Tokyo Hidden Gems | Ramen Bars
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Ramen Explanations & Recommendations
We are ramenheads, which is why we decided to write a serious report about our Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo. But there were so many awesome ones. We only scratched the surface of the Tokyo ramen scene with our list.
As an appendix to our original post, we first thought about mapping out the many ramen types. However, the multitude of subdivisions and crossover variants were so plentiful that it would take us an entire book to cover them all.
Instead, we, or more accurately the ramen expert of our tiny team - Onigunsô - will tell you a little bit about her own experience with the Tokyo ramen scene.
Along the way, you will get recommendations for ramen bars that did not make it onto our list, but yet deserves your attention. And hopefully, we can also explain a thing or two about the jungle of ramen types in Japan. Here we go!
«Ramen used to be simple, it was just food!»
- Onigunsô -
In my childhood, I saw many weird and strict ramen chefs on Japanese TV. The media always seemed to focus on the curious sides of ramen culture. Before these programs, ramen was not so complicated. Ramen was simple, it was not some gourmet dish, it was just food. At least, we can say that the media and these strange chefs pushed ramen bars to the next level.
Most of the ramen types on our list are new school, so called «modern ramen». My first encounter with such modern ramen was when «Tokyo Tonkotsu» had its first boom in the 2000s.
Tokyo Tonkotsu | A Stepping-Stone for Ramen Modernization
The Characteristics of Tonkotsu Ramen are:
Strong flavored broth made from pork bones,
Tare based on shoyu (soy sauce)
Soup covered with back fat
Thick wavy noodles
Tokyo was paying close attention to local ramen bars back then, when modern ramen had its renaissance. Now, most of the 2000s modern ramen bars are gone. However, an alternative to Tokyo tonkotsu is on the rise, the «Yokohama Iekei Ramen»:
The iekei ramen concept is very similar to Tokyo tonkotsu, and the bowls are just as manly. Iekei ramen is also based on pork bones (marrow) and soy, but the noodles are usually thicker.
Hidden Ramen Gem #1 | Tonchin
Tokyo tonkotsu ramen can still be found, though. If you want to experience the original Tokyo tonkotsu, one of its pioneers is still in business: Tonchin opened their doors in 1992, and they still welcome ramenheads to their ramen bar in Ikebukuro.
Sidenote: If you wonder why we insist on saying «Tokyo Tonkotsu», the reason is that the original tonkotsu ramen from Kyushu is different than the ramen type that emerged in Tokyo in the 2000s, and the ones you will still find in Tokyo ramen bars.
«Experimental» Ramen Bars
Sake-kasu might not be so commonly used in ramen, but actually, it is not so unique for us Japanese people. Sake-kasu is quite common in Japanese cooking. We use it for fish marinade, in hot pots (stews), drinks, pickles, and even sweets.
Kazami – the sake-kasu ramen bar we included on our Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo – was in fact the place we discussed the most. Husky wanted to put it higher on our list, but this time I had to put my foot down.
To tell the truth, I was not so excited when Husky wanted to visit Kazami. But, I am happy we went. Their ramen had a very well-balanced flavor, and it definitely made a long-lasting impression. I cannot remember any other ramen bars using sake-kasu like Kazami. Perhaps some hot pot-places are doing something of the kind? I don’t know…
Hidden Ramen Gem #2 | Ganso Mentai Nikomi Tsukemen
If talking about unique ramen bars, my personal favorite is a place called «Ganso Mentai Nikomi Tsukemen». They serve a ramen type called «Tsukemen», and they use ingredients that are unique to Japan. The atmosphere is a little similar to that at Kazami, which is to say a little bit fancier than most ramen bars.
So, how does Tsukemen differ from other ramen types? Well, most other ramen types are hot noodles served in a hot soup. Tsukemen is cold noodles served on a plate, with hot soup on the side for dipping, hence the commonly used nickname abroad: «Dipping Ramen».
The soup at Ganso Mentai Nikomi Tsukemen – yeah I know, the name is a mouthful – is based on Mentaiko (spicy cod roe). The flavor takes me back to a time and place when I was eating a perfectly balanced hot pot, brimful of umami. So delicious!
Ramen Bars with a Touch of Old
Showa Retro, aka. Showaken, are ramen bars inspired by the Japanese Showa Era (1926-1989). Maybe you remember a ramen bar of this kind from our Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo? It was called Ginza ABC Ramen.
The atmosphere in this so-called Showa retro ramen bar reminds me of restaurants which are usually labeled as «Machi-Cyuka». (Machi-Cyuka are a kind of Chinese restaurants. They do not serve authentic Chinese food, but an old style fusion of Chinese and Japanese cooking.)
Similar to the menu at Machi-Cyuka restaurants, the menu at ABC Ramen is also packed with dishes. Their specialty, however, is called «Ma-Jyan-Men», also known as «Dan Dan Men».
