Ramen – The Only Guide You Need

Japan Finds - Japan Culture and Travel Guide

Hector Franco | Mon 2013/02/25 22:59 JST



ramen-guide

Traditional Japanese Ramen

Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish. It was originally imported to Japan from China during the Meiji Period. These Japanese noodles are usually boiled and served in different flavored soups alongside many other toppings.

The most popular ramen dishes in Japan are served in meat or fish based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (chashu), green onions (negi), half boiled eggs (ajitsuke tamago), and dried seaweed (nori).

In Japan, ramen is sometimes referred to as Gakusei Ryori or “Student Cuisine”, but it is much more than a cheap cup of Japanese noodle soup. It is a national delicacy, a Japanese cultural phenomenon, and a window into The Land of the Rising Sun.

Ramen is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. In only a few short decades, ramen restaurants have gone from a few hundred to numbering in thousands. Instant ramen has also become extremely popular both in and outside of Japan.

Ramen noodles are about as thin as angel hair pasta and are usually served in a soup-based broth. Traditional Japanese ramen recipes vary based on region, city, and sometimes even its specific vendor. Almost every major city in Japan has its own distinct variation of ramen, from the delicious tonkotsu ramen of Kyushu to the miso ramen of Hokkaido. Its popularity partially comes from the fact that it is incredibly inexpensive and widely available. This makes it the ideal meal option for students and travelers on a tight budget. In addition to freshly made ramen at local Japanese restaurants, supermarkets and other convenience stores offer a large selection of instant ramen bowls as well.

Ramen is largely considered to be a one-dish meal. However, Gyoza is a popular side dish offered alongside ramen. Gyoza is a Chinese style, pan-fried dumpling that is eaten with vinegar or soy sauce. Some ramen ya even offer shichimi (red chili mix) at the table for customers to add to their ramen according to taste. There are a wide variety of ramen recipes in Japan. Most of these depend on the region or a specific vendor. There are even varieties among ramen recipes that share the same name. But overall, its two main ingredients, noodles and broth can generally categorize ramen.

Ramen noodles are made from four basic ingredients: kansui, wheat flour, salt, and water. Kansui is a type of alkaline mineral water that contains sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate, as well as a small amount of phosphoric acid. Kansui was originally named after the water from Lake Kan in Mongolia, which contained large deposits of these minerals and was said to be perfect for making these noodles. Making ramen noodles with kansui gives them their distinct yellowish hue as well as their firm texture. As far as traditional ramen noodles go, eggs are the only suitable substitute for kansui. The ramen noodles themselves are also made in various sizes and lengths. Some are fat while others are thin or ribbon-like as well as straight or wrinkled.

 

History
ramen-museum

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum

Japanese ramen originally came from China. However, nobody really knows when ramen was first introduced to Japan. In fact, there’s still a strong debate as to where the word “ramen” came from in the first place.

  1. The first theory says that ramen is simply the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word “lamain” meaning hand-pulled noodles.
  2. The second theory says that “laomain” meaning old noodles, was the original phrase.
  3. The third theory proposes that ramen actually comes from the word “lumian” meaning noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce.
  4. The fourth theory states ramen comes from the word “laomain” or “lo mein” meaning stir in Cantonese. This refers to the method of preparation by stirring the noodles with a sauce.

Right up until the 1950s, ramen was actually called shina soba, which literally translates to “Chinese soba”. However, today chūka soba (also meaning “Chinese soba”) or just ramen is far more common. By 1900, Chinese restaurants offering traditional cuisine from the Canton and Shanghai regions offered a simple ramen dish of noodles with a few topping and a soup broth flavored with salt and pork bones.

Many of these establishments also sold ramen and gyoza dumplings from pulled portable food stalls near Japanese manufacturing plants or textile factories. Over time these stalls used a musical horn or whistle called a charumera to announce when they were opening in an area for business. This practice is still used to some extent by the ramen vendors of today but with through loudspeaker and a looped recording.

By the 1920s and 1930s, ramen had become one of the most popular restaurant dishes in Japan. After the end of World War II with the Japanese surrender, cheap flour was imported from the United States into the Japanese market. This made the preparation and consumption of ramen much more affordable to the Japanese people.

Meanwhile, millions of Japanese troops had come home from China and the continental East Asia from their posts in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Many of these Japanese soldiers had become very familiar with Chinese cuisine and ended up starting their own Chinese restaurants across Japan. Eating ramen has become more popular than ever.

ramen-nissin-foods

Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods

In 1958, a Taiwanese-Japanese cook by the name of Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods, invented the instant ramen noodles we know and love today. This was named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll. Instant ramen noodles allowed anyone to make their own bowl of the delicious soup by simply adding boiling water.

In North America, Japanese instant ramen noodles were imported starting in the 1970s. The dish was so popular in the region that the term ramen became associated with any type of instant noodles. Nowadays, there are many restaurants in North America that specialize in traditional Japanese ramen. These restaurants are especially popular in major urban areas with large demand for Asian cuisine.

By the late 20th century, ramen had become one of Japan’s greatest cultural icons and has been studied and prepared around the world in a variety of ways. At the same time, local ramen noodle recipes were hitting the Japanese national market and were even sold by their regional names.

In 1994, a unique food amusement park called the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum opened up in the Shin-Yokohama district of Kohoku-ku, Yokohama, Japan. This museum is dedicated to the traditional Japanese ramen noodle soup and includes a large-scale recreation of Tokyo during the Showa period.

In a small gallery on the first floor of the museum, you’ll find a very impressive display highlighting the history of ramen in Japan, including the big success of instant ramen. They show you a variety of noodles, soups, toppings and bowls used across Japan, and goes into detail on just how the noodles are made.

