You would have thought that after eating ramen every day in Fukuoka we would be sick of it, but such is the variety and depth of ramen culture that even in Tokyo we managed to down a couple bowls. In fact, I think ramen ended up being our most eaten meal during this whole trip. Between us, we had 19 bowls of ramen over the course of 5 weeks! So, let’s get stuck into the final 6 bowls we had in Tokyo.
Fuunji serves ramen, but its specialty is actually Tsukemen. That is, thick al dente noodles are dipped into a hot broth.
On any given night (or day) there is bound to be a line of people waiting outside. However, rest assured this moves rather quickly. The main chef is very charismatic seems to be something of a minor celebrity.
The noodles are much thicker than your normal ramen. Each strand had a good bite and springy chewiness to it that made it a real pleasure to eat.
We both got the special tsukemen with extra egg. The special elements comes from the powder sitting atop the thick dipping broth. This is almost concentrated bonito umami flavour. To be honest, this would have already had plenty of flavour even without the special flavour bomb, but this just took it to the maximum level. Perhaps I would have done better finishing my bowl if I had chosen to pare back the salt and intensity a little!
Tsukemen is one of those foods that you need to be able to eat ASAP to get maximum enjoyment. The noodles are served cold, to capture the perfect bite. The cold noodles and aircon mean that the broth can get rather cold if not slurped up straight away. This tends to make it a bit too salty and cloying to fully enjoy.
Once you’re done with the noodles you’re invited to add warm soup to the broth to thin it out and drink the remaining liquid. I actually liked this part best, because it added another dimension to the broth and warmed me back up all the way to my toes!
As a word of warning, DO NOT, get extra noodles and meat. It may not look it, but the tsukemen is incredibly filling. I think the noodles somehow expand in your stomach and take up more room! The normal tsukemen with no extra toppings is already a very generous serving that most people will struggle to finish. That said, somehow Ryan managed to finish his extra noodles, egg, and meat and helped me with mine. We staggered back home, literally weighed down by all the noodles and soup we had just consumed.
Ramen Afuri is known as a popular spot for ladies. The airy white walls and locations, which are located in stylish shopping meccas like Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Harajuku, are worlds away from the somewhat brusque and masculine spaces inhabited by salary men and mostly male clientele.
It’s not just the way the restaurant looks that make it a popular choice with Japanese girls, but also what it serves. For the diet, conscious Ramen Afuri serves konnyaku noodles which are almost zero calories, and offer lighter more refreshing options.
I picked the Yuzu shio ramen, hoping for as much yuzu flavour as possible. The yuzu wasn’t immediately apparent. The first sips revealed a comforting chicken broth taste. It was only after a couple of slurps that I got the fresh citrusy yuzu taste.
Yuzuratanmen was Ryan’s choice. We’re both not sure how much the spicy chicken oil and yuzu worked together, but this is definitely a much more flavourful bowl. It’s got a little bit of a kick but would probably still be pleasantly spicy to those who don’t regularly eat hot foods.
Props to the charcoal cooked chasu in both bowls. It was full of rich smokey flavour and gave the otherwise light broths an extra something.
Ramen isn’t the most healthy of foods. As much as I loved the fatty and rich lip smacking tonkotsu ramen of Fukuoka, I struggled to finish it. The ramen from Ramen Afuri was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The freshness of Yuzu and light-handed seasoning meant that I probably could have had two bowls. Although lack of richness prompted Ryan to comment that this was his least favourite ramen on the trip, I have to disagree. This is a ramen that I could eat regularly, guilt-free!
As an added bonus Ramen Afuri one of the few places where you can get a vegan ramen!
I’ve saved the best for last. In my mind Ginza Kagari is to ramen, what high-end sushi-yas are to sushi. Much like kaiten-sushi, the local run of the mill ramen-ya is a great fuss-free option. However, to really get a greater understanding of the true depth and artistry of ramen, visiting a place like Ginza kagari is essential.
Down a rather obscure and narrow alleyway in ritzy Ginza, is a small sign with the word ‘soba’ on it. This is Ginza kagari. In keeping with Japanese courtesy, there’s an umbrella rack outside offering parasols for the sun and umbrellas for the rain while you wait. Considering that it was sweltering hot the day we visited, this was most welcome.
There’s no vending machine in sight. Orders are taken while waiting and everyone is seated at the counter at the same time for the same sitting. It’s a little bit cramped with big bags and not much elbow room but we all made it work.
Ginza Kagari’s tori paitan is something else entirely. The broth is thick and creamy. From the first mouthful, there is an incredible depth of flavour. I’m not sure how else to describe this other than chicken tonkotsu. The chicken bones lend a less fatty taste to the both but don’t sacrifice anything on flavour. Tender chicken pieces and fresh seasonal vegetables sit atop the noodles. This is some of the most beautifully plated ramen anywhere.
It doesn’t stop there either. The extra plate features the gooiest and golden eggs and a side of roast beef and shisho on a charming wabi-sabi plate.
One taste of Ginza kagari was enough to completely blow away Ryan’s skepticism about chicken ramen. Days after we got back to Australia, he was still waxing lyrical about this place.
For the most part, all the diehard Japanese fans seem to tout ramen stores in far flung and obscure suburbs as the best of the best. With limited time on our hands, we ended up in places that were much more central and rather well visited by other tourists. That said, these places were miles ahead of anything back home in Australia. If you’re ever stuck for a meal, hopping down to the nearest ramen place with a line outside is almost guaranteed to give you a good meal.