According to legend, and also Wikipedia, there was an ancient swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi who didn’t think one sword was enough. Roundabout 1640, Musashi developed “the school of the strategy of two heavens as one,” which is not actually about heavens, you would realize if you were there at the time, but was about swords. The way you would know this was that, at that very moment, Musashi was probably swinging not one but two swords at you, wearing his legendary hammer pants (source: this illustration I found).
You would also know this because you would just recently be dead. Musashi, despite being self-taught, was pretty good at dueling. Out of 62 duels, he won 61 and lost only one (against thoracic cancer).
A brief 356 years later, chef Takeshi Yamada (I know what you’re thinking, no, not the rogue taxidermist) started a ramen shop and called it Menya Musashi. He named his shop after the ancient Japanese swordsman because– they make two kinds of broth? Sure, yes, why not.
Wait, also, Chef Yamada was a self-taught ramen chef, following in Musashi’s tradition as a self-taught swordsman who famously proclaimed, “I practice many arts and abilities — all things with no teacher,” while slicing off his friend’s pinky, one assumes.
Menya Musashi is now a big deal, having expanded to over a dozen locations in Japan and other popular ramen destinations like Ukraine. In 2018 they finally made it to the US, starting on my home turf, Sawtelle in LA. I visited their second US location, in Capitol Hill, Seattle, which opened in the storefront formerly occupied by Tetenyu. I was accompanied on this visit by my friend Ann-Li who is a certified noodle-lover.
I am the worst judge of tonkotsu. As someone who craves the salty satiety of shoyu and the malty umami of miso, there’s only so much that even the best buttery bone broth can bring to the table.
Menya Musashi’s ramen starts from a tonkotsu broth that doesn’t just look milky– it actually tastes and feels like a dairy-based slurry on the tongue. For all I know, this may be close to a gold standard for tonkotsus and those who love them, but it wasn’t for me. Nor was the tender, fatty slab of braised pork belly– another ramen norm that I’m still working up to. Luckily, it was Ann-Li’s bowl to eat, not mine, and she seemed to like it quite a bit.
I think Chef Yamada himself would admit that the tsukemen is the sharper of his two swords. Following the laminated step-by-step illustrations, I picked up just a few fettuccini-shaped noodles (extra surface area! clever! but also sorta Italian?), coated them with a shiny layer of pork-and-seafood gravy-broth, slurped with abandon, checked for sweater-splatter, and repeated.
The broth had a pleasant pungency from the seafood which reminded me of my trip to Sapporo’s ramen food court– a blog post for another time. The noodles were unique for their shape and texture, but were almost like handmade pasta and not very ramen-ish if we are being honest. The egg was golden-yolked perfection.
Per the instructions, I paused for some mid-meal milestones. At 50%, I added a heaping scoop of fried shallots and chili flakes for some spicy crunchy variety. (This was perhaps the highlight of the night. Scroll down for this condiment’s glamour shot.) At 80%, the waiter offered a much-needed broth dilution. Lo, rather than the traditional hot water kettle, the chef ladled in some tonkotsu broth, making my gravy into a grey-and-white swirl of now potable (but still intense) soup.
The Chashu Curry Don
Oh yes, we also ordered a chashu curry don. Spicy pickles, sweet curry, and chashu chopped up like a Texas brisket. Maybe the highlight of my meal, especially when loaded up with those insane fried chili shallot things (why haven’t you scrolled down yet?). Then again, I really just love curry.
And the winner is…
The tsukemen. Swords-down.
If it’s a tonkotsu you’re after, there are other places that specialize in it (including and especially Betsutenjin, just up the street in Capitol Hill).
The tsukemen is the best I’ve found in Seattle, even with its odd quirks. The broth is flavorful and ambitious, and it’s worth the trip to experience that pungent seafood flavor. The flat fettuccini noodle thing kinda kills the ramen vibe, but ramen is not a food for purists, so why not go with it?
Your real reward for going to Menya Musashi is the same as you reward for reaching the bottom of this post: an up-close and personal moment with the spicy chili shallot stuff.