Within the museum you’ll also find branches of some of the most famous ramen restaurants from Kyushu to Hokkaido that feature some of the top ramen recipes of Japan. Among these are Ide Shoten, Shinasobaya, Keyaki, Ryushanhai, Hachiya, Fukuchan, and Komurasaki. New ramen shops are also being added to the museum all the time. If you’d like to try multiple ramen dishes without getting too full, the restaurants also offer ramen samples in a considerably smaller portion sizes.

 

Top Ramen Recipes

There are many different ramen recipes available in Japan. Most of these are regional specialties and vary in terms of broth, soup flavors, noodle texture, and toppings. Cooking a delicious bowl of ramen isn’t very easy if you’re making it from scratch. The distinct taste of your ramen will mainly depend on the broth, and it requires a lot of skill and time to prepare it properly. Professional ramen chefs usually train for a very long time before they’re able to make a quality bowl of ramen noodle soup.

Each ramen shop also has its very own distinct method making ramen soup, and believe me there are plenty of different ways. Ramen noodle soup is made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with other ingredients such as dried baby sardines, beef bones, shiitake mushrooms, onions, ginger, garlic, kelp, and then flavored with soy sauce, salt, or miso paste.

Common ramen toppings include:

  • Shinachiku
  • Nori
  • Negi
  • Ajitsuke tamago
  • Narutomaki

narutomaki

Narutomaki is a type of cured surimi produced almost exclusively in Japan. Surimi is a Japanese delicacy made from white-fleshed fish that has been mashed into a thick white paste. Its texture is uniquely dense and rubbery. Narutomaki gets its name from the distinct pinkish spirals that run along its center. This is said to resemble the whirlpools of the Naruto Strait, a channel between Naruto in Tokushima and Awaji Island in Hyogo, Japan.

ajitsuke-tamago

Ajitsuke tamago, also known as “molten lava egg” refers to Japanese marinated soft boiled eggs used specifically for ramen. The marinade is typically made from soy sauce, water, ginger and mirin. The eggs themselves are cooked in simmering water for 5 to 6 minutes and then transferred to an ice water bath to stop them from cooking any further. The result is a boiled egg with a runny yolk that is slightly firm around the edges. The eggs are then soaked with the marinade for around 3-4 hours.

negi

Negi is the Japanese term for a welsh onion. Often negi is also referred to as green onion, spring onion, scallion, escallion, or salad onion. This are typically served chopped, shredded or sometimes even whole alongside ramen. It’s meant as a simple garnish that complements the bamboo shoots and nori.

nori seaweed

Nori is dried seaweed. The nori is cut into medium-sized squares that are placed on ramen soup right before it is served. When dry, nori is light and crispy, but it can get soggy very quickly soaking the ramen soup broth. Most bowls of traditional Japanese ramen come with one piece of nori, although some ramen shops offer nori-ramen, which includes four or more pieces of the dried seaweed.

shinachiku

Shinachiku translates to “Chinese bamboo” in Japanese. Shinachiku are fermented bamboo shoots that are dried in the sun or through other artificial fermentation processes. They are prepared by simmering with soy sauce, water, and brown sugar, which gives the shinachiku a lightly sweet and savory flavor. Bamboo shoots themselves are the edible pieces of a young bamboo plant, which grows in a cane once it has matured. When eaten alone, it has a neutral flavor that lends itself well to use in a wide variety of Japanese dishes.

Overall though, ramen is typically classified according to its soup base. Here are the most popular varieties in Japan:

  • Tonkotsu Ramen – White, milky, pork based soup.
  • Shoyu Ramen – Brown, transparent, soy sauce based soup.
  • Miso Ramen – Brown, non-transparent, miso based soup.
  • Shio Ramen – Transparent, salt-based soup.

tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen consists of a milky white colored broth. It is a thick broth made from boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen over high heat for several hours, which gives it a hearty pork flavor and a creamy consistency similar to melted butter. Some ramen shops will blend the pork broth with a small amount of chicken and vegetable stock alongside with soy sauce. The ramen noodles for this dish are thin and light, and it is also often served with pickled ginger as a condiment. Some shops have also incorporated sesame oil into the dish as well. Tonkotsu is a specialty of Kyushu, particularly of Hakata-ku, Fukuoka.

shoyu ramen

Shoyu means soy sauce. This ramen typically has a clear brown broth made from chicken, beef, fish, or vegetable stock with plenty of soy sauce. As a result, the Shoyu ramen has a tangy, salty, and very savory flavor that is still fairly light on the palate. Shoyu ramen will also typically have curly ramen noodles instead of straight ones, but it varies from region to region. It is complemented with shinachiku, negi, nori, ajitsuke tamago, kamaboko and other condiments. Some ramen shops will add chili oil or Chinese spices to Shoyu ramen, and others will also substitute chashu for sliced beef instead.

miso ramen

Miso ramen is the newest of the bunch, having reached national popularity around 1965. Miso ramen was developed in Hokkaido and features a broth that combines tons of miso blended with oily chicken, fish, tonkotsu, or lard broth to create a thick, nutty, and yet slightly sweet ramen soup that is a very hearty dish. Miso ramen broth tends to have a strong, tangy flavor, so it stands up to a variety of flavorful toppings that include spicy bean paste, butter, corn, leeks, onions, bean sprouts, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic. The ramen noodles are typically thick, curly, and slightly chewy.

shio ramen

Shio ramen is one of the oldest known recipes in Japan. Its pale, clear, yellowish broth is made with plenty of salt and any combination of chicken, vegetables, fish, and seaweed. Sometimes ramen shops will also incorporate pork bones into the broth, but they are not boiled for as long as they are for tonkotsu ramen, so the soup remains light and clear. Chashu is sometimes substituted for lean chicken meatballs, and pickled plums and kamaboko are popular toppings as well. Noodle texture and thickness varies among shio ramen, but they are usually straight rather than curly.

