Friday, February 1, 2019

Dish Spotlight: Spicy Sesame Ramen at Tajima

Spicy sesame tonkotsu ramen at Tajima Ramen
A rainy day in a bowl.
Has it really been four months since I've been to a Tajima? It's a fixture of San Diego's landscape now, with so many locations that you'd practically think they were Starbucks.

The North Park location was bustling even on a Thursday afternoon. It started to pour shortly after I got in, as if the weather were anticipating my meal. Shortly after being seated, I got what I always get: the spicy sesame tonkotsu ramen with added pork chashu.

This is not a bowl designed for everyday eating. The broth is so creamy and rich, it almost makes you feel guilty. It's piled with so many toppings you have to work to break through to the noodles. It's packed with so much sodium you'll have to swear off salt for a week.

And still, it's all so worth it.

Every ingredient is beautifully calibrated. Pork bones are boiled for twelve straight hours and combined with sesame and chile to create a broth that's spicy, unctuous and satisfying. The noodles are delicate but still retain a robust springiness. The half egg is always cooked medium—never too runny or too solid. The garlic chips are crunchy but never burnt-tasting, as they often are elsewhere. Now and then the occasional note of toasted sesame shines through. The ground pork is savory, heavy on salt but not overwhelmingly. There are just enough veggies to trick your brain into thinking there's some nutritional value here: Buttery bok choy, ocean-infused nori, crisp green onion, lightly bitter sprouts.

And then there's the chashu. Theoretically, it's an optional add-on, but in practice it's an absolute requirement. Pork belly is the star of many a ramen bowl, but this incarnation is just unreal. It offers no resistance as you bite in. Time stops. The world falls away. And you're left with only the dark, deep, rich, meaty, golden caramelized flavor.

When you combine all these ingredients, you have the perfect meal to brood over on a cold, dark day. You can listen to the rain patter on the roof as you let the warmth flow through your body, banishing the chill from your toes. Just sit, relax, and eat your fill. This is a big bowl, so there's no shame in getting a to-go container—chances are, you'll be keen to savor every drop.

Score: 9 out of 10 (Fantastic)

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