Saturday, February 26, 2011

らーめん こじろう 526 - Ramen Kojiro 526, Nippori

豚骨醤油ラーメン, Tonkotsu Shouyu Ramen, ¥650

   If you're a proponent of the Okinawan philosophy "Hara hachi bu" (To eat until you are 80% full) then Kojiro 526 probably isn't the place for you. It's about a 10 minute walk from Mikawashima station (Maybe a little further from Nippori and Uguisudani) but a 15-20 minute walk back. In saying that it is well worth the walk.

   This isn't part of the famous Ramen Jiro franchise but it does have a similar style of tonkotsu shouyu soup and the same black lettering on a yellow background. Maybe a brother?

Kojiro 526 definitely deosn't have the same popularity as authentic Jiro stores around Tokyo, presumably because it is essentially hidden by a vending machine. I went there on a Friday afternoon and there were only 3 people occupying the 12 or so seats in the store and by the time I managed to finish (for want of a better word) my meal, I was the only customer.

    As at a Ramen Jiro, you'll be asked what toppings you'd like. I opted for the vegetables (cabbage and bean sprouts) and garlic. I wasn't quite expecting as much garlic as I got and I can still taste it now, but it certainly enhanced the flavour of the soup.  I was expecting a big bowl but not one that was overflowing like the small mountain that arrived.  I would recommend the smaller size noodles (180g compared to 250g,) unless you're feeling particularly manly. Initially it was quite difficult to eat anything besides the bean sprouts without spilling some soup.

   The chashu was the real star of the show though. 2 big chunks of pork with a layer of fat that melted in your mouth.  It also had a sweet, salty taste and was just the right amount - comparitively! There was enough to break up the constant barrage of bean sprouts and noodles, unlike some places where the meat is gone unless you diligently ration it as you eat your noodles.

   Be aware that there isn't any water available inside, but don't fear as it is only a short trip to the nearest vending machine (!), and that the spoons are disproportionately small and a little dinky in comparison to your enourmous bowl of ramen.

    Unfortunately, this was the best I could do (on any empty stomach) but this one's pretty close to home so I'm sure I'll be back.

Ramen Database

Google Maps

Thursday, February 24, 2011

一蘭 - Ichiran, Ueno

豚骨ラーメン - Tonkotsu Ramen ¥690

   The first thing that should be said about Ichiran is that it is as much entertainment as it is a meal. You are given your own self-contained space on the counter, understandably not for everyone- particularly the claustrophobic, and you don't notice the other customers in the store much... Beyond the slurping of their noodles. You even get your own personal water dispenser.

   There is also barely any interaction with the staff - an electronic board notifies you when there is a vacant seat (空)and then you decide how you would like your ramen prepared by filling out a small slip of paper,  then pressing a button to alert the restaurant staff. Due to the large amount of tourists in the area, the Ueno store has a staff member handing them out in English if need be, however in other stores the slip is waiting for you once you have taken your seat. The Ikebukuro store, while a little further from the station, doesn't get the same lunchtime queues as the Ueno store. This could also be due to the abundance of good ramen in Ikebukuro.

   Your egg (which you must order separately) adds a little to the entertainment as it comes before your ramen and you must peel it yourself. Don't worry though... It comes with a sheet of instructions! Apparently it's actual purpose is to be eaten before the ramen and to cleanse your mouth so you get an untainted taste of your ramen. I usually just dunk it in though!

    As for the ramen itself, it is of the spicy tonkotsu hakata variety from Kyushu. I had obviously eaten ramen before eating here, but it was the first time here that I could really understand the concept and popularity of ramen in Japan beyond a greasy, after-drinking meal.

   The standard size does not give you a great deal of noodles so if you are particularly hungry you might need something a little more substantial, although there are many options available at the ticket machine. There are 2 thin slices of chashu that is a little on the greasy side in my opinion. The soup is delicious and a little oily, however I've never had any problems finishing, although there is a chance that the spiciness will make you a little sweaty.

   I've taken a few friends who have been visiting Tokyo there and they have been impressed by not only the ramen, but the complete package. Ichiran is a must visit ramen store.

Ramen Database

Google Maps (Ueno Store)

Ichiran Homepage

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


    Now I don't really know why I've decided to start this blog, or what the purpose of it is. To be honest, I wouldn't even begin to think I was overly knowledgeable in the area of ramen, but I do know that I ENJOY eating ramen at various restaurants in and around Tokyo... Not to forget the others all over Japan. A trip anywhere in Japan usually involves a ramen shop of some description (often with my equally daring girlfriend accompanying me), so this gives me an avenue to document all of the different places I've been... And an excuse to go out of my way to visit new ones. There isn't any particular method to which stores I choose to visit - It'll usually be a combination of location, where I'm at or my proximity to the store. I live in northern Tokyo, so chances are many of the places will be littered around there. I will on occasions go out of my way to visit a store too, so if anyone has any recommendations, I'd be happy to try them.
I guess the main thing that attracts me to ramen is the taste.... (of course) but since there are around 5000 shops in Tokyo,  it goes without saying that many of them must offer something unique if they are going to stand out from the crowd. Whether that be an obvious choice in a quality product, an atypical ingredient, (un)friendly staff, a bizarre dining experience or even an ordering system using gibberish, no two ramen shops are the same. Well, except for the chains... But even they tend to vary slightly. And we mustn't forget the stores that have a line out the front that, purely on the basis of there being a line, must be good. I know I've been guilty of joining a queue or two.... So I guess the main thing that attracts me ramen is the variety it offers and that each experience will be different from the last. Hopefully. And, for what it's worth, I'm quite partial to tonkotsu ramen so that that variety will likely appear quite often.
So join me in trying to discover some of the hidden gems that may be just around the corner. Or, simply,  "Let's eat." It's ramen after all...

NOTE: The links to the ramen database for each store contain an average score and also a points score (not completely sure how they are different) from customers who have submitted a review to the site. In my opinion, the rating is just as much a reflection on the length of the line as the quality of the ramen and is merely a guide. In much the same way, I'm sure that the ratings that I give will have an element of bias in them. We all have different tastes, after all.

And here's a quick rundown of most things ramen.