 

Regional Ramen Recipes

While these standard recipes of ramen are now available throughout Japan since the early Taisho era, the last few decades have introduced a number of regional specialties. Other styles have also emerged recently that include curry ramen and other exotic flavors. Ramen recipes and methods of preparation tend to be closely guarded secrets, but their general list of ingredients and cultural distinctions have been celebrated publicly. Here are just a few of the most popular regional ramen recipes throughout Japan.

tokyo ramen

Ramen from Tokyo consists of thin curly noodles served in a soy flavored chicken broth. Their broth incorporates a slight touch of dashi fish stock, since old ramen establishments in Tokyo often originate from soba eateries. Its regional toppings are chopped scallion, menma, sliced pork, kamaboko, egg, nori, and spinach. Ikebukuro, Ogikubo and Ebisu are three areas in Tokyo known for their ramen.

sapporo miso ramen

Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is especially famous for its distinct ramen recipe. Most people in Japan know Sapporo for its rich miso ramen, which was invented there and which is ideal for Hokkaido’s harsh, snowy winters. Sapporo miso ramen is typically topped with sweetcorn, butter, bean sprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic, and sometimes local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab. Hakodate, another city of Hokkaido, is famous for its salt flavored ramen, while Asahikawa, in the north of the island, offers soy sauce flavored ones.

Yokohama ramen

Yokohama ramen is known as le-kei. It consists of thick noodles served in a soy sauce flavored pork broth similar to tonkotsu. The standard toppings are roasted pork, boiled spinach, nori, negi and a soft or hardboiled egg. It is traditional for customers to call the softness of the noodles, the richness of the broth and the amount of oil they want.

hakata ramen

Hakata ramen originates from Hakata distinct of Fukuoka city in Kyushu. It had rich, milky, pork bone tonkotsu broth and thin noodles. Often, distinctive toppings such as crushed garlic, benishoga, sesame seeds, and spicy pickled mustard greens are left on tables for customers to serves themselves. Ramen stalls in Hakata and Tenjin are well known within Japan. Recent trends have made Hakata ramen one of the most popular types in Japan, and several chain restaurants specializing in Hakata ramen can be found all over the country.

kitakata ramen

Kitakata in northern Honshu is known for its rather thick, flat noodles served in a pork-and-niboshi broth. The area within its former city boundaries has the highest per-capita number of ramen establishments. Ramen has such prominence in the region that locally, the word soba usually refers to ramen, and not to actual soba that is referred to as Japanese soba.

Ramen Tempura

Ramen has also become very popular in China where ramen chains serve the dish alongside other traditional Japanese dishes such as yakitori and tempura, something that would seem very strange in Japan.

wagamama

Wagamama, a successful British chain serving pan-Asian food mainly in Europe, is known for its ramen noodle soups. This version of the soup however is quite different from ramen in Japan.

In Korea, ramen is known as ramyeon. Many distinct recipes of Korean ramyeon have evolved over the years, such as kimchi flavored, seafood flavored and beef flavored. Some restaurants serve variations of ramyeon containing additional ingredients such as dumplings and cheese. It is usually served with vegetables, such as carrots and green onions, and eggs.

Throughout the rest of Central Asia, the dish, known as laghman has thicker ramen noodles and a significantly spicier flavored broth.

 

Maruchan Ramen

maruchan ramen

Instant ramen noodles were invented in Japan in 1958. Since the dish was so affordable, easy to prepare, and rich in flavor, consumption of ramen noodle soup quickly became very popular worldwide. As different cultures around the world discovered ramen noodles, each culture also seemed to add ingredients from its own cuisine. Soon the idea of putting ramen noodles in a convenient Styrofoam cup was brought to the market. This allowed people to enjoy ramen noodle soups away from the kitchen and on-the-go.

Today, Maruchan Ramen is considered to be the leader, and most well-known ramen manufacturer in the world. The brand itself is owned and operated by Toyo Suisan based in Tokyo, Japan.

Toyo Suisan, founded by Kazuo Mori, started as a frozen fish distributorship operation in the Tokyo area. Within a few short decades the company would rise to become one of the world’s most successful food companies. By 1970, Toyo Suisan ranked as one of Japan’s most prominent food companies.

Toyo Suisan entered the instant ramen noodle business in 1961. By 1972, Toyo Suisan entered the international market. Maruchan brand ramen was introduced in 1977 and opened its first, ramen manufacturing plant in Irvine, California. Maruchan, Inc has since grown to include three Ramen noodle manufacturing facilities in the US, two in Irvine, California and one near Richmond, Virginia.

Maruchan is a Japanese word comprised of two parts, Maru and chan. Maru translates literally to “round” as in the shape. Maru also means rounded in Japanese, which is often associated with the connotation of friendliness. The word chan is a suffix, used with a child’s name. Chan is normally used to show endearment and affection for a child in Japan. Maruchan produces around 3.6 billion packages of Ramen Noodle Soup a year. If the noodles were all strung together they would reach all the way from earth to the planet Mars and back.

 

Ajisen Ramen

Ajisen-ramen

Ajisen Ramen is the most popular Japan-based chain of fast-food restaurants that sells traditional Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes. Its trademark logo is a little girl named Chii-chan and is displayed throughout is restaurants and packed noodles.

Ajisen Ramen originated from Kumamoto in Kyushu, Japan in 1968. They became famous for their straight and thin ramen noodles combined with their secret tonkotsu soup base recipe that has been widely commended in Japan, and has been circulated throughout the rest of the world since 1995. Tonkotsu consists of a milky white ramen soup broth which is made from pork bones, meat, vegetables, and other fine ingredients that are cooked for several hours.

Today, Ajisen Ramen totals over 600 branches all over the world, namely Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.

