In a city with thousands of restaurants one must be crazy to go to the same place twice. Honestly, with so many dining options available I do not believe it is possible to find THE best one that serves your favorite meal. However, we all look for the one that makes our taste-buds explode and when it came to the hunt for the best ramen Mr. B and I certainly found the place that ranks number one in our Tokyo ramen charts. In fact, if you asked me to recommend one ramen spot in town, I would name Ippudo without hesitation. It’s one of the most famous ramen chains in Japan with many branches spread all across the country. Ippudo also has successfully put itself on the world map gaining popularity in major cities of New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Shanghai. Hidden in a narrow alley behind the bustling Roppongi Street, this modern-style diner is never short of long lines of hungry indulgent Tokyoites. The place is favorited by locals as much as expats and tourists and thankfully they fully cater both by providing detailed English menu. Super friendly and enthusiastic servers are also moderately fluent in English. Upon entrance you are greeted by young staff in hip uniforms and immediately face the steaming open kitchen and a long counter. Further down, there is a small room with a large island in the middle around which the customers slurp away their heavenly ramen bowls. To give you a little background, Ippudo was first opened in Hakata on the island of Kyushu in 1985 and is owned by Shigemi Kawahara, a charismatic man who strived to create a “different”, more upscale ramen restaurant. In fact, unlike many other ramen shops you can tell that the owner puts a lot of thought not only into cooking outstanding ramen, but also creating comfortable ambiance for his customers. Its stylish neo-Japanese interior makes dining in Ippudo a great pleasure. Wooden panels, pine tree centerpieces and modern fixtures create casual yet sophisticated atmosphere. Ramen theme is further incorporated in the décor via framed noodles and the walls adorned with illuminated ramen spoons.
Hakata is also a birthplace of tonkotsu broth, the Holly Grail of noodle soup broths. It is thick, creamy and nearly white in color, from pork marrow bones that have been simmered to smithereens.
Ippudo serves up their tonkotsu ramen in three variations: Hiromaru classic which is the original ramen; Ippudo Karaka served with spicy minced meat miso, and Akamaru Modern, a contemporary spin on the classic ramen broth which also happens to be my favorite choice. In addition, the restaurant has other delectable items on offer like gioza, stir-fried sprouts, gohan (rice) and chashu (pork) bowls. They also provide the “kaedama” (extra helping of noodles in the same broth) service, a tradition said to have originated in ramen shops in Hakata. Once seated the server pours you a glass of refreshing ice mugi (barley) tea. You also have the option to doctor up your bowl of noodles with an assortment of piquant all-you-can-eat toppings, including spicy moyashi (bean sprouts), crushed ninniku (garlic), karashi takana (spicy pickled greens) and shoga (pickled ginger).
I like to start my meal with fresh off the stove Hakata pork gyoza which makes an excellent appetizer. Small in size and extremely delicate to taste, they are beautifully crispy from the outside and very juicy and moist on the inside. The spicy red bean paste with a hint of yuzu makes a wonderful accompaniment and adds an extra punch, as does the vinegar soy sauce. However, the king of the show is still this absolutely gorgeous and sublime bowl of ramen. Akamaru Modern is enriched in flavor from miso paste and fragrant oils. The soup stock is creamy and delicious, a unique taste that is hard to experience outside Japan. Savory aftertaste of the rich broth makes you want to reach for more. The crunch is added by the strands of kikurage (black “wood ear” fungus) sitting in one corner of the bowl. The dollop of red bean paste gives it a good kick of spiciness, while the black “puddle” (garlic sesame oil) provides a unique dimension of flavor. I loved adding extra bean sprouts for extra flavor and texture. The slices of pork are tender with layers of fatty nirvana-ness, while the whole egg is beautifully poached with that nice runny yolk. The house made medium-thick noodles are cooked to perfection with firm chewy texture, retaining the bite even if it is soaked in the broth for some time. As I mentioned earlier, the choices of ramen shops are endless. However, if you are limited in how much time you can spend on finding your best bowl of noodles, head to Ippudo (conveniently scattered all around Tokyo) for a truly mouthwatering experience!
- Address: 106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, Roppongi, 4−9−11
- Phone: 03-5775-7561