A visit to Tokyo is never complete without having one of Japan's most famous foods — ramen. With thousands of ramen shops all over the city, tourists feel confused about the best places to check out.
Travelers can find a hundred-year-old ramenya or ramen shop beside a modern noodle restaurant. Sometimes, a ramen cart is parked outside a Michelin-star restaurant. The options are endless, and so are the varieties of this comfort food.
Ramen is said to have originated from China, but Japan perfected the noodle and broth dish. For the uninitiated, ramen is a type of quick-cooking noodles and joins other varieties including soba or buckwheat and udon.
The top-of-mind varieties are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (Japanese sea salt), and Tonkotsu. Lately, Tsukemen or dipping noodles is gaining popularity because it departs from the traditional noodle-and-soup-in-one-bowl kind of ramen. Eating it is like eating Soba, there is a separate sauce for dipping the noodles before slurping.
Store Hours: 11.30 a.m.-2.30 p.m. for lunch, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. for dinner.
Tucked in the middle of Ikebukuro, a famous tourist destination, Shinohara is just a couple of minutes away from Kanamecho station. Shinohara offers three ramen varieties: Shoyu, Dashi, and Red Sea Bream. Among the three, Bream hogs the spotlight because of the delectable combination of the broth made from soy sauce and red sea bream oil.
2. Mensho (Tokyo)
Store Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Mensho is one of the rising stars in the ramen arena run by young chef Tomoharu Shono, whose signature ramen comes in a clear broth packed with yellow karasumi (bottarga), negi (Welsh onion) powder, and scallops. The noodles in this ramen shop are stone-ground every day to ensure freshness. The flavorful broth doesn't contain any additives. Ramen toppings include chicken dipped in kombu, tuna, and chives wonton to achieve the umami taste. For vegans, the ramen shop also offers spicy Tantanmen.
Store Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Kagari relies on its tasty ramen instead of a prime location to lure customers. It is in one of the inconspicuous alleys in the upscale district of Ginza. Tourists simply have to look for a long queue of customers to find this shop. Kagari is famous for two ramen varieties, one with black broth and the other with white. The white broth ramen, Tori-paitan, is served with a thick creamy soup flavored with chopped onions, to add a dash of sweetness to the salty broth. The dark soup, Niboshi-shōyu soba, gets its flavor from dried sardines seasoned with soy sauce. The noodles for both ramen varieties are thinner than the usual ramen noodles and instead of pork slices, the toppings for both is chicken and other Japanese ingredients. Kagari's famous ramen will not look and taste right without its final touch — daikon sprouts.
4. Homemade Ramen Muginae
Minamioi, Shinagawa, Tokyo
Store Hours: 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Weekends and Holidays
Akihiro Fukaya who runs the place departs from the idea of "fast food" ramen and takes food seriously. The noodles are made daily and the actual preparation of the ramen takes longer than usual. This ramen shop is best for people who have the time and patience.
Nibora, short for Niboshi Ramen, is a light but flavorful kind of ramen, while the Shoyu Ramen has a much deeper flavor. Diners have a choice of the basic ramen or a tokusei or special version packed with shrimp wonton and ajitama or soft-boiled egg.
Store Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-11 p.m.
Suzuran is proud of its tasty Miso-kakuni Tsukesoba ramen which comes with flavorful pork belly toppings. In Suzuran, the meat chunks go on top of the noodles not dipped in the broth and for good reason.
The meat is slowly cooked for six hours until it achieves a mouthwatering state. Of course, the ramen broth has an equally irresistible taste from the combined flavors of sinful chicken skin, pork bones and the umami-enhancing Konbu Kelp and Katsuobushi fish flakes.
Wakabacho, Chofu-shi, Tokyo,
Store Hours: 11 a.m.-2.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m.-8.30 p.m., Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Unlike other ramen shops, Shibata uses a soy sauce-based tare sauce combined with duck and seafood for it broth. This is a no-fuss ramen shop which takes pride in its simple dishes and basic toppings of chashu pork, bamboo shoots, and finely chopped green onions. The thin noodles look too delicate to eat but the flavors are sumptuous, and the noodles are firm and filling.
Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Store Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday and holidays
A totally unusual find, Gogyo is famous for its kogashi or burned ramen. Kogashi is a miso ramen topped with burned lard that gives the broth its dark color. The black specks along with pork, fish cake, boiled eggs, and vegetable toppings, makes the thin flat noodles look unusually attractive and gives it a smoky taste. Gogyo also offers other ramen dishes including Shio, Tonkotsu, and Tsukemen.
During the cold months in Japan, popular ramen shops may be packed and the waiting time could take hours. It is best for travelers to have a list of options. Fortunately, in Tokyo, no one would ever be hungry. Just turn a corner and there'll be food in no time.