If you are a Ramenhead like Onigunsô, you probably already know about Dan Dan Men, right? But did you know that Japanese Tan Tan Men are different from the original Chinese Dan Dan Mien? Typically, the Japanese version has a stronger sesame flavor and thicker noodles.
The characteristics of Japanese Dan Dan Men are:
Inspired from Chinese Sichuan cuisine
Flavored with sesame paste
Served with minced meat, spicy sauce and chili oil
Ginza ABC Ramen serve Japanese Dan Dan Men. It is definitely worth trying out if you want to experience a hint of Japanese ramen history. Of course, at Ginza ABC Ramen they add a certain modern flair to the dish, but it’s a flair that is very easy to like.
I will go a little out on a limb for a minute now, and recommend a ramen bar we never visited: The Michelin Star-awarded «Nakiryu» is the most famous Dan Dan Men-place in Toyko.
Nakiryu is always busy. It often takes up till two hours before you can get into this ramen bar, which is why we will wait till the weather is better and our patience is peaking. I look forward to trying it very much, though, especially since the cup ramen they make for Seven-Eleven is quite nice!
Hidden Ramen Gem #3 | Jin Din Rou
If you don’t want to wait for two hours, I can recommend a Taiwanese restaurant chain called «Jin Din Rou». Not only do they serve a super tasty Dan Dan Men, they also have some of my favorite soup dumplings on the menu. If you haven’t tried this restaurant, then Jin Din Rou is the place to go next time you are in Tokyo.
Toripaitan & One «Healthy» Ramen Gem
Another ramen type that is very popular these days is called Toripaitan. It is one of the latest ramen types to boom in town, and we included one such Toripaitan ramen bar amongst our Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo: Mendokoro Zen.
Toripaitan is similar to tonkotsu, but instead of pork, it is based on chicken. The soup is so rich that it almost looks like a potage. In other words, the soup is white and thick, not clear and light. The noodles are usually thin, which is another thing toripaitan has in common with tonkotsu.
At the moment, you can find toripaitan ramen bars all over Tokyo. The Michelin Guide even recommended one place called Ginza Kagari. It has since become quite famous, both in Japan and around the world.
Mendokoro Zen serves the same ramen type as Ginza Kagari, but the atmosphere at the bar is much more casual. Don’t get fooled by the low-key ambiance though, Mendokoro Zen are definitely committed to their craft.
They change the ramen toppings with the seasons, and the taste of Kamakura vegetables is to die for. (Kamakura produce are hot items in the high-brand vegetable-isles at Japanese supermarkets.) The strong flavored vegetables are a good match with the rich toripaitan soup.
Hidden Ramen Gem #4 | Fujishiro
If you are interested in Mendokoro Zen, then, I suggest paying Fujishiro ramen a visit. Don’t forget to sprinkle some of the free «lemon ginger» on top of your ramen bowl. The seasoning makes the flavor combination a little bit more sophisticated and refreshing.
Hidden Ramen Gem #5 | Torinoana
If you’re not a big fan of vegetables, but still want to try a delicious toripaitan, you should try «Torinoana». Their soup has a more concentrated chicken flavor, and their topping is double chicken: Minced chicken and chicken chashu. I guess that makes this ramen triple chicken, or something ;)
Hidden Ramen Gem #6 | Vege Pota Tsukemen Enji
If want to be just a little bit health conscious, then you should visit a ramen bar called «Vege Pota Tsukemen Enji». It is a dipping ramen, like I told you about a little earlier. Like most Tsukemen bars, also this place serves a very thick soup.
However, they use a lot more vegetables than other Tsukemen bars. This makes for a rich, but much less fatty soup. You can even choose whole-wheat noodles, if you want to be a really healthy Ramenhead.
The Search Continues for Tokyo Hidden Gems
That’s enough of a deep dive into the Tokyo ramen scene for now. We will be back with more recommendations after exploring the Tokyo ramen scene further. We will also write about other Tokyo Cuisines that excites us in 2021.
Husky has been increasingly interested in hormone eateries lately. Perhaps his next food-blog post will be about all the delicious entrails, intestines and organs to be found in Tokyo’s Hormone Restaurants.
Until we meet (meat?) again, slurp responsibly and stay greasy!
Tokyo Hidden Ramen Bars List
Tonchin | Tokyo Tonkotsu
Ganso Mentai Nikomi Tsukemen | Tsukemen
Jin Din Rou | Dan Dan Men
Fujishiro | Toripaitan
Torinoana | Toripaitan
Vege Pota Tsukemen Enji | «Healthy» Tsukemen
Japan Travel: Tonchin Ramen - Tokyo tonkotsu style in Ikebukuro
Taiken Japan: Know Your Noodles: Yokohama Iekei Ramen
Tokyo Ramen Tours: Tantanmen: The Spicy Roots of this Popular Ramen Dish