 8 years working in NY.
- AOKI：I Knew that Mogu Ore and Ippudo were collaborating. But, to be honest, I was a bit suspicious. Since Gon-chan (nickname of Masahiro Gondo, manager of “Mogura ga Ore wo Yondeiru”) and he are buddies both opening a restaurant in Daimyo and they go way back. I felt like “Is he really collaborating understanding what Mogu Ore is all about? (laugh)” So, I wondered what kind of ramen they came up with and since I also wanted to cheer them on I went to have a taste. It was delicious, so it turned out. Gon-chan was also working in the kitchen and everything was done properly. Sorry if I’m sounding a bit bossy (laugh).
- SHIMAZU：Gon-chan wrote a very nice comment on Facebook after the previous collaboration finished. And seeing Mr. Aoki commenting, I thought “Now is the time!” and went to Aokido to have a taste that day. We only exchanged business cards then, but I suggested we go out for a drink sometime and later we had drinks together.
- AOKI：I didn’t think the offer was for real. Because now Ippudo is doing business all over the world. In the first place, we are a one meal restaurant and completely different to his type of business. But after talking about each other and the town of Daimyo, I really understood that he was for real. I felt more than anything that it would be fun. At that time, I had no idea what kind of ramen to make but all I was thinking was to collaborate! And, I’ve made up my mind.
A collaboration ramen with “Mogura ga Ore wo Yondeiru” which happened in April. The collaboration with Aokido was proposed on Mr. Gondo’s (owner’s) Facebook.
Everything went without a hitch like this and the collaboration was to go ahead. Mr. Aoki suggested just one thing, that a collaboration ramen be served both at Ippudo Stand and Aokido. Previously Mr. Gondo worked at the kitchen of Ippudo Stand when Mogu Ore and Ippudo collaborated but Mr. Aoki cannot leave his own restaurant. Hence the idea of serving a limited menu at both stores came about. There was one other big reason behind this suggestion.
- AOKI：The reason why I thought a collaboration with “Mogu Ore” would be good was that customers who knew about Ippudo but did not know about Mogu Ore and the opposite, customers who usually went to Mogu Ore but never went to Ippudo Stand got to know the existence of the other and due to the collaboration, visited both restaurants and these things happening were fun to watch.
- SHIMAZU：This was the ideal form of collaboration which I had in mind. Daimyo is a place where Ippudo was founded but now there are restaurants not only outside the prefecture but also overseas. Then, I cannot but honestly feel that to the local people Ippudo is becoming something of a distant existence. This is home but in a sense, away from home. Even then, Daimyo is a special place and behind all this there was this feeling that it would be nice to stir up something that would excite the region. I believe that it makes real sense to be able to do a project like this together with “Aokido” which is like a symbol of this town, especially when you think about deepening the relationship by getting a restaurant synonymous with Daimyo and the town involved. I believe it would be ideal to do this sort of thing in each region and town where Ippudo has a store.
Should it be ramen with pork cutlet or a set menu style.
Just when we heard all about how this collaboration came about, the making of a trial ramen began. What Mr. Aoki started making was “Cutlet Ramen” which will be introduced this time. This is a bowl that will leave you satisfied, topped with Aokido’s pork cutlet instead of your normal roasted pork fillet. The soup is based on Ippudo’s shiromaru. Besides pork cutlet, it is topped with cloud ear mushroom, spring onions, red ginger and sesame. However, with the noodle, a lot of trial and error went on.
- AOKI：It is difficult to get the noodle just right when boiling. At our shop we have champon but not ramen. How to treat thin noodles was a complete unknown. Originally, I thought a thin noodle will be a perfect match with shiromaru.
- SHIMAZU：That, we expected as well. By the way, how about this medium thin noodle which is used with akamaru? This is a bit thicker, so it will be easier to get the toughness of the noodle constant.
- AOKI：Hmm, this is nice. At our store we have to keep cooking dishes for our set menu while making cutlet ramen, so this noodle is much easier to handle.
Noodle and soup is provided by Ippudo and on top of that we put one pork cutlet from Aokido. To check how the noodle is boiling, we tried various noodles and finally came up with the right one.
Serving ramen at a set menu restaurant. If someone who knew nothing about this heard this it would not seem like such a big thing but to Aokido, a restaurant with variety of dishes on its menu, to have a new dish which had to be cooked differently was a big hurdle to overcome, more than you could imagine. After tasting the finished cutlet ramen, first of all, the soup had a punch to it. The fat which melted into the soup from the pork cutlet batter deepened its richness. The pork cutlet which soaked up the pork bone soup was very juicy. Pork cutlet and pork bone originated from the same ingredient, pork, so it was a perfect match.
