Ramen Addiction in Japan

One of Japan’s many culinary delights is its delicious ramen.  Before I left for Japan a friend of mine who recently visited the country warned that I would soon be addicted to ramen.  Of all things, I thought, ramen?!  I’d never even tasted it before.  But as soon as I got to Japan, I was eating my words–and a lot of ramen.

A bowl of ramen at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
The delicious noodle soup known as ramen at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Ramen at Tsukiji Fish Market ::  We planned to visit Tsukiji Fish Market at the beginning of our trip before we got accustomed to the time change in Japan so that we could get there bright and early.  Tsukiji is the world’s largest fish market and most of the activity takes place in the wee hours of the day.  Tsukiji is a beehive of activity in the morning; swarms of men wearing rubber boots buzz around the massive market on motorized carts, miniature trucks and motorcycles carrying crates and carts of freshly caught fish.  It’s a dizzying and delightful sight.

The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
The ramen restaurant (left) at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.

One side of the market is the fish auction, which requires a reservation to witness (based on a first-come, first serve basis beginning at 5:00 a.m.), while the other side is a marketplace of fresh fish, freshly-prepared food, and fishing-related goods.  It’s a lot like New York City’s Chinatown, except without the pungent fish smell and honking traffic.

Bowls of ramen at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
Nothing like ramen for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market!

We were searching for a sushi restaurant rumored to be one of the world’s best, but our hunt was like looking for a needle in a haystack: row after row of shops and restaurants, but none were the one we were looking for. We gave up on finding the sushi place as our hunger got the best of us.  (Don’t worry, we later found it!)  Luckily we gave up right in front of a popular ramen place, a tiny shop with a stand-up table near the street and two guys making an incredibly epic bowl of noodles.

Maybe it was the atmosphere of eating ramen on the side of the street at the fish market, maybe it was because it was my first time tasting the stuff, but I was instantly hooked.

Akihabara's bright streets and the vending machine that we ordered ramen from.
Akihabara’s bright streets and the vending machine that we ordered ramen from.

Vending Machine Ramen in Akihabara ::  A few days later my ramen craving was getting out of control so while wandering the streets of Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronic district, we stopped for lunch at a ramen restaurant.  Complete in its high-tech flair, ordering was done via a vending machine.  It sounds sketchy but was really quite convenient.  We picked our dishes from a nearby menu, put our money in the machine, handed the resulting ticket to the guy at the counter and viola! ramen within minutes.

Vending machine ramen in Akihabara, Tokyo: salt ramen with corn, miso ramen, and salt ramen with eggs.
Vending machine ramen: salt ramen with corn, miso ramen and salt ramen with eggs.

I picked a salt-based broth, my mom chose a spicy miso broth, and my dad a salt-based with added eggs.  Ramen is actually suppose to be slurped–and loudly.  The men next to us at the ramen restaurant did not hold back.  The guy next to me slurped and slopped his noodles so loudly, he even splashed on my lap!

The vocal eating is a sign to the chef that it tastes good and try as I may to compliment the chef, I could not bring myself to slurp.  My lady-like manners (and concern for my clothing) kept me from slurping like a true Japanese person.  I’ll practice the skill (in the privacy of my own home) for next time I’m in Japan.

Kyoto Station in Kyoto, Japan.
Kyoto Station with 11 levels of escalators.

Ramen Row in Kyoto ::  Our ramen addiction could not be tamed.  By the time we got to Kyoto five days later, we were officially addicted.  So imagine our delight when we discovered there was an entire floor of ramen restaurants at Kyoto Station, near our hotel.

The 9th floor of the station has 10 or more ramen restaurants, all of which have a crowd during lunch time.  Could you imagine an entire food court in the United States serving one type of food and all the restaurants being busy at the same time?

Ramen at Kyoto Station with a salmon rice bowl on the side in Kyoto, Japan.
Ramen at Kyoto Station with a salmon rice bowl on the side.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones with a hankering for ramen.  Most restaurants had the vending machine ordering system, which we were comfortable using thanks to our Akihabara experience.  We punched in our orders, sat down, and slurped away at our noodles.  (Or in my case, quietly ate them as carefully as possible. I know; my Japanese ancestors are probably so disappointed.)

While you can’t really go wrong with warm noodles, delicious broth and slices of roasted pork, none of the ramen compared to what we had at Tsukiji Fish Market.  That will forever be the Holy Grail of ramen in my book.

We ended having ramen yet another time in Japan, making it four times during our 10-day trip.  Unfortunately, my craving for the liquid crack has not yet subsided.  Now my goal is to find a comparable place here in Salt Lake City.  If anyone knows of a place that can hold a candle to Japan’s ramen, please let me know!

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