 

Santouka Ramen

santouka ramen

Another notable ramen fast food restaurant chain is Santouka Ramen. After watching the cult classic ramen film, Tampopo, Hitoshi Hatanaka and his family decided to stop at a ramen shop for a quick meal. Completely unsatisfied with the taste of the shop’s ramen, Hatanaka decided that the next time he would be the one making ramen for his family. This flavor and style of ramen went on to become known as Santouka Ramen.

In 1988, Hatanaka decided to open his own ramen shop in Asahikawa, located on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. The shop started with only 9 seats and one item on the menu, shio ramen. At first, the shop was just like any other ramen shop in a town already known for its tasty ramen recipes, but pretty soon the unique flavor of Santouka gathered larger and larger followers.

Pretty soon the small shop was featured in many Japanese magazines and TV shows. Once other mass media and ramen enthusiasts found out about it, the shop’s popularity went to a whole other level. This was around the time that the Santouka specialty Toroniku Char-siu pork, made from the “rarest of the rare” pork cheeks, appeared on the menu. Today, there are several shops located throughout Japan and in select cities abroad. Many regard it as one of the best ramen chains in the world.

 

Ramen Shops

Ramen shops usually will consist of a small room on a single floor with a serving counter. There are usually one or two cooks working behind the counter for smaller shops, but it varies depending on just how busy it gets. The cook will usually have large pots boiling different ramen soup broths in the back and separate pots for the ramen noodles and other ingredients. Some of the bigger ramen restaurant will also have serving tables with chairs, but most of them just have traditional serving counters with stools.

There will also be either a cash register or a ticket machine somewhere in the shop. Ticket machines are usually located near the entrance or right outside the shop. In Japan, ramen shops are usually found near train stations, on major streets, and in big city malls. Ramen shops are also typically open from the late morning until midnight. Other shops tend to open only for lunch and dinner, so the hours might be 11:00 to 14:00 JST and then reopen for dinner from around 17:00 to 23:00 JST.

Most ramen shops are only closed one day of the week and for major Japanese holidays. Definitely check this information out before making your trip. You can’t always assume that a ramen shop will be open at any time.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that some of the more popular ramen shops can get pretty busy during their peak hours. People will sometimes start lining up before the doors even open. But if you do find a large line waiting outside, you can still calculate the average wait time based on the number of people. This varies from shop to shop, but I’ve found that typically the average wait per person in line is around 2-3 minutes. Sometimes the lines start right at the outside of the ramen shop anyway, so you might not have to wait as long as you think.

Ramen shops will also sometimes have menus or pictures of their soups outside, so you can decide what you’d like to order while you wait. Since many of the ramen shops are small, they can get pretty crowded pretty fast. As a result, it’s bad manners to continuously keep getting up from your seat while you eat. Since most ramen shops only serve on counters, it is very rare that you’ll be able to sit together with a party of two or more.

Most ramen shops don’t want you waiting until two or more adjacent seats are open, and one person sitting in between two other open seats will not always move over to let two people sit together. Most of the time customers at a ramen shop won’t even notice you at all.

You should also assume that ramen shop staff will only speak and understand Japanese. Ramen shop customers typically eat their dish and get out as quickly as they came. It’s not really a place to be social and drink with your friends. You’re there to eat ramen, and that’s pretty much it. It’s true that more and more Japanese citizens are learning second languages from schools, but you shouldn’t count on any conversation outside of Japanese going to well.

Customers can usually order green tea, beer, sake or soda at these shops to go with your order of ramen. If you ask, some ramen shops will even give you a free glass of water. Sometimes a server will come by and refill your water glass, but if they don’t, then there will probably be water dispenser somewhere in the shop where you can refill your glass yourself. There might also be water pitchers on the counter near each seat.

It’ll happen very rarely, but some ramen shops might not serve any drinks at all, in this case you are allowed to bring your own drinks. It’s also a good idea to bring some paper towels with you as ramen shops generally do not provide napkins. Ramen shops usually don’t have any bathrooms either, and if they do, they probably won’t be anywhere near hygienic.

One of the most important aspects of a Japanese ramen shop you should try to understand is how to order and pay properly. Most ramen shops have a specific system, and they make sure to stick to that system. If you see a ticket machine when you enter, then that’s where you do both. There are many ways these machines can work, but the general idea is that a number is assigned to a specific ramen order, you select that order and when you pay it will give you an order ticket.

If you did purchase an order ticket when you first walked in, then place it on the raised counter in front of you or hand it to the shop staff member that asks for it. If you did not order from a ticket machine, then this is probably where the cook or a staff member will ask you about what flavor broth you’d like and how well done you want the ramen noodles.

Once you have a seat at the counter, you should figure out where you’re supposed to put your belongings. Most ramen shops will have mini shelves below the counter where you can put briefcases, purses, or small backpacks. You also find that these small shelves might also have some manga or ecchi magazines for you to read while you wait for your food.

Make sure you don’t put your bags on the floor near your stool. The stools provided at the counter are placed very close together and are also sometimes bolted to the ground, so you will not have a lot of room in most cases. On top of that, ramen shops tend to get very crowded and other people can easily trip over it or the person sitting next to you might step on it when they leave.

Once you’ve settled in, watch what the other customers do when they order and also when they leave. Watch as other customers leave to see if the ramen shop expects its patrons to put their bowls on the raised counter when they leave. If you’re fluent in Japanese, then you’ll usually find this information written on a sign near the counter itself. If there is a wet washcloth on the raised counter, you should use it to wipe the counter before you decide to leave.

If the ramen shop provides you with a menu, then they will usually also include what sort of toppings come with the ramen. Unfortunately, for ramen shops that do not incorporate menus, there is no standard set of toppings that each particular recipe with come with. Toppings typically depend on the regional tastes and the particular ramen shop in question as well.

