Kyoto Ramen’s Unique Flavors & Where to Find Them

  • 02/26/2024
  • 02/26/2024
  • Food

Kyoto is known for its culinary excellence, and luckily for ramen fans, this traditional noodle dish is no exception. With a vibrant mix of flavors, textures, and toppings, Kyoto’s ramen scene offers a unique experience that is sure to satisfy even the most discerning palate. 

What’s unique about Kyoto ramen?

In Japan, Kyoto has gained a reputation for its delicate flavors, which has extended to its ramen as well. “Kyoto-style ramen” is a name sometimes given to a ramen with lighter, less intense flavoring, but this is merely a gesture towards the type of food Kyoto is generally known for. In fact, real Kyoto ramen is some of the richest in Japan.

While some parts of the country are known for their particular flavors of ramen broth (i.e. tonkotsu pork broth, etc.) Kyoto ramen is defined less by a particular type or flavor of ramen, and more by the diversity of types available here.

In general, there are three main soup bases you’ll find in Kyoto ramen:

1. Pork-based broth with a rich soy sauce flavor

2. A thick, chicken-based broth with vegetables and other ingredients

3. A chicken-based broth made rich with pork back fat

All of these are delicious, and worth trying, so keep an eye out for all of these while you’re in the city!

Where to find the best ramen in Kyoto

Ichijoji is known as Kyoto’s “ramen neighborhood,” with a high concentration of different delicious noodle venues. Its “ramen street” runs perpendicular to the Takano River in northwest Kyoto, and can be reached on foot from Ichijoji or Shugakuin Stations on the Eizan Main Line. If you really want variety, you’ll be spoiled for choice here.

On the other hand, if you’re nearing the end of your Kyoto trip, or simply short on time in the city, you can also stop by Kyoto Station’s “Ramen Street,” where you can sample ramen from across Japan in a corridor of ramen shops within the station building.

Other Kyoto ramen shops can be found tucked away throughout the city, and that’s where a local recommendation can come in handy. If you’re unsure of where to look, though, don’t worry – there are a large number of ramen shops throughout Kyoto’s downtown Shijo Kawaramachi and Karasuma neighborhoods, so if you’re looking for a bite between sightseeing, you won’t struggle to find a tasty shop to try some local noodles.

Authentic Kyoto ramen shops

When it comes to experiencing the best of Kyoto ramen, there are several renowned shops that should be on every food lover’s list. 

Shinpuku Saikan’s history dates back to 1938, said to be the origin of today’s ramen scene in Kyoto. You won’t want to miss trying where it all started, with their dark soy sauce ramen. You can find their main shop not far from Kyoto Station.

Mastuani Ramen is the birthplace of Kyoto’s pork backfat ramen style, so you can’t get much more authentic than that! You can try their ramen in the Kyoto Station building, or in their original shop.

If you’re looking for a cozy and intimate ramen experience, look no further than Honke Daiichi Asahi. This charming ramen shop has been a local favorite for generations, serving up bowls of classic soy-based ramen that never fail to impress. It’s also located right nearby Shinpuku Saikan.

For those seeking a unique and innovative ramen experience, Menbakaichidai is a must-visit. This renowned ramen shop specializes in “fire ramen,” a style that involves setting the broth on fire before serving. The spectacle of flames dancing on your bowl is matched only by the bold flavors of the soy sauce-based ramen itself.

Vegan and vegetarian options for Kyoto ramen

In recent years, Kyoto’s restaurants have even begun to diversify and offer options for vegan and vegetarian diners. 

Vegan Ramen UZU: A diamond-in-the-rough for vegans, this restaurant has been awarded MICHELIN’s Bib Gourmand. A newcomer to the Kyoto ramen scene, it offers ramen dishes with kelp and/or vegetable-based soups.

Towzen: Towzen specializes in a soy milk-based ramen, but they offer even more vegan options, including traditional Buddhist vegetarian meals, sweets, and even vegan sushi.

Ramen etiquette while in Kyoto

When dining in Kyoto’s ramen shops, or indeed ramen shops anywhere in Japan, it’s essential to be aware of the local customs and etiquette, whether you follow all of them yourself, or just to be informed about why exactly your neighbor is eating the way he is. One important aspect of ramen etiquette is slurping. In Japan, slurping your noodles is not only acceptable but actually considered a sign of appreciation for the chef. The act of slurping is actually believed to enhance the flavors of the ramen as air is pulled across it, as well as showing that you’re thoroughly enjoying the meal. It may feel unnatural or even uncomfortable from a Western perspective, but when in Kyoto, don’t be afraid to embrace the slurp and fully immerse yourself in the ramen experience.

Another important etiquette rule is to avoid wasting food. Ramen portions are typically generous, and it is considered impolite to leave a significant amount of broth or noodles behind. Take your time to savor each bite, but be mindful of finishing your bowl. If you find that the portion is too large for you, consider ordering a smaller size or sharing with a dining companion. It’s also worth noting that most ramen shops in Kyoto do not provide takeaway containers, so plan accordingly.

When you’ve finished, you can leave your chopsticks balanced along the side of the bowl, with the tips resting on the opposite side.

Tips for finding the best ramen in Kyoto

With so many ramen shops to choose from in Kyoto, it can be overwhelming when it’s time to pick a spot. To help you find the best ramen experience, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Do your research: Before you even arrive in Kyoto, take the time to research the different ramen shops in the city. Read reviews, check out their menus, and see if they offer any unique specialties that catch your interest. This will help you narrow down your options and ensure that you don’t miss out on any hidden gems.

2. Ask locals for recommendations: Locals are often the best source of information when it comes to finding the most authentic and delicious ramen. If you get the chance, ask a Kyoto resident or ask the staff at your hotel for their favorite ramen shops. You might just discover some of the city’s best-kept secrets.

3. Explore different neighborhoods: Kyoto is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own charm and character. Don’t limit yourself to just one area—especially the touristy ones!—when searching for ramen. Venture out and explore different neighborhoods, such as Ichijoji, which is a bit outside the city center, but known for its ramen, to discover new flavors and styles.

4. Be open to trying new things: Part of the joy of exploring Kyoto’s ramen scene is the opportunity to try new flavors and combinations. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and try a ramen style or topping that you haven’t had before. You might discover a new favorite that you never knew existed.

5. Trust your instincts: Ultimately, the best way to find the perfect Kyoto ramen is to trust your instincts. If a ramen shop catches your eye or you have a good feeling about it, go for it. Sometimes the best culinary experiences come from following your intuition.

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