Having previously lived in Fukuoka for a year I got to eat some of the best ramen in the world. Like beer and whiskey, it’s one of those things that has a whole subculture behind it: thousands upon thousands of vendors each with their own take on what makes the perfect ramen; the richness of the stock (which has often been simmering for up to 16 hours), the thickness of the noodles; the blend of pepper, chili and garlic. Depending on how passionate you are about the stuff, the ‘unique’ smell of a good ramen shop is is enough to leave you drooling at the mouth or heaving in disgust.
Looks can be deceiving too: what appears to be the shittiest hole-in-the-wall shop may in fact serve up the best bowl of noodles you’ve ever tasted. The only way to find out is to go in and try. In Tokyo, countless magazines and guidebooks map out the best of the city’s thousands of ramen spots. There are even a few English-language websites devoted to the search for the perfect bowl.
Unlike in the West where dining alone still feels kinda weird, over here it’s quite often the norm: so many busy people needing a quick meal to refuel after work or before a night of mayhem. Eating ramen is a usually a solitary affair – either a long counter where you stand and slurp away, or individual booths complete with a hatch where your noodles are delivered. To dumb down human contact even further you often just get a ticket from a vending machine at the front of the shop.
There are thousands of ramen restaurants in Tokyo – so many in fact that there is a monthly magazine called ‘Ramen Walker’ dedicated to the food. It’s not unusual for a ramen shop to only last six months due to fierce competition, so new ones are opening up all the time. If you are in Tokyo, certainly google the best places to eat but just remember in the back of your head there is a chance the shop may no longer exist. Do you like ramen? What’s your favourite type or shop? (NB. The shop featured in this post is a chain called Ichiran, which I find a little overpriced, but I go to when it’s cold out.)