Pork, boiled eggs, and bamboo shoots are all common ramen soup toppings, but there’s really no guarantee that you will get these items from the particular ramen shop you’re going to. Check out the toppings section from your menu or the ticket machine. Sometimes you will have to buy the toppings you want in addition to paying for your ramen. You could also order extra of a particular ingredient in some cases as well.

When you get your ramen you will usually be supplied only with chopsticks and a spoon to eat with. In most cases you will only get chopsticks, and rarely will you ever find a traditional Japanese restaurant that supplies forks. Use the chopsticks to grab a hold of some ramen noodles. To get the most amount of flavor out of your ramen noodles, slurp up each of your bites. In some ramen shops, you’ll notice that people tend not to slurp, and in others it’s hard to hear over all the slurping noise.

As for the proper eating etiquette, just remember that you’re at a ramen shop. This is one of the least formal places to eat in Japan, so no one will be offended by your slurping or messy eating. Do make sure that you follow general Japanese etiquette however, to blowing your nose or smoking at these establishments are usually frowned upon. When you leave, it’s polite to say “gochisosama” meaning “I’m a satisfied customer” in Japanese. But only do so if you really enjoyed the food and the service. Otherwise, a simple “arigatou” meaning “thank you” is also appropriate.

 

Tokyo’s Best Ramen Shops

MenyaMusashi ramen

MenyaMusashi – Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

The Shinjuku branch of MenyaMusashi is regarded as one of the most famous ramen shops in all of Tokyo, Japan. The restaurant has been featured on several Japanese television shows and news programs, and lines stretching outside the shop and around the block are not very uncommon around lunchtime and on weekdays.

The ramen here is served in a light, shoyu based broth with hints of katsuo and yuzu. You order your meal from a ticket machine here and then hand your ticket stub over to one of the staff. The staff member will then ask you whether you would like your ramen kotteri (heavier flavor) or assari (lighter flavor).

All of the cooks here are very animated in the open kitchen, with the head ramen noodle chef constantly yelling as he pulls noodles from boiling water and shakes them. Musashi is a great place for ramen beginners as the taste is not too rich or overpowering and the overall atmosphere of the locale is celebratory, relaxing, and casual.

Ramen Tetsuya

Ramen Tetsuya – Umesato, Suginami-ku, Tokyo

Located in Higashi Koenji, Ramen Tetsuya has the best authentic “Sapporo style” ramen in all of Tokyo. I’d go with the Shoyu Chashu Men, which will come with some extra juicy slices of smoked pork served over perfectly boiled ramen noodles in an absolutely delicious broth.

The original Ramen Tetsuya is actually located in Sapporo, Japan. The rich, creamy miso ramen served here has to be one of my absolute favorite recipes in Tokyo, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something outside of your traditional bowl of Tokyo ramen.

Ippudo ramen

Ippudo – Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

If you’re looking for something to really define the Tokyo ramen experience, Ippudo is probably the place to go. Ippudo is one of Japan’s most famous small ramen chains where you’ll get a great all-around traditional Japanese ramen experience. There are many branches spread all across the country serving up the delicious Hakata style tonkotsu ramen from the island of Kyushu.

The soup stock is extremely flavorful and creamy, a unique taste that most people can only really experience in Japan. Alongside you ramen you’ll get a wide variety of exotic toppings, including spicy moyashi, crushed ninniku, karashitakana and shoga. Ippudo recently gained quite the publicity in the United States as it opened their first international branch, located in New York City.

Taishoken ramen

Taishoken – Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Taishoken is another one of the most famous ramen shops from Tokyo, Japan. It’s owner and founder, Kazuo Yamagishi, is known as the inventor of the unusual, but tasty tsukemen ramen recipe. While traditional ramen recipes is a soup consisting of fresh noodles, broth, and toppings all served together in a bowl, tsukemen serves the noodles and soup separately.

The broth that comes with the tsukemen is usually stronger in flavor than typical ramen broth, and is used as a dipping sauce for the noodles rather than to actually drink. Although tsukemen is now common food in Japan, Taishoken is considered to be the original dipping ramen recipe.

ramen jiro

Ramen Jiro – Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Ramen Jiro has close to 30 locations in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone, and while each follow the same basic Ramen Jiro recipe, they all vary slightly depending on the variations of ramen toppings and ingredients the particular head chef should decide to use for his shop. The ramen broth is made from both tonkotsu and shoyu stock that when combined, is almost more of a thick sauce than a drinkable soup, with large bubbles of pork fat suspended the broth.

On top of an already massive bowl of ramen, the chef will ask if you want any additional bean sprouts, garlic, or pork fat, which he will throw in at no extra charge. Ramen Jiro is a huge hit with the Japanese college crowd, especially the young male demographic. These ramen shops are just plain dirty. The counters are greasy and the stools are creaky. But you’re guaranteed to leave with your stomach ready to burst. Delicious but not for the light hearted, Ramen Jiro is an experience you’d never forget.

Ramen Oyaji

Ramen Oyaji – Nakamachi, Machida-shi, Tokyo

Ramen Oyaji is located near a remote region of the Kanagawa prefecture that’s over an hour from central Tokyo, Japan by bullet train. If you’re craving some authentic Sapporo style Miso ramen though, then Oyaji ramen is the next best thing to flying out to Hokkaido. The Sapporo style broth from Ramen Oyaji is made from rich white Miso, and is so creamy it’s probably one of the best you’ll ever taste. The ramen noodles are also made fresh and served to perfection.

hakusan ramen

Hakusan Ramen – Hakusan Bunkyo-ku Tokyo

Hakusan Ramen is known for its simplicity. What looks a lot like a ramen shop from the outside is just a serving counter where you pick up bowls of ramen soup from the inside. Once you get you ramen, it’s really up to you where and how you eat it. You’ll find a couple of benches outside to sit on near the sidewalk, but during peak hours you’ll just have to stand or squat wherever there’s room and begin quickly slurping up your bowl of ramen.