On the other hand, what “Ippudo Stand” is suggesting is a ramen set menu incorporating one meal style of “Aokido”. It is called “Late night Aokido Ramen Set Menu”. It comes with a mini size shiromaru, rice ball, deep fried horse mackerel, pollack roe dip, meat & mustard greens and pork miso, a specialty of Aokido. You can have the mustard greens and meat miso with the rice ball or you can add it to your ramen to add variety to its taste.
What is served is not the end all and be all. The serving hours are also interesting. The time it is served is from 10:00 pm which is after Aokido’s closing time. The fact that it is limited to late nights and also in a set menu format is quite unique even among the limited dishes offered at Ippudo so far.
Joining their love for Daimyo.
The trial ramen has finished, and we head straight to “Mogura wa Ore wo Yondeiru”. With the store doing business, the owner Gondo-san joined them, and the discussion spread to the “love of Daimyo”.
- AOKI：By the way, to create a dish and collaborating properly like this is a first for Aokido in its 60-year history. To collaborate with someone did not even cross my mind.
- SHIMAZU：It is a strange development. In the case of “Mogu Ore”, Gon-chan was a former employee of Ippudo so the customers would be even more surprised about this. “Aokido and Ippudo? Why?” (laugh). We owe everything to Gon-chan.
- GONDO：No, no, that is not true. But probably I am the one who is the happiest with regards to this collaboration. If you think of Daimyo, straight away Aokido comes to mind.
- AOKI：If Gon-chan had not made a great comment on Facebook, this would not have eventuated.
- GONDO：To have the ramen that you made eaten by the founder and chairman Mr. Kawahara was an unbelievable moment. I was deeply moved, very nervous and at the same time very happy. I mentioned on Facebook as well, but I felt so lively inside. Although I worked at Ippudo, it was only for about 4 years so nothing to brag about. But by leaving Ippudo, making my own ramen now and having had the chance to work in the kitchen of Ippudo, all make me feel as though the road that I have traveled was acknowledged by others and I feel rewarded. I am so glad that I have continued with Mogu Ore. I have everything to be thankful for.
Manager of “Mogura ga Ore wo Yondeiru”, Daimyo Ramen & Shochu Bar. After working for 4 years at Ippudo, opened his store in August 2009.
After hearing Gondo-san, Aoki-san also started talking slowly about his true intention behind the collaboration.
- AOKI：That is it. I was born and raised in Daimyo and still living in Daimyo now. This collaboration was not about making money or wanting to make “Aokido” famous. These thoughts never crossed my mind. The only thing I wanted was for as many people as possible to know about the appeal of a town called Daimyo. Daimyo is always doing something interesting. If I can relay this message to many people, that would be enough. I think there is meaning for a long-established store like us to do this.
- SHIMAZU：Ippudo had a guideline from the start to “become a long-established store of the future”. The backstreets of Daimyo did not have the bustle and energy of today when we first opened store. We kept on doing business here and the result is what it is now. I know because I used to work here as well but Daimyo is a town full of cool and warm people. I want this town to continue to be an interesting place where such people gather and because we both have such feelings for this place, the talk never ends.
- AOKI：To mention the extreme, it is Ok even if we do not get even one order in a day. Of course, we want people to eat our food. But, there is meaning in doing. It is Ok even if we make a loss (laugh).
The three of them, now drunk but not drunken. Although at a different store, they are mates, in the sense that they are doing business in a town called Daimyo.
In the word “Collaboration”, there is a meaning of “Joint production”, “Co-starring”. In terms of the restaurant industry, it would be interpreted as crossing over each other’s strength and character and creating one work of art = dish but listening to the three of you, I realized that the purpose of this collaboration is not just about creating a delicious dish. Collaboration in a sense that you combine each other’s thoughts, will not only move the customer’s heart but I feel has the power to change how a town should be and even the meaning of its existence.
Click here for details of this collaboration between” Aokido” and “Ippudo”. “Ippudo Tenjin Nishi-dori Stand” plan to continue with this collaboration series in the future. Please look forward to what develops next!
WORDS by YUICHIRO YAMADA
Engages in many activities as Japan’s one and only noodle writer (*according to his own research). Born as the first son of a family that runs a noodle manufacturing plant, the Yamada family, he grew up eating noodles constantly since his early childhood. At present, under his motto “one bowl of noodle per day,” he extensively travels around mainly in Fukuoka, where he’s from, but also around the country to eat noodles and contributes articles to specialty books, magazines, web magazines, and other media. Including ramen, chanpon, and buckwheat noodles, he researches every type of noodles. He has appeared in many radio and TV shows. His book Udon No Hanashi – Fukuoka (Stories of Udon Noodles: Fukuoka) is the first udon culture book of Fukuoka. The records of his daily experiences of trying noodle dishes in various noodle shops are posted regularly at KIJI, a website he operates on his own. A noodle app supervised by him, KIJI NOODLE SEARCH, was released in March 2017. http://ii-kiji.com