I’d already tried Min Min, the gyoza giant of all of Utsunomiya, but I had yet to try the unfortunately (or perhaps intentionally?) named Men Men until yesterday. I mainly knew them for their almost equally famous gyoza, but had also seen their ramen featured in magazines and other advertisements. Glancing at their storefront, they advertise themselves as a Chinese restaurant, although it’s really much more of a Chinese-influenced (ie gyoza, ramen, and to be perfectly honest about half of all Japanese cuisine) ramen shop that specializes in gyoza. I want to emphasize that last clause, as I will explain later.
Open their menu, and on the first page you see their winged gyoza (the pan-fried type with crispy batter surrounding the main dumpling like a strange aircraft wing), but only that. There’s no selection on fillings or preparation method—you order their gyoza, and you get what you get. This is a pretty good sign, as it shows they know what they’re doing so well they have specialized in one type and one type only.
Continue through their menu and you are given two pages of different types of ramen. Not only can you customize the ingredients put in (butter, chashu, green onion, egg, etc.) more than already presented to you from the ala carte section, but you can also choose the type of broth and style of ramen—fish and pork based broth? Miso broth? Soy sauce broth? Dipping tsukemen ramen? There’s quite the selection.
I went with their gyoza (360 for a plate of 6) and simple miso ramen (620 for the bowl). The gyoza came out first, and the server recommended I use vinegar for the dipping sauce. After I mixed together the soy sauce, chili paste, and vinegar, my ramen came out.
I tried the gyoza first, which was very good. They were juicy and flavorful, but still mild enough and not overbearing like some pork dumplings. They were also a bit oily for me, but to be fair, I’m the type of person who tends to skimp on oil so much that I’ve never successfully made pan-fried gyoza that haven’t stuck to the bottom of the pan (and thereby destroying them). The restaurant’s take on gyoza is a simple one, but Men Men clearly knows what it’s doing.
Next I tried the ramen, and it was the polar opposite experience. Miso-based ramen tends to be thicker than many other types, but this broth was thin and more than anything oily. It really didn’t need that extra pat of butter (which was in all probability margarine) to add the oil content, counteracting any positive effect miso could possibly have on my body. Not only that, but the broth overall had a strange smell that was far from appetizing.
As for the rest of the ingredients, they were equally underwhelming, although not as bad. Mediocre is the best word. There were 2 slices of chashu pork, which were fine. There was a small chunk of cut spinach (or some similar green) on the top, which was fine. It also had a few strips of menma (fermented bamboo strips), which lose points with me in nearly any ramen. While it seems this is at most a personal preference, menma rank among with blue cheese being food that others find fine, but to me taste like some sort of fungus that should not be going into anyone’s body.
In sum, when it comes to gyoza, Men Men absolutely knows what it’s doing. When it comes to miso ramen, it has absolutely no clue. While I don’t know how their other types of ramen compare to the bowl I had, I for sure will not be trying their ramen again without good reason. When going to Men Men, stick to what they do best—and that is hands down amazing (and cheap) gyoza.
[pw_map address=”〒320-0804 栃木県宇都宮市二荒町5-11″]
Tues.-Sun. – 11:30～2:15; 6:00～10:30 (Sunday closes at 8:30)
Featured image credit here.