The menu choices here are plain and to the point. Choose between regular ramen and egg ramen noodles. The broth is made from a light tonkotsu shoyu, slightly salty but not too overpowering. It’s plain. It’s quick. It’s delicious. The best part is that the shop is open from 21:00 to 5:00 JST, so it’s just the right place to stop for a late night meal and a drink.

yasube ramen

Yasube – Yoyogi, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo

Although Yasube serves both traditional ramen soup and tsukemen, one look around the shop interior and you’re likely to see plates full of fresh ramen noodles, telling you fairly easily that most customers prefer the tsukemen. Yasube serves a particularly spicy Kara miso tsukemen that is their most popular ramen dish. Just something about dunking thick, chewy ramen noodles into a zesty chili-miso sauce that will send your taste buds soaring.

The real best thing here is the prices. For the small price of 790 yen you can choose the quantity of ramen noodles, from small all the way to extra large. The portions here are very generous, so a stop here will be sure to leave plenty of tasty ramen in your belly alongside plenty of money left in your wallet. That is of course, assuming there was plenty there to begin with.

aoba ramen

Aoba – Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo

Aoba has earned its reputation by serving simple ramen dishes with the finest, freshest ingredients available on the market. Ramen enthusiasts consistently rank them as one of best ramen shops in Tokyo, Japan. Long lines at this ramen shop is not only a common occurrence, but is to be expected as well.

The ramen at Aoba is primarily shoyu based but a distinct technique is incorporated when putting each order of noodle soup together. They have two different soup stocks, one made from a combination of pork and chicken bones, the other from dried katsuo. The two stocks are combined just before the customer is served their meal, creating a unique aroma and ramen flavor. Aoba closes whenever they run out of soup stock for the day. The busier the day, the sooner they’ll close, sometimes even before dinner time, definitely a little too early for most people getting off after an exhausting day at work.

 

Tokyo’s Best Ramen Shops – By Ramen Soup Recipes

 

Shoyu

En

En will give you one of the best general tastes of shoyu ramen in Tokyo. The noodles have just the right amount of texture, the toppings are handled beautifully and the broth has some amazing explosions of flavor. Make sure you get there early though, otherwise your trip to West Tokyo was all for not. It’s a little bit on the outskirts of the city, but if you’re looking for some seriously good shoyu ramen, don’t even think about it twice.

Dokkan

The Dokkan ramen shop actually originated from Niigata, Japan a place fairly well known for its styles of ramen soup. This variety is reflected in Dokkan, with every day presenting one of many styles of Niigata ramen. Some days you will get a miso curry tsukemen, other days a fishy shoyu. But on the days when Dokkan is there, you get what looks like inedible mounds of pork fat in a rich shoyu soup.  Trust me, you will devour every last bit of those fatty morsels.

Matador

Matador is a virtual newcomer but really hit the ground running. Using beef bones to make the ramen broth is a fairly uncommon practice, and cooking this method correctly is a considerable challenge worthy of praise and awe. Bring in two giant slabs of roast beef alongside the delicious beef shoyu broth, and you’ll have yourself a filling, succulent experience at Matador.

Nagi Golden Gai

No other ramen shop in Japan matches it’s environment as well as Nagi Golden Gai.  Golden Gai, in the heart of Kabukicho, boasts the world’s largest concentration of bars per square foot.  It’s seedy, colorful, and crowded.  Expect a wait at Nagi here, even in the hours long after the trains have stopped running, for a few minutes at least.  Drinking on the street is allowed.

Oh, the ramen.  It’s packed with more dried fish than your sober body could handle.  It works, though.  Every aspect is rough around the edges, but somehow that equates to an amazing bowl; a must-eat anytime you end up in this part of town.

 

Shio

Ganko

Happen to walk by a ramen shop with a massive bone hanging out front instead of a regular sign? Then you might have just run into Ganko. People go either way with Ganko, but in my opinion the shop has some of the best Shio ramen in Tokyo, Japan. The owner of the shop has extended his franchise to dozens of other prefectures around Japan, with dozens of people lining up for some delicious shio ramen.

As a side note, the shop does have a particularly odd custom of closing when the ramen soup broth doesn’t come out utterly “perfect” for that day. It can be kind of an inconvenience, especially if you’ve travelled a long way to get to the shop, but it’s also somewhat understandable. The Japanese are known for their unprecedented precision and effort they put into achieving perfection, and ramen shop owners are not excluded from that custom.

Ivan

Head Ramen Chef Ivan Orkin originally came from New York, USA. He trained and worked in number of high profile French restaurants before taking his knowledge for subtle flavors and created one of the best salty ramen soups in Tokyo, Japan. The ramen noodles are made on the side along with the ingredients. As a rather unconventional topping, I recommend trying the roasted tomato and garlic.

 

Tonkotsu

Muteppo

Most straight tonkotsu ramen stinks.  A few popular shops in Tokyo are smell-able two or three blocks away.  And blocks are long around town.  Opinions range from a fine cheese smell to a downright rotten odor. Muteppo surprises everyone with it’s scent, or lack thereof.  For such an intense bowl, it is surprisingly easy to slurp.

Ikaruga

If you love pork, then look no further.  It would seem as though they blended the pork soup with a heavy cream, but in fact, this is just what happens when you do tonkotsu right.  The collagen slowly seeps out of the bones, and turns into liquid gold. It’s also absolutely one of the best spots to bring a date.

 

Miso

Oyaji

Oyaji is definitely a little out of the way, but once you try it, you’ll really know it was worth it. The blend of miso and fat they make is so rich and creamy, its borderline tonkotsu.

