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How to Eat Ramen

Entering any ramen shop in the country, you have a lower probability of hitting a dud than you would wandering into a random xiaolongbao shop in Shanghai or a taking a chance on a backstreet trattoria in Naples. However, you certainly have higher aspirations than merely decent ramen. It never hurts to brush up on the basics.

  • Find the right shop

    Find the right shop

    Find the right shop

    It’s tempting to judge a book by its cover or a shop by its signboard. It does work, sometimes! A dingy shop with a counter packed out with office drones slurping noodles between pulls on their mugs of draft beer: likely cheap and cheerful, a classic bowl, heavy on the pork and cabbage. A clean facade with an interior reminiscent of a Calabasas botox clinic waiting room: probably an upscale and refined take on ramen. But remember, the shops in Tokyo that have earned Michelin stars are fairly unassuming joints in far from hip neighborhoods.

    It’s not a bad idea to go with your gut, but remember that the shop you’re pondering has probably been well researched by ramen maniacs from around the world. Do the research, check online, and plan a few shops that you would like to hit. At the end of the day, the omnipresent chain shops like Ichiran will never disappoint they’ve stuck around for a reason.

  • Navigating the vending machine

    Navigating the vending machine

    Navigating the vending machine

    The majority of ramen shops have a vending machine posted just outside or just inside the front doors. The machines range from a rudimentary panel of buttons to touchscreen systems. The concept is the same: choose the ramen, perhaps a side dish or a drink, and it spits out the tickets that you will hand across the counter. It doesn’t hurt to pull up a translation of your desired noodle, but, failing that, one rule of thumb with the classic vending machine is to choose the option at the top left, usually the shop’s specialty. More complicated machines usually offer the option of switching languages, or at least have pictures.

  • Choose which type of ramen

    Choose which type of ramen

    Choose which type of ramen

    There are the basics, of course: shio (salt), miso, shoyu (soy sauce), and tonkotsu (pork). But is it going to be Sapporo style miso ramen? A bowl of thin Hakata ramen with its porky tonkotsu base? Maybe you want to make a pilgrimage to the shop that gave us the noodles and soup separate innovation that is tsukemen? A milkshake thick niboshi (dried sardine) broth? A brothless bowl of abura soba? Something even more exotic, like lamb and chocolate ramen? (Yes, that made the menu of a respected shop, for a brief time). For neophytes, the best way is to simply find the right shop and try the specialty, whatever it is. After a few bowls at worthy shops, you will be able to keep your eyes peeled for your type.

  • Choose your toppings and seasonings

    Choose your toppings and seasonings

    Choose your toppings and seasonings

    After tasting your bowl, poke around the various condiments. It might take a sniff and a taste to determine what the options are, but the most common are vinegar, chili oil, and soy sauce. The tiny bowls stationed with the condiments allow mixing and gyoza dipping.

  • Wash things down with free tea and water

    Wash things down with free tea and water

    Wash things down with free tea and water

    Steam, salt and a heavy dose of concentrated carbohydrates hit the pleasure centers, but it doesn’t hurt chase things down with a cup of ice water or a shot of tea. Most shops offer both from pitchers along the bar, or at each table.

  • A final tip

    Remember that it’s fast food.There are many fine places to linger in the city, but a ramen shop is not one of them. Savor the bowl, but don’t make a day of it.

    ichiran shinjukukabukichou
    Address
    Tokyo Shinjuku-ku Kabukichou 1-17-10
    Phone
    0362337667
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