Top off your day by topping off noodles at Mappen Noodle Bar
Menya Mappen Noodle Bar is typical Japanese restaurant fare: tiny, affordable, and overwhelmingly delicious.
Having visited its cousin Oiden next door (which serves rice dishes) frequently, I decided that it was time to hit up Mappen, the soba and udon noodle restaurant. Bowls of noodles start at just $3.90, but be prepared to shell out a bit more for topping and side dishes - they're worth it.
It's cramped and dim inside, with a healthy glow emanating from the kitchen area and the brightly lit side dishes. You stroll in through a side door, check out the menu hanging over the counter, and go up to a guy who asks you brusquely for your order.
I ask for the pork kasu udon, which is apparently the fourth most popular dish at Mappen. The man preparing my food picks up a net full of udon noodles from a bubbling vat, drops them into a bowl of broth, then grabs a small bowl full of dried pork. He sprinkles it over the noodles, then crowns the lot with a sprig of rocket. The whole process seems to take about ten seconds.
He seizes an egg ($1 each) from a bucket, cracks it one-handedly and pushes the bowl towards me. "Next!" he says, looking at the next customer.
Once you have your noodles, you put the bowl on a tray and slide it down the display of side dishes. There's bright green kelp, spicy kimchi, tempura of all shapes and forms, potato salad, takoyaki, daifuku (stuffed glutinous rice cake dessert) and more. If you get tempura, remember to get a cup and fill it with tempura dipping sauce.
You pay at the end of the counter (dole yourself a spoonful of complimentary tempura flakes and chopped shallots if you're so inclined) and then hop off to find a space in the crowded restaurant. My eating buddy and I settle at a bench facing the wall which, like the rest of the restaurant, is plastered with a collage of old Japanese film posters. A very nice touch.
Quite charmingly, there is a polite but firm sign requesting that patrons not seat themselves before ordering their food. Evidently space is at a premium around here, and for good reason.
I tuck into my pork udon, my friend into her ontama bukakke mentaiko soba. The udon noodles are divine. There was, I admit, some unladylike slurping. The pork soaked up the broth very nicely and was a great counterpoint to the thick chewiness of the noodles. For me, the soft, half-cooked egg was the highlight - it was cool on the inside, somewhat congealed on the outside, and just overall delicious.
My friend's ontama bukkake mentaiko soba was also, she reassured me, a great dish, with roe-infused butter and an egg top a bed of warm noodles. She also spoilt herself with a piece of sweet potato tempura.
After we finish eating, we paid heed to the sign on the wall ("Thank you for returning your TRAY & DISHES"), and left Mappen feeling sated. Definitely worth a return visit.