Kururi

This is one of the few miso ramen shops that incorporate a variety of high quality miso is fried with vegetables and soup before serving – a technique I wish more ramen shops used.  The foamy result is ramen perfection.

Hanamichi

This ramen shop is styled from the famous Sapporo miso ramen, which many regard to be the home of traditional miso ramen.  I think it is more Tokyo though, where local flavors will only get you so far, and a sense of gourmet taste is what will really get you to the top.

 

Ramen Map


View The Best Tokyo Ramen Shops in a larger map

 

Ramen in Anime

Ramen has become such a popular dish in Japan that it is very common to see it eaten and talked about in anime TV shows. Here are just a few anime where ramen made quite the guest appearance throughout the show.

Naruto

naruto ramen

Gintama

Gintama Ramen

Ramen Fighter Miki

Baka and Test

Even Hayao Miyazaki loves Ramen!

 

Ramen in Movies and Documentaries

Anime isn’t the only media that has used ramen as a central theme. Here are just a few movies and documentaries dedicated specifically to the art of making, selling and owning a ramen shop.

Tampopo Noodle Master Scene

Ramen Dreams

The Ramen Girl

 

Cooking a Bowl of Yakibuta Ramen

Ingredients for Yakibuta Ramen

Yakibuta Roasted Pork
500g Pork Ribs (1.1 lb)
Green part of Long Green Onion
1 Small piece of Ginger Root
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Sake
1 tbsp Brown or Regular Sugar
* Reduce the pork rib broth to 300ml (1¼ cups).

Seasoned Eggs
2 Large Eggs (65~70g / 2¼~2½ oz)
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Sake
1 tbsp Mirin

Toppings
12cm White part of Long Green Onion (4¾ inches)
80g Spinach (2.8 oz)
Narutomaki – a type of Steamed Fish Cake
Menma – a condiment made from Fermented Bamboo Shoots
Toasted Nori Seaweed

Dashi Stock
1200ml Water (5.1 u.s. cups)
10g Niboshi – Dried Baby Sardines (0.35 oz)
10x5cm Dried Kombu Kelp (4×2 inches)

2 bags of Fresh Ramen Noodles
2 tsp Chicken Stock Powder

Video Transcription

“Hi I am Francis, the host of this show “Cooking with Dog.” Today, we will be making Ramen with tender pork ribs and savory soup. Let’s prepare the Yakibuta, roasted pork ribs.

Cut the pork ribs (1.1 lb) in half. Crush the ginger root with the side of a knife. Next, sauté the pork in a small pot. Flip the pork over and sauté each side until golden brown. With a pair of tongs, squeeze the fat out of the pork. Remove the fat with a paper towel.

Pour in the water until it covers the top of the pork. Add the green part of the long green onion and the crushed ginger root. Place a clear bowl onto the pork as a weight. Bring it to a boil on medium high heat and thoroughly remove the foam with a mesh strainer. Reduce to the lowest heat possible and simmer for 2 hours. Occasionally add hot water and make sure the top of the meat is always covered.

Pierce the pork with a bamboo skewer to check if the inside is completely cooked. When it is ready place the pork into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cool the pork rib broth, allowing the fat to rise to the surface.

Let’s make the seasoning for the soft-boiled eggs. Combine the soy sauce (1 tbsp), sake (1 tbsp), and mirin (1 tbsp) in a bowl. Heat the mixture in a microwave for about 30 seconds. Put the seasoning into a small plastic bag.

Let’s make the soft-boiled eggs. Place the eggs in a pot of water and turn on the burner. Gently rotate the eggs until the water begins to boil. Make sure to allow the eggs to reach room temperature before using. Boil for 4 minutes and cool the eggs in a bowl of ice water. Gently remove the eggshell in the water to prevent the eggs from breaking. Put the eggs into the bag of seasoning, allowing to sit for a few hours at room temperature or sit in the fridge overnight.

Let’s prepare the dashi stock. Soak the kombu kelp (4”x2”) and dried baby sardines (0.35 oz) in a pot of water (5.1 cups) for about 2 hours.

Let’s prepare the toppings. Cut the white part of the long green onion into one and half inch lengths. Make a cut along the side of each, removing the cores. Stack the onion layers and chop into thin strips. Lightly rinse the onions in a bowl of water and drain well. Slice the narutomaki, a type of steamed fish cake, into thin slices. Cook the stems of the spinach and then the leaves. Quickly cool the spinach in ice water to help retain the color. Tightly squeeze out the excess water. Cut the spinach into one and a half inch lengths. Remove the soft boiled eggs from the seasoning. Use a string to cut the soft-boiled eggs in half crosswise.

To make the dashi stock, heat the pot of dashi on medium heat. Remove the kombu when the stock begins to bowl. Remove the foam with a mesh strainer. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes and remove the sardines. Be sure not to cover with a lid otherwise the fishy smell will remain in the stock.

Let’s reduce the pork rib broth. Thoroughly remove the fat from the surface of the broth. Combine the broth, soy sauce (4 tbsp), and sake (2 tbsp), measuring the total volume. Reheat the pork broth in a pot. Add the brown sugar (1 tbsp), dissolving it completely. Occasionally measure the broth, reducing the volume to less than one and a quarter cups. Place the pork rubs into the pot and cover with the broth. When the pork is heated, turn off the burner. Allow the pork to absorb the broth in the cooling process.

When cooled, place the pork ribs onto the cutting board. Slice into half inch slices. Heat the pork rib slices with a toaster oven just before you serve.

Let’s cook the noodles. Put the fresh ramen noodles into a large pot of boiling water. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the noodles so follow the directions on the package.

In the mean time, let’s make the ramen broth. Combine the chicken stock power (1 tsp), half of the heated pork rib broth, and the dashi stock in a bowl. You can adjust the amount of dashi stock to your taste. Turn off the burner and strain the noodles with a mesh strainer. Thoroughly remove the excess water, placing the noodles into the hot ramen broth. Loosen up the noodles with chopsticks.

