Daruma Shokudo / Power-packed Bowl Full of Aomori Garlic

The Japan News
Gigarlic ramen with plenty of Aomori garlic (1,045 yen)

Aomori Prefecture is famous for its garlic and Sannohe Town in southern part of the prefecture is one of its garlic-producing areas. Daruma Shokudo, located in the town, specializes in the aromatic allium and offers a bowl of ramen richly flavored with the equivalent of a whole garlic bulb. The owner, who calls himself a garlic maniac, came up with the idea for the dish while developing menus that incorporate the garlic. In late May, with the fresh greenery shining in the sun, I visited the shop to taste its Gigarlic (giga garlic) ramen for ¥1,045, a must-try for garlic lovers.

Daruma Shokudo is located about 10 minutes by car from Sannohe Station on the Aoimori Railway, a regional railway. The first thing that caught my eye was its Western-style exterior, far from the image of Tohoku. The building has a triangular roof and white walls, and a drum can placed at the parking lot’s entrance. Both the drum can and the shop’s sign have its information written in English. The interior is full of tropical touches, with shelves made from canoe hulls, decorative plants, and tropical flower-patterned shades. Wearing a green cap and striped shirt, owner Hiroshi Yoshida, 45, greeted me with a smile. “I’ve always liked foreign countries, so this is how I ended up here,” he said. The shop has a bright cafe-like atmosphere.

I immediately ordered a bowl of Gigarlic ramen. Yoshida entered the kitchen, and put a tablespoon of grated garlic and gyoza dumpling paste which includes cabbage, ground pork, grated garlic in a frying pan. He then stir-fried everything with homemade mayu garlic oil and added chicken broth. Yoshida poured the soup into a bowl of cooked noodles, topping it with freshly fried bean sprouts, bell peppers, and carrots. A decent amount of brown crispy fried garlic was added as well, along with strands of red chili pepper, white sesame seeds, and black pepper to complete the dish. But it didn’t end there. The tray was garnished with a small plate of one fresh garlic clove and one black garlic clove each.

The garlic, in all its various forms in the yellow bowl, seemed to declare its presence with its aroma. I took a sip of the soup right away and found its flavor quite powerful. As a garlic lover, I was already happy. The soup, a combination of red and white miso and chicken broth, was mild and very tasty. The aroma of garlic stimulated my appetite, and the bean sprouts were crispy and crunchy. “I make deep-fried garlic every day, so the frying oil itself has the aroma of garlic,” said Yoshida, who was at my side. That explained why even the fried vegetables were garlic flavored. This is a ramen that powers you as you eat, and the thick, glutinous noodles are a perfect match.

Halfway through my bowl I tried using the garlic press, which took more strength than expected. As I tightened my grip on the lever with quite a bit of force, all the crushed garlic came out all at once and fell into the soup. I then took a sip and felt as if I was in an accelerating vehicle, immediately taking me to the world of garlic where it was not just myself and the aromatic herb, but a dialogue between myself and the garlic. I even finished the soup, and at the end of the meal I savored the sweet and sour black garlic for dessert.

“We also have Ultra Gigarlic ramen, ” said Yoshida. For an extra ¥330, you can double the amount of mayu black garlic oil, as well as grated, fried and fresh garlic. This is a dish for the enthusiast. The Gigarlic ramen menu also offers “Hot,” which is spicy and numbing, “Milk,” which is milk-based, and “Sesame,” which is pork-based soup with roasted sesame seeds. In addition, there are many variations, such as “Namaste,” which adds curry to the Milk ramen, all found under the Traveling Gigarlic Ramen menu.

Yoshida served me tempura made of Hime (princess) garlic and gyoza dumplings. “Please try these as well,” he said. Hydroponically grown Hime garlic is a specialty of Sannohe and Yoshida was also involved its cultivation and sale. The tempura had a very elegant flavor with the accompanying salt sprinkled onto it, and it is said to be low in calories. The handmade gyoza dumplings come with a delightful homemade sauce made by dipping garlic leaves in soy sauce, which can then be poured over the gyoza dumplings. The amount of grated garlic used in the sauce is kept to a modest amount so that customers can taste the flavor of the sauce. As Yoshida explained, the tasty flavor of the sauce really stands out in this dish.

Indulging in garlic

The Japan News
“I am interested in creating something from scratch, like music, and I like breaking through adversity,” says owner Hiroshi Yoshida

Daruma Shokudo uses garlic grown in Sannohe and the neighboring town of Takko, which is also famous for its garlic. I wondered if it would be profitable to use such a lavish amount of Aomori garlic that would cost more than ¥300 per garlic bulb at a supermarket in Tokyo. “I can only do this because it is produced here,” said Yoshida. “If it were priced like this in Tokyo, I might lose money.” He laughed and added, “I also want people to come to Sannohe and enjoy the local garlic.”

Yoshida was born in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, grew up in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, and moved to Sannohe by chance. He got hooked on rap music in high school and got together with a group of friends after he entered university in Tokyo, becoming absorbed in singing and writing his own rap songs. His goal of performing at a club in Shibuya, Tokyo was achieved surprisingly quickly, likely due to becoming popular as he held his own rap music events and sung at school festivals. At the same time, he became addicted to wandering around Asia, backpacking and staying in places like Thailand.

Not wanting to work in Japan, Yoshida took advantage of the working holiday program after graduating and stayed in New Zealand for a year.

“I worked in wine vineyards and was impressed by how different it was from Japan, both in scale and in the way of thinking,” said Yoshida. He encountered large-scale farm management organized by a company, not at all like farming by individuals. He returned to Japan with a desire to be involved in such work in the future, and after working at an izakaya pub and gaining experience as a manager, he stumbled upon the cultivation of Hime garlic in Sannohe. His intuition told him that this was a great opportunity.

Yoshida quit his job at the izakaya and began hydroponic cultivation of Hime garlic with no sales channels or skills, gradually expanding his business. He established an agricultural corporation in 2007 at the age of 29, and as its president, the firm grew until it achieved over ¥100 million in sales. However, as Yoshida said, “I am interested in creating something from scratch, like music, and I like breaking through adversity.” Once the management of the agricultural corporation took off, he lost his enthusiasm. A new challenge he turned his attention to was restaurant management. He left the agricultural corporation and opened Daruma Shokudo in 2015.

At first, however, it was just an ordinary diner serving regular soy sauce ramen, pork cutlet bowls, zaru soba, and other dishes. Eventually, his desire to bring local garlic to the forefront of the menu grew stronger, and after some trial and error, the Gigarlic ramen was perfected.

Like the Daruma doll, which is a good-luck charm that is replaced by a slightly larger one every year, “I want to make this shop bigger little by little,” Yoshida said. “This may sound cheeky, but I think there are opportunities in the countryside. There are good ingredients and a lot of things that can still be done. I would be happy if more people would take up the challenge with me and help make Sannohe a more exciting place.”

Daruma Shokudo

33-3, Kawamorita-Suzumedate, Sannohe, Aomori Prefecture. Weekdays lunch: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., dinner: 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Weekend lunch: 10:30 a.m.to 3:00 p.m., dinner: same as weekdays. Closed on Monday nights and Wednesdays. Information is available on the shop’s Instagram. @darumagarlic 

Futoshi Mori, Japan News Senior Writer

Food is a passion. It’s a serious battle for both the cook and the diner. There are many ramen restaurants in Japan that have a tremendous passion for ramen and I’d like to introduce to you some of these passionate establishments, making the best of my experience of enjoying cuisine from both Japan and around the world.

Japanese version