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Ramen

All you need to know to be a ramen expert!

In recent years, Japanese ramen noodles in all their variety have exploded in popularity around the world. More and more of Japan’s more famous ramen restaurants are launching outlets overseas, to meet broadening tastes and escalating appetites.

Ramen has long been considered a quick and easy everyday dish, a fast food even, but today, the humble bowl of noodles is evolving into something decidedly more complex. The meticulous calculation and levels of sheer passion put into some of these ramen recipes are beyond imagination; some of the most sought-after ramen are gourmet creations by chefs who dedicate their entire lives to creating a single bowl of perfection.

Nowadays ramen are available in a vast range of flavors, and everyone has their own favorite, so it is sometimes difficult to evaluate ramen objectively. So today, Enjoy Kyoto sat down with two ramen masters to discuss the ins and outs of these beloved noodles.
The evolution of ramen

Ramen is said to have been first served in Tokyo during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan began opening up to foreign culture. The popularity of this dish, consisting of noodles served in a hot oily broth with sliced meat and vegetables floating on the top, began to spread throughout the country during the Taishō period (1912-1926). These days, ramen is staple of Japanese cuisine; a popular daily meal that everyone loves, as well as the focus of popular culture. Some devotees enjoy sharing photos of ramen via various social network services, and there are many hardcore fans that travel the country sampling the most famous themselves as ramen experts.

Over the past century, ramen has evolved into a variety of unique and distinct styles, based on the flavors used to season the broth. The first ramen used shio (salt) flavors, then came miso, which in Kyushu branched into tonkotsu (broiled pork broth) variants. In the mid-eighties came the gyokai (seafood) soup revolution, which sparked a whole trend of combining different flavors and ingredients to make original broths. The invention of tsukemen was considered revolutionary, but at the same time something predictable and natural, given its similarity to Japanese soba. Standard toppings vary from char siu roast pork, menma (simmered bamboo shoots), spring onions, or seasonal vegetables. Blending various flavored oils is another current trend. Contemporary ramen is bursting with possibilities and flavors.
Kyoto ramen culture

Kyoto has an wealth of ramen restaurants. According to a local publication, fifty new ramen outlets opened in the city in 2013 alone. In Japan, each region has its own unique local ramen flavors. A typical Kyoto ramen is made with a shoyu (soy sauce) base broth, and features straight noodles in a thick and heavy soup. Another popular Kyoto-style ramen has pork oil poured onto the soup for extra flavor and richness.

Ramen first arrived in Kyoto in 1938 when the first ramen vendor opened near Kyoto station, followed by several more similar outlets. However, the ancient city of Kyoto is known as a place where new cultures take time to become accepted. According to Kazunori Chiken, “the orthodox Kyoto ramen has been everybody’s favorite for a long time now. Even when tsukemen became wildly popular in Tokyo, it didn’t make much of an impact in Kyoto. However, different approaches to ramen are becoming more and more common, and I feel that people are beginning to embrace them. (Local ramen restaurant) Kobushi is a fine example of this. The chef’s approach towards cooking is honest and absolute, and he creates outstanding restaurant-quality bowls of ramen.”

PROFILE

Kazunori Chiken
Owner of the Menya Teigaku noodle factory

Kazunori Chiken was born and raised in Kyoto, where he is now the factory head of long-established noodle makers Menya Teigaku. He creates custom-made noodles for his clients, and works with over 200 restaurants nationwide. He personally samples some 200 different bowls of ramen a year, and grabs every opportunity to expand his encyclopedic ramen knowledge. His personal record is eight bowls in a single day. Chiken’s favorite kind is tsukemen, the kind in which the noodles are served separately from their hot dipping soup. 【www.teigaku.com】

Yukimichi Yamauchi
Owner of Kobushi Ramen

Yukimichi Yamauchi originally trained as a washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) chef in Kyoto, but found his true passion when he began experimenting with ramen recipes, and decided to specialize in ramen. As a dedicated chef to begin with, his love for fine food continues in his new and creative ramen dishes. By incorporating seasonal vegetables and fish, he hopes that his customers will be able to “experience the four seasons through ramen.

On the side

Popular side dishes in a ramen shop might be gyōza (fried dumplings), char siu pork, or fried chicken. Many people like to enjoy their beer with these sides first, then move on to the main course- their bowl of ramen.

