Ramen (Tokyo, Japan)

As everyone probably knows, there’s great ramen in Japan. It’s seriously everywhere, and the breadth and depth of options is impressive. I can’t think of a food in the US that is matched with such passion (obsession?) as ramen is in Japan. There are countless restaurants specializing in the dish, and it really seems hard to go wrong wherever one steps in.

I had my fair share of bowls…most everything I had was pretty good, summarized below.

Ippudo
Marunouchi Brick Square B1F
2-6-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6990

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Ippudo was a must-visit for me; I mean, it’s now one of the most famous noodle houses in America. It’s very famous in Japan too, where the Fukuoka-based shop has expanded to 40+ locations around the country. The only location I tried (multiple times) was across the street from the office and in the same plaza as a La Boutique de Joel Robuchon (and San Francisco-based A16), in Marunouchi’s Brick Square.

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Gyoza

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Ippudo’s gyoza was probably the best I had on the trip, with a good crispy crust on the bottom and a nice moist, balanced filling. I ate these little guys whole.

Shiomaru Hakata Classic Ramen

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The classic tonkotsu. Good depth with a clean flavor, and not really all that fatty…relatively speaking. Straight white noodles completed the bowl – I always requested them hard and they came out perfect every time.

Akamaru Modern Ramen

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A variation of the tonkotsu, this one was much richer with a lingering spice. A strong miso paste and garlic oil added much more depth to this bowl, though I preferred the simpleness of the Hakata ramen.

Ivan Ramen
3-24-7 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 157-0062

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Another notable ramen shop is this one, famous for having a gaijin (foreigner) at the helm. Of course, that wouldn’t be enough for me to make the hour-long train ride to this shop, it’s known to have some damn good ramen too (and be English-friendly!). I’ve heard shio ramen is the specialty.

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Shio Ramen

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I thought this was another great bowl. The egg was perfect, the chashu was tasty with a nice balance of meat and fat, and the noodles had great chew. They were chewier, eggier noodles sitting in what was a very light fish-scented broth with a hint of smokiness (I’m guessing from the bonito flakes).

Menya Shichisai
First Avenue Tokyo Station Tokyo Ramen Street B1F
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6701

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I read about Menya Shichisai on Go Ramen! where he called it one of his favorite bowls, and it happened to be very close to my apartment. In the basement of the seemingly never-ending maze of Tokyo Station, eight ramen shops make up Ramen Street. All of the establishments seem to consistently draw crowds (I’m not sure if all of the shops are highly regarded or if it’s just that they are in prime locations), with the most popular being Rokurinsha (see below). Menya Shichisai had the shorter lines, and I actually liked their bowl better (though they were very different).

Shoyu Ramen

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First of all, I loved the noodles here. They looked like a sort of thick, knife-cut variation with such an addicting chew. The broth was wonderful too, showcasing a salty, fishy flavor but well-balanced. And the egg was perfectly soft boiled…I miss this bowl.

Rokurinsha
First Avenue Tokyo Station Tokyo Ramen Street B1F
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6701

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The most popular ramen shop I found during my stay was this one, part of Tokyo Station’s Ramen Street. There was ALWAYS a pretty long line for what I believe was some award-winning tsukemen. I arrived at around 10:45 on a Sunday morning and finally got a seat almost an hour later.

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Ajitama Tsukemen

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I’m pretty new to the whole tsukemen thing…my first bowl was at Tsujita in 2012. Characteristic of the style, Rokurinsha served a pretty thick noodle, with great chew, served with a dense soup full of pork, fish and onion flavor. I enjoyed the very satisfying bowl, though I’m not sure it was worth a return trip for an hour-long wait, especially with Menya Shichisai around the corner.

Nidaime Tsujita
Building 1F Wada
1-4 Kanda Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0052

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Speaking of tsukemen, I HAD to visit the originator of one of my favorite dishes of 2012. There’s a handful of locations in Tokyo; I came on a rainy Monday evening and waited about half an hour for a seat at the counter.

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Nidaime Tsukemen

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I thought this bowl was actually pretty similar to what I remember at the L.A. outpost. Instead of lime, there’s sudachi. I loved every single bite and slurp.

Tetsu
Roppongi Hills North Tower B1F
6-2-31 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032

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Tetsu is another specialist in tsukemen and, what from I’ve read/heard, a fierce competitor to Rokurinsha. There are a few locations in Tokyo; I picked the Roppongi location for two reasons: I knew how to find it (it’s attached to the metro station) and I thought it’d be the most English-friendly location. And voila…there was English on the ordering machine!

Tetsu serves their tsukemen a little differently. First, the noodles sit in a warm dashi broth rather than cold and dry like I’ve normally seen. Second, a piping hot stone is available to heat up the bowl as it cools. How fun!

Tsukemen

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These noodles were probably the thickest I had on this trip…and probably a bit much for my liking. The broth was murky and sort of earthy in flavor, with strong pork. Lastly, fatty pieces of pork belly topped the dish. I didn’t like this bowl as much as Rokurinsha or Tsujita; I found the soup flavors to be a bit muddled and the noodles were just a bit thick for me.

Bassanova
1-4-18 Hanegi, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156-0042

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Another must-try on my list was this place, run by SoCal native Keizo of Go Ramen! It’s a popular one in the states due to Keizo and the fact that it’s been written about numerous times, famous for a green curry ramen.

Green Curry Ramen

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Seriously, just excellent. The noodles were addicting with a great texture to them, sitting in a comforting porky broth with green curry accents. It was slightly spicy upfront but really mellowed out. Chashu was finished on the grill, lending a smoky flavor to each bite. I miss this bowl too.

Tondaku Wadashi

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Another popular bowl at Bassanova, I really enjoyed this one too. The noodles were different, a straight white variety, though still had a nice chew to it. I thought the porky tonkotsu broth was delicious and, again, the chashu was great.

Ichiran
2-8-8 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004

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Similar to Ippudo, Ichiran is another Fukuoka-based ramen chain with a similar style of ramen. However, it’s done a little bit differently. The bowl is fully customizable (you get a menu with a bunch of choices to choose from), and each person sits in a sort of enclosed/secluded seat at the counter. The focus is supposed to be on the ramen, not the surroundings. Interesting.

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Ramen

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I thought the noodles were a little soft, sitting in a rich tonkotsu with a thick fat layer on top. A red sauce (customizable) added quite a bit of heat to the soup (I should have gone with the 1/2 portion of the spice). The chashu was kind of on the fatty side for me; it was definitely a mistake to order extra chashu upfront.

Ramen was one of my go-to dishes for something comfortable, quick, delicious and relatively cheap. I miss many of these bowls; some were among the best things I ate during the trip. My favorite bowls had to be Menya Shichisai’s shoyu ramen, Bassanova’s green curry ramen, and…well…Tsujita’s tsukemen. I’d pay good money to be able to enjoy either of those first two here in the states, and I’m lucky to be able to eat Tsujita anytime.


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