When I first came to Japan and answered the standard “what Japanese food do you like?” question with “I absolutely love ramen!” I wasn’t sure why I was typically met with a look of disappointment, as if i had let them down in some way.
It took me a a few months to realise that Japanese consider ramen not a dish of their own creation, but instead of Chinese extraction, hence the spelling of the word ラーメン (ramen) in katakana, the alphabet of loan words.
However, though it does use Chinese style wheat noodles, ramen actually is a Japanese dish, and here in Nagoya you can find some amazing restaurants that serve up fantastic bowls of steaming noodle soup. Here are just a few of them.
Misen isn’t strictly a ramen restaurant, as it does a wide array of excellent Taiwanese dishes at their three venues in Meieki, Yabacho and Imaike. However, their Taiwan ramen is a local institution (don’t let the name fool you, this dish, photo above, is as Nagoyan as Ichiro and red miso). Ground pork, Chinese chives, green onions and bean sprouts are seasoned with hot red peppers and other spices, fried, and placed on boiled ramen noodles in a soy sauce-based soup. The profuse use of garlic is another characteristic of this ramen that is a must for spicy food lovers. It comes in three spice levels, with ‘American’ being the weakest, ‘Italian’ the spiciest and original Taiwan in the middle. While I love spicy food, I’d recommend avoiding the Italian as a lot of the flavour is lost in the search for fire.
This was the place that first ignited my love for ramen. Tucked away behind Bic Camera on the Shinkansen side of Nagoya station, Hongo Tei is two stories of amazing ramen. There are various flavours to choose from, which you do by way of a ticket vending machine. I’d recommend coming at lunch time, where as well as your huge bowl of ramen (and it is massive) filled with great big slabs of chashu pork, half an egg and perfectly done noodles, there are also free pickles, rice and kimchi. If you’re feeling particularly glutenous the gyoza are a good accompaniment. If you can stomach it all…
Ichiran Ramen is one of the best known ramen restaurants in Japan, but with good reason. With one Forbes contributor calling it the best ramen in the world, it comes at no surprise that there is generally a queue outside the Sakae branch of this national chain. One of the great things about Ichiran is that you can really customize your dish. Want strong flavor but only a little richness? You’ve got it. How about extra friend pork but no garlic? That’s fine too. Just circle your options on your preference sheet and you’ll get your ramen just as you like it. Or you can even experiment to find a new combination to blow your mind!
While the aforementioned Misen is perhaps the best known place for Taiwan Ramen, Menya Hanabi took this well loved dish and revolutionized it, in doing so becoming the first shop to serve Taiwan Mazesoba. Taiwan Mazesoba tastes almost exactly like Taiwan Ramen but is in fact soup-less. With thick cut noodles served with spicy meat, raw egg yolk, and negi onion, it packs a punch right at the bottom where all the extra spice hides. Another great place that is famous for its Taiwan Mazesoba is Anzutei in Meieki.
When national TV shows come to Nagoya to sample the local ramen, Josui is where they head. They use a combination of chicken and mackerel as its broth base, creating a salty clear soup. The prices range from 700 JPY for the regular shoyu or shio broth – the latter of which is the most popular – or 950 JPY for ramen ‘with the lot’. There are huge slabs of chashu pork that go well with the deliciously sweet bamboo, and there are over 30 styles of ramen to choose from, coming from all over the country. For a full review, check out this article by JIS favorite Chris Glenn.
By Mark Guthrie
Image by Chris Glenn, via https://en.japantravel.com/aichi/josui/3969 (modified)