Top with the toasted pork ribs, narutomaki fish cake, spinach, seasoned soft-boiled eggs, menma bamboo shoots, long green onion, and toasted nori seaweed. Finally, sprinkle on the pepper and enjoy the seven toppings with the savory ramen broth! Be careful not to simmer the pork ribs after adding the condiments to the broth. Otherwise the pork will become tough.

The meat is so tender and delicious!        

This is one of the most complicated recipes but the combination of the tender pork ribs and savory broth is absolutely delicious!

Good luck in the kitchen.”

 

ramen terms

 

Ramen Glossary

assari – literally “light/simple”. A classification for ramen characterized by a lighter, clearer, and less oily soup.

benishōga – literally “red ginger”. Often used as a topping in tonkotsu ramen as well as many other Japanese dishes.

bonito – type of fish commonly used in making dashi. The fish is usually fermented and smoked.

chahan – fried rice.

chashu – simmered pork served as a ramen topping. Chashu is also sometimes offered as a cold side dish and garnished with green onions.

chuuka soba – literally “chinese soba”. This term is often used interchangeably with ramen, but sometimes chuuka soba refers to a slightly different type of noodles which are more yellow and lower in fat than regular ramen.

dashi – soup stock, commonly made with dried bonito flakes and kombu among other ingredients.

gyoza – Japanese version of Chinese dumplings, made with ingredients such as pork, garlic, and cabbage. Gyoza are pan-friend, and served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar.

hakata ramen – one of the most popular types of ramen in Japan, characterized by a rich, milky tonkotsu broth and hard, thin noodles.

hanjuku egg – marinated “half-boiled” egg commonly served with ramen.

kaedama – extra serving of noodles. Kaedama is only available at some ramenyas, and gives you an extra serving of noodles only. Make sure you save some soup!

kakuni – thick braised piece of pork belly.

kamaboko – processed “cake” of pureed white fish. Also see naruto.

kansui – a type of mineral water used in making ramen noodles. The purity and content of kansui is closely regulated in Japan. Kansui gives ramen noodles its distinct taste and texture and gives it a slight yellowish color.

kayaku – seasoning packet found in instant and cup/bowl ramen that flavors the soup. Some instant ramen also include a packet of oil to further enhance the soup flavors.

kikurage – “black wood ear” mushrooms

kombu – wide, large type of sun-dried seaweed used for sushi and dashi.

kotteri – literally “rich/thick”. A classification for ramen characterized by a heavier, more oily soup.

kurobuta – literally “black pig”. Kurobuta pork is the “kobe beef” of the pork world, prized for its rich flavor and tender texture due to its marbling and fat content.

menma – seasoned, dried bamboo shoots, used as a topping in ramen. See shinachiku.

miso ramen – ramen made with a miso (soybean paste) flavored soup base.

moyashi – bean sprouts.

nama ramen – “raw ramen” is a type of packaged ramen that consists of fresh, uncooked noodles and packet(s) of seasoning/soup base. Nama ramen is usually refrigerated and meant to be eaten within a short period of time.

naruto – Japanese fish cake characterized by a pink or red swirl in the middle. (Ok, it’s also the title character of a very popular Japanese comic book/cartoon who’s obsessed with ramen.)

negi – a type of Japanese green onions used as a ramen topping.

ninniku – garlic

nori – seaweed

ramen – that which you crave!

ramenya – “ramen shop” or “ramen house”. “-ya” is a Japanese suffix indicating a store that sells a particular item.

ramyun – Korean version of ramen, often spicy, with curly, slightly wider noodles than its Japanese kin.

shina soba – “Chinese noodles.” Another term for ramen, similar to chuuka soba.

shinachiku – seasoned, dried bamboo shoots. See menma.

shio ramen – ramen made with a salt flavored soup base. Shio ramen broth has a clear, light color.

shoyu ramen – ramen with soy sauce flavored soup base. Shoyu broth is clear and dark.

soba – Japanese noodles made from buckwheat, usually served cold with a seperate dipping sauce or in a hot broth. Soba is not ramen and both the noodles and soup taste very differently than ramen noodles and soup.

tantanmen – Japanese version of a spicy Chinese (Sichuan to be exact) chili noodle dish that typically contains minced pork and scallions.

tonkotsu ramen – ramen with a soup base made from pork bone. Tonkotsu broth is characterized by a milky, tan color, and usually has a more oily, richer, and thicker taste than other types of ramen.

tonkotsu-shio – hybrid ramen made with a combination of tonkotsu and shio (salt) soup base.

tonkotsu-shoyu – hybrid ramen made with a combination of tonkotsu and shoyu (soy sauce) soup base.

tsukemen – a type of ramen with the soup and noodles served seperately. The noodles are meant to be dipped into the soup, then slurped.

umami – the “fifth taste” best described as savoriness or meatiness. Umami is especially noticeable in protein rich foods such as meat, mushrooms, seaweed, and yes, MSG.

wakame – type of thin, stringy seaweed used as a ramen topping.

wonton – type of Chinese dumpling, usually filled with pork or shrimp, minced onions and seasoning, and boiled

wontonmen – ramen with wontons

yaki-nori – grilled nori (seaweed)

Japan Dating Tips
japan martial arts bushido knights
  • Eric Siegel

    Starving for some ramen now… excellent article!

    • Hector Franco

      Thank you!

    • http://www.japanfinds.com/ Hector Franco

      Thank you! I’m definitely craving some ramen right about now too.

  • 8fold4noble

    Very thorough! : D

    • http://www.japanfinds.com/ Hector Franco

      Thanks again 8fold4noble!

  • Pingback: The Famous Hakata Ramen | japanramenaps