To most of the world, ramen is the cheapest meal a college student can find. In Japan, ramen is practically a religion. Each restaurant prides itself on its broth and toppings, and ramen connoisseurs are picky about the thickness and curliness of the noodles, and the base of the broth – pork, salt, soy sauce, and miso are the most popular. Even so, some restaurants are universally loved. Here, we take a look at five great ramen restaurants you should stop by on your next trip to Japan.
1. Ramen Jiro
Foreign travelers often complain that Japanese portions are too small. Not at Tokyo-based Ramen Jiro. Here, bean sprouts, chashu (braised pork slices), and garlic come piled upon an ultra-fatty pork broth with noodles made from bread flour. Jirolians, as the shop’s fans are known, assure others the calorie splurge is worth it. Head to the original Minato location for lunch – it closes at 3pm. Price: ¥700 - ¥1100 (about $7.20–$11.30)
In 2007, Kinguemon’s Osaka Black ramen won a TV contest for best ramen in the Kansai region. Its claim to fame? The black soy sauce broth, which also hints at fish and squid. Rich and just barely bitter, this bowl will fill you up on a winter’s day. Kinguemon has several locations in Osaka and some outside, but, for its location, we recommend the branch in the heart of the neon-bright Dotonbori, Osaka's most famous street and its food travel center. You can find several Osakan regional specialties there, including takoyaki (octopus stuffed in balls of flour). Price: Osaka Black, ¥700 (about $7.20)
Hakata Ramen, so named for the district in the southern Japanese city, Fukuoka from where it originated, features unusual toppings like pickled ginger and sesame seeds floating on a pork-bone-based broth. It’s one of the most famous regional varieties, partially due to worldwide chain Hakata Ippudo, which has a New York branch serving a small selection of appetizers along with its ramen. Many of its locations have 30-minute wait times, but even Japanese fans make pilgrimages to Fukuoka to sample the original. Try the basic Shiromaru for a lighter summer lunch. Prices: ¥500 - ¥1100 (about $5.15–$11.30)
4. Aji no Sanpei
In 1954, Sapporo restaurant Aji no Sanpei put miso ramen on the menu. Within a few years, this new ramen shot to fame, and miso ramen became established as Sapporo’s regional specialty. Today, miso ramen is one of the four basic types of broth, and restaurants around the country have miso ramen on the menu. True purists, however, still head to Aji no Sanpei, which still serves the staple dish. But be forewarned: the broth here is much lighter than most other miso ramen, and if you want chashu in it, you'll have to make a special request. Prices: ¥850 - 1050 (about $8.75–$10.80)
In Tokyo for the summer? You might want to opt for tsukemen, where the noodles and the broth come separately. You dip the noodles in the bowl, allowing for a more refreshing meal. Try it at Rokurinsha, where the unique broth made from chicken bones, pork, dried fish, and vegetable keeps the fans coming back for more. Its original location had lines of over 300 people before neighbors’ complaints shut it down. But don’t worry – the Tokyo Solamachi location, a shopping center right below Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest observation tower, is just as delicious. Prices: ¥850 - ¥1050 (about $8.75–$10.80)