Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Working at a Tsukemen Noodle Festival

I was sitting in Ivan Ramen, one of my favorite ramen shops out in West Tokyo, chatting with Ivan Orkin, the owner. This was a couple months ago. He was in the beginning stages of working out his involvement in an upcoming tsukemen festival. Tsukemen is like ramen, but the noodles are cold, and served outside of the soup. Tsukemen is delicious and you should eat it. Here are some posts from my Ramen Adevnetures site that show the wonderful world of tsukemen:

Yondaime Keisuke


Hungry yet?


Ivan asked if I wanted to help him out at the Tsukemen Festival. Hell yeah I do. It's a win-win. I get to spend a weekend doing something totally rad, working in a ramen shop, and Ivan gets 20 hours of free slave labor. Hmmm...


Yeah, it was cool. But for real, it was non-stop labor from 10am until 10pm. With a 15 minute break around 3pm to eat.


And the lines were hella crazy. Here's the ticket line, 2 hours before the festival opened. Why the hell would you wait so long?


This guy. The "Soup Nazi" of ramen land. The "Ramen Nazi" if you will. Not that dude on the right side, he's just some random getting his slurp on before heading to a love hotel with his girl.

Sano-san is this evil ramen guy who shoots down ramen that isn't perfect in his opinion, all on national TV. But it he says your stuff is good, you are in like Flynn.


This guy's job is to hold a sign that says, "This isn't the end of the line, even though it looks like it. Go waaaaayyyyy baaaaaack theeeeeeere!"


Then this dude let's you know that you're gonna be here about 3 hours. For this:


Our line was about 20 minutes at most. We could get it down to 0 with some efficient noodle making, but if your line is too short, people don't want to get in it. At one point, we saw a few people turn away. "Fuck, stop making 5 at a time and only make 3". 20 minutes later, with a healthy line built up, we were back in business.


Here's what went into ours:




Hells yeah those are roasted tomatoes.


The process was simple.
  1. Cook and cool the noodles and place them on the plate
  2. Put the salad on the noodles
  3. Put a bowl of hot soup on the plate
  4. Toppings
  5. Serve
When we were on point, it worked great. When we fucked up, I'd be sitting there with like 10 things in front of me trying to figure out which get an egg, which get roasted garlic, and how much time do I have until a break (the answer to the last one is "long").


But whatever. Some of the staff was stressing, or acting stressed, but people got their food in the end.


My buddies Nate and Keizo gettin' shit done.


Ivan headed things up....


... when he wasn't talking on the phone. Dude talked for like 3 hours on the phone each day. I guess it's good to be the boss.


The lines grew...


and grew.

Our finished product looked like this:


The soup was a white chicken cream soup with 20 ingredients. This was something I could drink straight (and did a few times).




After lunch, walking back to Ivan's, I thought I'd take some pictures of other workers.


In the back of Keisuke's , I snapped this shot, then the big guy yelled, "You want some?" I had two options with my reply. Option 1, "No sir, I just ate and couldn't possibly have another bowl. I know it's no charge, but I just can't. Take care!". Option 2, "Hell yeah I want a bowl of your crab and shrimp soup!"


The hook up.


Back at Ivan, things died down a bit in the evening, and we were at a steady pace of 3 bowls at a time. A few of my friends showed up to say hi. Thanks a ton P, Y, M, C, K, S, L, M, M, and K.


In the end, we did about 1200 each day. That's a lot of noodles. And a lot of happy people. Even though food at an outdoor festival isn't going to be as good as at a shop, the atmosphere was live and fresh.


Check out this other shop. Can you read kanji?


It says Ganja.

They had some interesting toppings. Can you read katakana?


Free ganja... but they ran out.


Is this foreshadowing of my future*? Who knows!

*The ramen... not the ganja

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