Why don't the noodles arrive in the broth, as they do in normal ramen? Is it for fear of their becoming soggy or absorbing too much liquid? Is the broth too strong, salty, or spicy to marinate the noodles in for more than a few seconds? Is it a visual thing, proving that the noodles are clean and the broth is stuffed full of goodies?
I've noticed that the Japanese like to see what exactly is going into their stomachs before it goes there. When our waiter was preparing okonimiyaki, for instance, we were presented a neatly arranged bowl of shrimp, squid, pork, and beef, spread in a perfect fan around its bed of cabbage, an egg freshly cracked on top, before it was briskly mixed up into a featureless mash and poured onto the grill.
Maybe one is meant to see the components of the noodle bowl - a deconstructed noodle bowl far before molecular cuisine came to co-opt that term.
No matter. Tsukemen needs no justification.
In Tokyo, we had it using ramen noodles; in Osaka, using soba.
In Tokyo, we custom-ordered using a machine.
Buttons for big and small bowls, buttons for spicy broth, buttons for pork belly. Buttons for sides. A ticket emerged, and we handed it to our bandanna-ed chef, who had been next to us the whole time, trying to be helpful with limited English. "Pork-u." (stabbing finger). "No pork-u." (stabbing other finger). "Big spicy." (gesturing widely). "Now you."
In Osaka, I sat down alone at a bar full of cheery izakaya-goers, said tentatively: "Soba... tsukemen?" and after listening to, and understanding none of, a stream of confirmatory responses by the waitress, I was off.
In Tokyo, the portion size was massive. Even the small was virtually unfinishable. The aggressively fishy, aggressively salty broth spilled over with piles of green onions, the sides of the bowl petaled with pork belly slices which melted in my mouth like good toro. The most surprising part of the meal, though, was the boiled egg: somewhere in between hard- and soft-boiled, its yolk bright orange and creamy and its white like jello, this was by far the best boiled egg I've had anywhere. Santouka's rubbery soy-egg will do no longer.
In Osaka, the noodles came piled and tangled in a wooden basket. They were flecked with purple yam pieces and textured slightly tacky. They held their cool temperature even when dipped in the hot, deep-red, heavily-chilied oily broth that came with them, so slurping them after dipping felt like a Scandinavian sauna/snow cycle on my lips. The big hunk of cooked tuna floating in the broth provided me with something to gnaw on as my lips tingled, a feeling not terribly unlike the initial numbing of Sichuan peppers.
In Tokyo, I quenched my salt-soaked mouth with cold water, despite the rain outside; in Osaka, they provided scalding tea as another adventure for my lips, despite the near-100 degree outdoor temperatures.