Clarence in Paris: Higuma

Higuma

32 bis rue Saint Anne, 75001 Paris

Métro:  Pyramides

Oh, that’s right, I have a blog.

Don’t think for a second I forgot about you, dearest reader. In fact, I would describe the past two weeks as being consumed with “gnawing guilt” that I’ve neglected you so throughly. Well, gnawing guilt and finals time at the university where I teach and a steady stream of visitors from all over the place. It also got hot, suddenly, and I’m worthless when I’m sweaty. Any kind of weather extreme and I lose all desire to do anything other than sit around and complain about how uncomfortable I am. I’m a real charmer.

One thing that has kept me rolling the past month or so has been the discovery of Higuma, the Japanese ramen place that I fantasized might exist in previous entries. The Little Tokyo area of Paris is rather oddly located in the heart of the first arrondissement, so if you find yourself barfed onto the street with the rest of the hoards after the claustrophobia-inducing exercise that is touring the Louvre, I would highly recommend that you skip all the overpriced “French” tourist traps in the area and instead head to rue Sainte Anne for some noodle-based fortification. You won’t regret it.

My friend S (now temporarily bereft of H) had highly recommended Higuma as he often frequents it when he stays in a gorgeous apartment owned by family friends on the same block (color me virescent with drooling envy). Sainte Anne is packed with terrific-looking sushi and noodle shops, many of which attract lines that would suggest that good cooking is afoot. The line is always longest at Higuma, however:

But it moves fast! Really fast, actually, as this is one of the few places in Paris where puttering around over your empty plates is highly frowned upon by both the staff and the line of famished patrons who watch you slurp every last noodle.

As you can see, the front dining room is dominated by the open kitchen, where you watch skillful chefs with seemingly fireproof hands and faces prepare your food. As far as I’m concerned, watching my meal come to life is the most entertaining show imaginable. Some internet naysayers complain that you leave Higuma smelling of meaty smoke and pungent spices.  Yes, you do. I can’t think of a more delightful thing to smell of. I can just imagine this high maintenance chick who is worried about her blowout smelling like ramen. Trust me, sweetie, that hot guy at the bar would rather you smell like pork than tropical flower cotton candy any day of the week.

The first time we ate at Higuma was at around 6 p.m., a weird time for Parisians to eat so found the place nearly empty (good advice for people like my mother who are congenitally incapable of waiting in line for long periods of time). B and I decided to try some ramen before we went to the Deerhunter show at La Maroquinerie. While I can’t say much for the study-abroad crowd attracting, vaguely monotonous stylings of Deerhunter, I can say that another delightful discovery of the evening (besides Higuma) was the opening act, a lovely woman who—with a set of laptops—goes by Bachelorette and makes dreamy fun electronic pop. My favorite cyborg moment so far of the year was when she announced in her little voice “We are Bachelorette, me and the laptops. (Pause). Nous sommes Bachelorette!” Love love this lady, check her out.  “Donkey” has totally been my jam for the past few weeks.

Back to the food. Sorry.

So there’s of course the ramen (spelled ‘lamen’) and it’s all things you want ramen to be: vaguely fatty, salty, hearty, and rich. Pictured is the miso lamen (6.50€), which has a nice mellow character to it:

I’d also recomment the shio lamen (6.50€), which is a great basic vehicle if you are like me and tend to douse your noodles with every condiment available on the table (in this case, a delightfully piquant chile oil and the requisite orangey MSG powder). I wouldn’t recommend the syoyu ramen (6.50€), as its soy-sauce based broth is a bit too salty for my taste (and my palate can handle a veritable sodium bonanza on occasion).

A lovely option (and a real “feeder” as my pops would say), are Higuma’s menus (10€), which include a main dish as well as an entrée. Worth their weight in pan-fried gold are these delicious little pork and veggie gyoza:

If you live back in the States and have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you surely know the joy that is having a freezer full of gyoza for your snacking pleasure. God I miss Trader Joe’s. Good gyoza are rather rare here in Paris and should be savored. Twice now at Higuma B’s gyoza have become communal property, and while he is too nice of a guy to admit that he doesn’t want to share, I can see a deep sadness in his eyes when everybody digs in to his dumplings. Sorry kid.

There are also some really toothsome rice dishes, including this katsudon (8€) of pork, onions, and egg over fried rice, pictured with a mediocre miso and a most interesting pickled radish thing:

I’d also really recommend the chahan (8€, also available in a menu as half portion with your choice of ramen for 10€). I don’t have a picture, as I forgot my camera that particular time. This pork, shrimp, and veggie fried rice dish doesn’t look like much when it arrives, but it is the apex of buttery, fatty, fried rice goodness. I ate nearly all of B’s portion when he ordered the chahan menu. Poor guy, he can’t even keep his food on his plate when Clarence is hungry.

I know you are already chomping at the bit to go to Higuma, but I haven’t even told you about the best part yet. And by “best” I mean consciousness-altering, game-changing, oh-my-god-where-have-you-been-the-past-rainy-six-months-of-my-life delish:

This is some serious yakisoba (7.50€) people. Tender pork, even tenderer calamari, oyster mushrooms, sautéed vegetables, grated ginger, and fried noodles in a spicy, salty, oh-so-heavenly sauce. This dish is umami personified. Variety be damned, I don’t plan on ordering anything else, ever.

Details:  There will be a line, but do you really have anything better to do? Meals are cheap, cheap, cheap, especially for that area of town. Beer is less cheap, but split a giant Sapporo with your date and spend the rest of your boozing money on extra gyoza. Open late and every day of the week. Done and done.

* * *

Addendum:  My friend T–a first-order Japanophile, Paris denizen, and generally swell guy–had quite a mouthful to say about this post.  As he posted it on Facebook instead of the blog, I’m pasting it below. If there is anybody who has done his homework on Japanese food in Paris, it’s certainly him.

Higuma is pretty good, especially given the price, but you should definitely try Kunitoraya, the restaurant with the wooden facade just across the street and South a few metres.

I find the quality of the food to be much better (the katsudon is quite good), and, while I generally prefer ramen to udon, the udon at Kunitoraya is fantastic. Everything is super authentic (down to the staff, who barely speak French or English). It costs slightly more, but it’s definitely worth it. Their oden (which I suspect won’t be available in the summer) is also wonderful.

The butter corn ramen at Higuma (as strange as it sounds) is pretty good. It’s fairly popular in Hokkaido, and it only makes sense to make it with delicious French butter (though Ben will surely be disappointed by the corn).

(FYI: the orange spice blend is 七味唐辛子 (shichimi togarashi), and is MSG-free — in case anyone has an aversion to MSG.)

Whew.  Consider me schooled.

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Clarence Gets Down and Dirty with the Kimchi: Hang-A-Li « Keeping the Bear-Garden in the Background

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