What’s Hot in Japan: Ramen in Japan

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What’s Hot in Japan: Ramen in Japan
What’s Hot in Japan: Red-eye on the A330 KIX-SIN

Ramen 拉麵 is perhaps one of the most accessible type of food for tourists in Japan. Nearly every corner of the neighbourhood in Tokyo has one ramen stall. Not only are they great for solo travellers, they also offer tasty treats way past dinner time with some even closing late past midnight. And finally they are one of the most affordable type of cuisine in Japan that offers a wealth of flavours and customization to suit one’s taste buds. Usually a bowl of ramen can range from ¥800 to ¥1,500 (~US$9 to 17) depending on the size and ingredients. Diners can also choose to add eggs, seaweed, corn or sliced pork amongst a range of other ingredients. The other major type of food served in ramen restaurants are gyozas or what is commonly known as potstickers in the States and dumplings in other Asian countries. One other thing, most ramen places serve soup with pork or pork ingredients so diners definitely need to be able to eat pork-based food.

From my last visit in Japan where I had a variety of ramen, I brought my family this time round to visit some of the notable ones as well as to try some of the limited edition flavours. Ramen can indeed be a seasonal dish since cold style ramen can be served in the summer. In this post I will review some of the ramen restaurants we visited and provide an overview of some of the famous ramen chains in Japan.

Ichiran Ramen

This Fukuoka-based ramen chain serves one of my favourite ramen in Japan. They serve only one type of ramen which is the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) style. This type of broth are usually milky and rich in flavour, and a bit greasy too. This ramen chain is famous for their individual dining booths and diners are seated in their own little compartmentalized booth where all the condiments are located along with a water dispenser.

Guests purchase tokens from the vending machine on entry and they will be handed a paper to choose from how light or thick the soup base should be, the level of spiciness, the texture of the noodle and the level of ingredients from green onions to garlic. This slip of paper is available in both English and Japanese so tourists should not be intimidated.

Ichiran Ramen at Shinjuku
Ichiran ramen at Shinjuku

Waiting time is usually fast as most diners usually receive their order within 5 minutes of ordering and finish their noodle in the next 15 or so minutes. What I really like about their ramen is the broth which has a slightly spicy taste as well as the ramen which is straight and thin unlike the curly texture of most other ramen chains. Furthermore this ramen chain has branches in many of the tourist spots in Tokyo like Harajuku and Shinjuku.

Santouka Ramen

This ramen chain has several stores outside Japan, with one branch in Vancouver. As a frequent diner in its branch in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to visit the main branch in Asahikawa where it all started and my brother did say it was the best ramen he ever had. Santouka ramen offers diners 3 different kinds of ramen from the classic Shio and Shoyu to Miso which is popular in Hokkaido. As expected their Miso ramen has a thick but tasty broth with the taste of the fermented miso paste to be not as strong. It is one of the ramen store where I do like the Miso flavour. In addition, diners could also order the Toroniku ramen which is served in either of the 3 flavours with a serving of premium pork slices. This is one of my favourite as the the pork slices are very tender though at times they can be over-marinated and thus be very salty.

Tontoro Side Dish with Seaweed
Toroniku or pork cheek in Santouka

During my visit to the main branch (honten), they had a limited edition flavour which is actually pork intestines ramen. While this might sound unappetizing, the soup base was infused with lots of pepper and it creates a wonderful mix of flavours. The generous serving of green onion also tries to mask the unpleasant scent and taste associated with pork innards. Should there be a chance to try this bowl of ramen in a Santouka store, I would say to go for it especially if you do like pork intestines soup.

Pork Intestine Ramen
Pork intestine ramen at Santouka in Asahikawa

Ippudo Ramen

Another one of my favourite ramen chain, this chain is particularly famous having opened branches in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Though I was extremely disappointed with their ramen in Hong Kong, they still serve very fantastic ramen in Japan. One notable dish is their gyoza which I found to be the best so far amongst the other ramen stores I have tasted. Their gyoza comes in smaller pieces and has a savoury flavour with a tinge of sweetness.

Ippudo Ramen
Ippudo akamaru (red bowl) ramen

Their red bowl or Akamaru ramen is recommended as it has a richer taste with the addition of some unique spices. Their ramen has a slight hint of pepper and thus is slighly on the spicy side. In addition diners can add a lot of other additions such as garlic (garlic press included on table), sesame seeds, pepper and pickles.

Similar to Ichiran and Santouka, Ippudo is located prominently in many major Japanese cities and thus these 3 could very well be a starting point for foreign tourists’ introduction to ramen.

Yoshimuraya Ramen

The first time I visited this ramen store in Yokohama, I liked it so much that I brought my parents to visit. There is always a long wait for seats and it is usually between 20-30 minutes before one will get seated during peak hours. Popular amongst Japanese and famous in Yokohama, I was slightly disappointed on my second visit because the broth was slightly too thick and salty the second time round. The store specializes in shoyu ramen and is a short walk away from the main JR Yokohama station so it is still accessible to tourists visiting Tokyo. I would say go and give this a try if you are in Yokohama, but there is no need to travel all the way here just for this ramen.

Yoshimuraya Ramen
Yoshimuraya ramen

The ramen itself is slightly thicker than many ramen stores while the broth is of a thick brown colour. Generally the flavour works best with the addition of pepper, sesame seeds and garlic which is included in front for diners. There are also green vegetables served with the ramen and they were very tasty the first time I had it, so my guess is that they can be very inconsistent in their cooking.

Keyaki Sapporo Miso Ramen

I visited the branch of this ramen store in the New Chitose Airport which has a Ramen Dojo or food court with several famous ramen restaurants inside. At that time the store was having a special crab ramen promotion and since I like crabs, I figured I would give it a try. The restaurant is also famous for its miso ramen with their main store in Susukino entertainment district at downtown Sapporo. The flavour of the broth was tasty but the crab ramen I got was a thick broth not unlike that of shark’s fin soup. This made for a very heavy meal and I would have to say the taste just did not register for a second visit. I would be game to try their miso ramen the next time though.

Crab Ramen
Crab ramen at Keyaki

Ajisai Shio Ramen

This ramen chain can be found mainly in Hokkaido with branches in Sapporo and Hakodate. This was actually recommended to us by a local for its shio ramen. There was nothing wrong with the ramen as the taste was good and the soup was not that salty for a shio ramen. The only thing was that the broth was nothing spectacular either. If you are a big fan of shio ramen or ramen with a clear broth, do give this a try but otherwise I would say this one would not be missed.

Ajisai Shio Ramen
Ajisai shio ramen
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