By yours truly. This article was originally published on Yettio.com.
The only encounter with ramen most of us will have is the instant cup kind invented by Momofuku Ando in the 1950s.
Unless you’re in Japan. Here you’ll realize that ramen is a heavenly concoction.
Though ramen noodles originated in China, the Japanese have perfected the dish, making ramen a globally recognized delicacy. Tokyo has no surfeit of ramen stops, but if you’re looking for the best, look no further than this list.
RELATED: Sushi eating etiquette 101 (also written by yours truly).
First, a quick lesson.
Fresh ramen noodles have a spongy texture that soaks up the broth’s oil, giving them that slurp-able quality. Ingredients include wheat flour, salt, water and kansui – an alkaline water that gives the noodles their yellow color. The broth base is animal bones – typically chicken, pork, and beef – or sea kelp and seafood. Aromatics, like ginger, scallions, onion and garlic are essential to this broth. Salt, soy sauce, miso paste, and on rarer occasions chili and sesame oils are added.
Braised or ground pork or bacon toppings are popular, but lighter variations call for seafood and kamaboko or narutomaki – the little red and white fish cakes. Boiled eggs are also a favorite. On the side you’ll get sheets of nori and fermented bamboo shoots, ginger, shredded cabbage and goodies unique to every shop.
Ramen is regional. Tokyo, Sapporo, and Fukuoka styles differ greatly, but what’s awesome is that you can find them all in Tokyo. Tokyo ramen is made with pork, chicken or dashi broth, which comes from bonito flakes and kelp. Fukuoka has hakata ramen—a pork lover’s dream come true. Hakata ramen has a hearty milky white broth seasoned with salt and soy sauce. Lastly, there’s Sapporo ramen. It’s thick and robust, made with miso and topped with bean sprouts, corn and ground meat. Unique to Sapporo ramen is the gigantic slab of butter crowning the bowl.
So, now that you’re hungry, here’s my recommendations:
Ramen Hagan らーめん破顔
Ramen Hagan offers traditional Tokyo ramen with a twist. You can get noodles without broth—汁なし. This is quite controversial in Japan, considering the broth makes or breaks ramen. Highly ranked on popular dining websites, Ramen Hagan’s three locations in Sakuradai and Ekoda, Nerima-ku and Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku, attract tons of guests. Every bowl is less than 750 yen, so you won’t empty your wallet. The downside is that there’s barely any sitting room, and kids aren’t welcome.
Address: Nerima-ku, Tokyo Sakuradai 1-5-11
IPPUDO is a ramen dynasty spread across Japan that offers signature ramen dishes as well as other Japanese cuisine, like one-bite gyoza. IPPUDO’s luscious tonkotsu broth is prepared over 18 hours. Silky and scented with pork and garlic, it complements the thin handmade noodles. The best part is choosing the firmness of your noodles. IPPUDO also has spicy ramen and seafood-based soups with narutomaki. No matter where you go in Tokyo, there is a highly-rated IPPUDO close by. An average lunch is about 1000 yen.
Address: 4-10-3 Ginza, Chuo
Unlike the first three listings, Yoroiya isn’t a chain but a privately owned business in Asakusa. This means that it’s child-friendly. At this fantastic restaurant, you’ll feast upon several unique styles of ramen, including umeshio ramen (plum salt), dipping noodles, and chicken ramen. Celebrating the seasons, the shop also has limited time varieties, the current being spicy sesame oil and soy sauce ramen. Lunch is 800 yen. Dinner is around 1000 yen.
Address: 1-36-7 Asakusa, Taito 111-0032
Matador and Bull Fighting Oil マタドール・闘牛脂
If you’re thinking, “Where’s the beef?” look no further than Matador ramen shops. Not many shops are successful with selling beef-bone ramen, due to the sweetness of the broth. But where others have failed, Matador wins. Every ingredient is high grade. Popular bowls are topped with medium-rare roast beef slabs, scallions, and cabbage. The average meal costs around 1200 yen.
Address: Nakamura Bldg. 1st fl.
Finally, a ramen shop that doesn’t cater to carnivores. Located in Yotsuya, Sora-no-Iro is an award-winning location that serves vegetarian ramen. There are absolutely no animal proteins used in the seasonal “veggie soba” options. Traditionally prepared ramen is also available, so if their are meat eaters, they have an option too. Prices start at a reasonable price of 1000 yen.
Address: 102-0093 Tokyo, Chiyoda, Hirakawacho
And remember that the louder your slurp, the better ramen tastes.