Tokyo is filled with many ramen shops. Finding a good one is not hard, but knowing which ones to go to is always a huge help. My favorite ramen shop is Ivan Ramen in Setagaya-ku. When I penned this piece for Metropolis Ivan Ramen was not open yet so would definitely include it in a round-up of ramen spots not to miss in the city. Ivan makes his noodles from scratch and has a great broth that is well balanced. If you go, tell him Yukari sent you.
And, here is the article that first appeared in Metropolis magazine on some of my favorite ramen shops in Tokyo.
http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/635/localflavors.asp (text follows)
There are all sorts of men in Japan. Not the kind you get squeezed between on the subway, but menrui, or noodles, like soba, udon and ramen. For me, ramen has always been the blue-collar noodle: you wait in line, order from a machine (not a person) and sit or stand wedged between slurping strangers, hunched over their steaming bowls as if they’re getting facials. But you rarely see people waiting in line for a bowl of soba or udon, so I decided it was time to reconsider ramen.
A deconstructed bowl of ramen has three components: noodles, soup and toppings (gu). Noodles can be thick or thin, straight or curly. As long as they’re not mushy, you’re in good shape.
As with French restaurants, ramen shops pay close attention to creating top-notch stock for their soup. Tonkotsu ramen from Kyushu is made from pork bones (ton) that have been roasted and simmered with aromatics. Some shops spend days creating each pot of stock. Tonkotsu and miso soups are rich (kotteri) while other varieties such as salt (shio) and soy sauce (shoyu) are light (sappari). Some restaurants use a wafu fish-based stock. Lately, some serve a “double soup” (often designated with a “W” on the menu), a blend of seafood- and meat-based stocks. Whichever you choose, the soup should have depth and a pleasant aroma. Toppings typically include chashu pork—tender after a long, gentle braise—and a hard-boiled egg. Bamboo shoots (menma) should be soft, and green onions (negi) freshly chopped.
There are many types of ramen, but tantanmen rarely disappoints with its spicy, sesame broth topped with flavored ground beef. Wontonmen is just as it sounds: a bowl of ramen with juicy shrimp or pork wonton dumplings. In tsukemen, the noodles are in a separate bowl from the soup and toppings, much like cold somen with tsuyu (dipping sauce). In the heat of summer, try hiyashi chuka, cold noodles topped with vegetables.
Most ramen shops have a specialty, so when I go somewhere new I ask for their osusume (recommendation). To bring in the “office lady” crowd, one shop even serves collagen-rich ramen that is good for the skin. Don’t be put off if there is a line outside, because it usually moves quickly. As for manners, hardcore ramen consumers have “the slurp” down to a science (it helps cool the noodles and broth) and you’ll probably find it comes naturally after a few bowls.
There are several areas in Tokyo famous for ramen, such as Ikebukuro and Shinjuku’s Kabukicho. The street that runs north from Shinjuku to Okubo (to the west of and parallel to the Yamanote line) is also popular. Areas like Takadanobaba that have large student populations also attract ramen shops. Here are some of my favorites. Happy slurping!
Afuri Just minutes from Ebisu station is this slick white space with a long counter overlooking an open kitchen. They use “natural water” for their shio-based soup. The noodles are thin, the soup light but deep, and the chashu pork is grilled just before it is served. 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5795-0750.
Kyushu Jangara The ramen at this colorful restaurant on Omote-sando near Harajuku station packs a punch and leaves a long aftertaste. The staff recommends mentaiko topping, which adds spice and is a nice match to the tonkotsu soup. There are several more branches around town. 1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3404-5405.
Chin Iron Chef Chin Kenichi, also known for his mabodofu, has raised the bar for tantanmen at this restaurant in the Cerulean Tower Hotel. The red color of the sauce is a sign of the heat to expect from this meaty bowl of noodles. 2F Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, 26-1 Sakuragaokacho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3476-3585.
Sapporo-ya Each summer I go through several bowls of this shop’s hiyashi chuka gomadare (sesame soup). Sometimes the line goes up the stairs to the first floor, but it moves quickly. The presentation is impressive, with toppings of tomato, ham, cucumber and a hard-boiled egg, but it is the sesame sauce that will have you licking your chops.
B1 3-3-5 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3275-0024.
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum All you ever wanted to know—and lots you didn’t—about the history of ramen and instant noodles, with a “village” of famous ramen shops from across Japan downstairs. 2-14-21 Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama. Tel: 045-471-0503.