Noodles

There are several hundred kinds of noodles. Some ramen bars even customize their dishes by developing new types with noodle companies.

Soups

Generally, soups are either prepared with chicken or pork broth, or mixed together. Seafood and vegetables may also be incorporated to give extra richness.

● Wing noodles:unique textured noodles, invented a few years ago. When deliberately boiled unevenly, they take on an al dente texture.
● Tsukemen noodles:Relatively thick noodles, which are soft and chewy.
● Soup-less tantan-men noodles : Smooth and uneven noodles that mix well with flavored oils and ingredients.
● Shio-ramen :Thin noodles made with Graham flour. A perfect match for a delicate broth.
● Shōyu-ramen:Orthodox straight noodles, great for shōyu ramen, the most popular flavor in Tokyo.

Flavorings

There are many kinds of flavoring sauce, a crucial component of a ramen dish.
● fresh shōyu sauce
● mixed miso sauce
● shio sauce
● dried fruit paste with figs and apricots
● chili oil

Toppings

Spring onions, char siu pork, and menma are the holy trinity of ramen toppings. Naruto (sliced Japanese fish cake) is a familiar topping in traditional ramen. Boiled eggs sliced in half are also favorites.
● spring onionst
● char siu pork
● menmat
● naruto
● cured chicken breast
● nori (dried seaweed)
Kobushi Ramen (with boiled egg)
750yenn
Stone-roasted lobster miso tsukemen
1,000yen
Soup-less tantan-men
850yen

About Kobushi Ramen

Kobushi’s eclectic menu includes a variety of ramen dishes, ranging from traditional standards through to contemporary and inventive flavors. The beautiful colors and impeccable presentation of each bowl prepared by the former washoku chef is another highlight. Yamauchi-san is one of the more innovative chefs of Kyoto ramen culture, so keep a eye out for his future creations!

【Address】1-16, Sujaku Shokaicho, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】 Eleven minute walk from JR Tambaguchi station
【Open】 11:30am – 2:30pm and 6:00pm – 10:00pm
【Closed】Wednesdays
【Tel】 075-351-3608
【Cash only】
Mark Steward

Mark lives in Kyoto. His love for ramen goes back thirteen years, to the time he ate his first bowl in Tokyo. Over 700 bowls later, he is something of an expert on the subject. His particular weakness is for “the thick and juicy char siu roast pork!”

(Mark's comment)
Kobushi Ramen has a wide variety of ramen on its menu, and it looks like I could get something great any time I came. I also like how they offer both of my favorite kinds: the rich and creamy tonkotsu (pork bone broth), and the light and transparent torigara (chicken broth).

Ichijōji Ramen Town

Many traditional styles of Japanese cuisine are cherished in Kyoto today, such as traditional Japanese cooking known as washoku, elegant and traditional Kyo-kaiseki Kyoto cuisine, cha-kaiseki light meals served in tea ceremonies, and shōjin-ryōri vegetarian meals based on the dietary restrictions of Buddhist monks. Throughout its history, Kyoto has been known for its unique cuisine, and ramen culture is no exception. The Ichijōji area, located in the north-west of Kyoto city, is said to be the most competitive district for ramen shops in the country. In this special ramen issue, Enjoy Kyoto introduces five of Kyoto’s most essential ramen experiences.
Traditional Kyoto-style ramen

Chinyū first put up its noren in 1950, and is acknowledged as the oldest ramen restaurant in the Ichijōji area. Chinyū is also known as the pioneer of the so-called “Kyoto style” ramen, typified by a simple soup of chicken broth and soy sauce, with some back fat of the chicken added. The simple style of their menu is loved by men and women of all ages, and many of their loyal customers grew up eating this ramen. Chinyū have another outlet in downtown Kyoto city (Kawahara-cho Rokkaku-ten).
Chūka soba (Chinese noodles) nami (regular size) 680yen
The simple yet flavorsome broth is topped with thin slices of roast pork, na perfectly matched with the medium-thick noodles.
【a】Chinyū

【Address】 24, Ichijoji Haraitonocho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】 Four minute walk from Ichijōji station on the Eizan Line.
【Open】 11:00am~midnight 【Tel】 075-702-2944 【cash only】
www.chinyu.jp/

