You know, as much as I love soup, when I’m thinking about a restaurant to go to, I never think to myself, “I want SOUP!” I suppose it’s because when I think “soup” the things that come to mind are hearty chicken soups, minestrones, or perhaps pureed vegetable soups with ginger or garlic. They are hearty Italianish dishes and they are delicious, but they are enjoyed at home. Thus, when it was suggested by coworkers recently that we go for “spicy Shanghai soup” on a nice autumn evening, I was excited.
We went to Chipao Maratan (Japanese only), a restaurant I’d never heard of before, though according to the card I picked up at the shop, they have a few locations (Akasaka, Shibuya, Shin-Okubo, Iidabashi, and Osaka). The subtitle for the location we visited was “Vegetable Farm,” and I was intrigued. When you enter the shop, you’re presented with a couple of large, open refrigerators like you might see at a supermarket. There’s a stack of plastic bowls directly by the door. My enthusiasm fired up instantly as I realized what was going on. I WAS GOING TO GET TO BUILD MY OWN SOUP.
Customers choose up to 3 ingredients for a given price (about 720 yen, $7.50ish). More ingredients are fine to choose, but you’ll pay a bit more for each extra ingredient. All the ingredients are wrapped in individual soup-bowl sized portions, so you’re free to mix and match as you like. All the ingredients are labeled (Japanese only), but if you don’t speak Japanese, you can just go with the items you’re familiar with.
There was a range of things to choose from, and lots of vegetables (though I understand the broth is made with animal product)! Meat and protein options included chicken meatballs, shrimp, gyoza, tofu, and pork slices. Vegetables ranged from coriander (yes, please) to ginger to bell peppers and more. I spent a bit more time than my colleagues assembling my bowl (ginger, tofu, coriander, bell peppers, and some shrimp crackers to go along). When you’ve finished making your selections, you head to your seat with your bowl, where a staff person will come along and ask you your preferred level of “spicy” for your soup.
My coworkers explained that the shop has a range between 1 and 5 for soup spiciness, with 2 being the preferred level. My coworkers, having respectable levels of spiciness-tolerating skills, stated that they’d ventured into the realm of the level 3 soup, and had had…a bad time. We all opted for level 2 spicy on this outing, and it was perfect. It packed just the right amount of heat (sinus-clearing, but not detrimental to enjoyment of the meal). Along with the spicy broth, you get harusame noodles (glass noodles).
This particular location has outdoor seating, and we enjoyed our soups on a lovely early autumn evening, remarking on how nice it would be to grab a beer with our soup on a colder day. Indeed.
The soup was not heavy at all, and we walked away satisfied but without feeling weighed down. For my bowl (with extra ingredients), I paid 1050 yen (around $10). There’s minimal interaction with the staff at the restaurant (you just need to be able to indicate how hot you want your soup to be), and since you can pick out your own ingredients, you’re pretty much good to go with basic Japanese skills (we’re talking “count to three” level here, unless you’re willing to risk a level 4 or 5 soup). I’m excited to head back to build something new next time!