6 Essential Ramen Dishes in Tokyo
Various ramen dishes are displayed at the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. / Courtesy of Yukari Sakamoto
The ultimate Japanese comfort food, ramen brims with noodles in a garnished, savory broth. From lamian, the Chinese name for noodles, the dish arrived in Japan from China in the 19th century. In 1958, Momofuku Ando created the world’s first instant ramen, and today, during times of natural disasters, instant ramen in Styrofoam cups keeps people fed around the world. The classic dish continues to evolve. Tsukemen features noodles and broth served in separate bowls. Abura soba is ramen dressed with an oily seasoned dressing.
Ramen noodles are best slurped from the bowl. / Courtesy of wonderhowto.com
Noodles can be thick or thin, straight or curly. The broth, served hot or cold, ranges from an elegant, light chicken broth to a rich, in-your-face pork bone stock. Regardless of style, one thing never changes: the slurping. Be sure to slurp your noodles when you are eating ramen. Ramen meals are served and eaten quickly. There is no lingering in a ramen shop. At most shops, diners purchase tickets at a vending machine as they come in.
To guide you through the oodles of noodles in Tokyo, here are some of the city’s best.
Afuri’s signature bowl, chicken broth yuzu shio ramen, is seasoned with an aromatic yuzu citrus and salt. Tickets are purchased from a vending machine at the front of the shop and when you hand your ticket to the staff, they will ask you if you want regular (futsuu) or extra (ooi) fat. The thin noodles are topped with seared chashu pork, a tender-boiled egg and crispy mizuna greens. Afuri is in the hip Harajuku neighborhood and has branches in Ebisu and Azabu-Juban.
Sapporo-ya is a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station. The basement shop is popular with area businessmen. While there is a full menu offering many types of ramen, a visit here is for the hiyashi chuuka goma dare. This is an extra-large bowl of cold noodles served with an umami-rich sesame dressing. Colorful toppings include cucumbers, tomatoes, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and more. This is the perfect dish on a visit to Japan in the hot and humid summer.
This spicy bowl of kuro goma tantanmen (spicy black sesame ramen) will have you quaffing down water or beer. Garlic, chives, leeks and ground pork peek out from the red chili broth. This is a bold bowl that is for the brave. Dried Sichuan peppers pop in your mouth and your tongue will quickly start to feel numb. Be sure to order some gyōza pot stickers. It is a big shop, so don’t be deterred if there is a line as it usually moves quickly.
Kagari is one of the hot ramen spots in Tokyo at the moment. Down a narrow side street in the glitzy Ginza district, the shop has a sign in English that says “Soba,” but soba, buckwheat noodles, are not served here. Order the tori paitan, a thick and creamy chicken broth that fills your mouth. Recommended optional toppings include pork, egg, fried garlic butter and nanohana greens. There is usually a line, but it is worth joining. There are only a handful of seats so the line moves slowly, but it is worth the wait.
Niboshi (dried sardines), pork back fat and soy sauce form the base for “Wahaha Niboshi Soba” ramen. Hosaki menma (bamboo shoots) are long and have a nice bite while the cha-shu (pork) is tender. Green onions and sweet mitsuba (greens) with earthy nori round out the toppings. Thick, chewy noodles are the best vehicle for the rich soup.
Tsukemen ramen serves noodles in one bowl and the broth in a different bowl. Thick noodles are dipped into the tonkotsu (pork) and smoky fish broth. If the soup is too rich, add a splash of vinegar to brighten it up. Powdered smoked fish flakes can also be added to the bowl to make it richer. Rokurinsha is one shop that excels at tsukemen at Tokyo Ramen Street, in the basement of Tokyo Station’s Ichibangai shopping arcade which is centrally located. The shop is open for breakfast, a rarity. While you are here, be sure to check out the shop across the aisle, Shokoku Gotochi Plaza, as it has a wide variety of regional Kit Kats.