The incomparably-rich Toripaitan(chicken broth soup)

Opening its doors in 2011, Gokkei was an immediate sensation. The chefs at Gokkei created their signature soup, as creamy as corn potage, by boiling large amounts of chicken meat in chicken broth and finishing it up with a secret technique. On weekends, as many as 300 people have been known to line up for this incredible ramen.
Gokkei toridaku 700yen
The distinctive rich soup is thick enough to eat.
【b】Gokkei

【Address】29-7, Ichijoji Nishitojikawaracho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】An eight minute walk from Ichijōji station on the Eizan Line.
【Open】11:30am~10:00pm ※Ramen availabel only until each day’s broyh runs out.
【Tel】075-711-3133【Closed】Mondays【cash only】

A bowl of perfection by the master of Kyoto ramen

Takayasu is an enormously popular ramen establishment, teeming with customers all day long. Since opening in 1999, Takayasu has continually refined and reworked their soup recipe in search of the ‘golden ratio of flavors’ to keep their customers coming back for more. Other popular menu items include the giant-size curry-flavored fried chicken and the limited menu suji-ramen. Spicy Chinese chives on the table can be added to your bowl for a little accent.
Chūka Soba 700yen
With its blended soup of chicken broth and pork bouillon, this no-frills ramen boasts a great combination of soup, noodles and toppings.
【c】Takayasu

【Address】 10, Ichijōji Takatsukichō,Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】 Five minute walk from Ichijōji station on the Eizan Line.
【Open】 11:30am~midnight, seven days a week
【Tel】 075-721-4878 【cash only】
www.takayasuramen.com/

A special tsukesoba dipping-soup that packs a punch.

Ichijo-Boogie is a sister store of Shakariki, the first tsukesoba outlet to open in Kyoto. The most popular dish is their Niku yasai mashi which includes extra vegetables and meat on a regular tsukesoba. Tsukesoba can be enjoyed in various ways, such as eating half of the noodles after dipping them in the soup, and then pouring hot soup over the other half, or adding dashi soup to your leftover dip and drinking it as a soup . Every month Ichijo-Boogie offers a few special limited-edition ramen flavors as a treat for aficionados.
Tsukesoba niku yasai mashi 850yen
(tsukesoba: ramen with soup and noodles served separately)nThe soup is a luscious blend of soy sauce, pork bone soup and fish fat. Diners can upgrade to a large serving of noodles for no extra charge (300g for the price of standard 200g)
【d】Ichijōji-Boogie

【Address】 49-1, Ichijōji Takanotamaokachō, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】 Four minute walk from Ichijōji station on the Eizan Line.
【Open】11:00am~3:00am(L.O.2:00am), seven days a week
【Tel】 075-712-5518 【cash only】
www.syakariki.jp/

Enormous servings spill overthe sides of the bowl.

Ramen-so Yume Wo Katare’s ramen is made in the Tokyo Jiro style; a pork bouillon base soup with extra toppings, garlic and oil. The mountainous combination of chewy noodles, thick slices of pork, and an oily-slick soup leaves an unforgettable impression on first-time customers. The noodles alone weigh 300g, while the noodles in a large size ramen tip the scales at 450g. Eating ramen at Yume Wo Katare is less a refined dining experience, and more a test of stamina and sheer will. It seems they have tapped a market though- in 2012 their first overseas store opened in Boston to widespread acclaim.
Buta (Pork) Ramen 880yen
A must-visit for hearty eaters! A single serving here is aboutn three to four times the size of a standard bowl of ramen.
【e】Ramen-sō Yume Wo Katare

【Address】 48-1, Ichijoji Nishisuginomiyacho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】 Seven minute walk from Ichijōji station on the Eizan Line.
【Open】11:30am~2:30pm, 6:00pm~midnight
【Closed】 Mondays【Tel】 075-724-5995【cash only】

Ramen etiquette

① Take a sip of the soup first to check the taste and temperature.

② It’s perfectly fine to make slurping noises as you suck the noodles into your mouth. This is not considered bad manners in Japan.

③ It’s usual to leave about a third of the soup in the bowl after finishing your noodles, but feel free to drink it all if you so desire.

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