Everyone loves noodles, and it’s easy to see why. For less than 1000 JPY, you’ll walk out of a good noodle shop satisfied with both the food and the atmosphere. And in Hiroshima, as in any large Japanese city, we have a whole world of noodles to explore. Let’s look at a few of the more popular styles.
Ramen is is the one everyone knows, the lunch hour delight for millions of salarymen. But any true ramen head knows that every shop is different. Some people travel just to sample new regional styles from as many bowls as they can manage.
My favorite shop in Hiroshima is Takobouzu, not far from Hiroshima Station. You wouldn’t call it distinctly Hiroshima-style ramen. For that, you need to head to Onomichi, where some shops serve a local style of ramen made with fish stock. I’m not a fan, but it does draw visitors from across Japan.
Takobouzu opened about 40 years ago, and it’s not a big place. A few stools line a scarred tin counter, and the toilet, if you’re feeling adventurous (or desperate) is tiny. But it’s the ramen that brings regulars back and it’s excellent. This isn’t the thick, salty soup that’s become so popular across Japan. Pork and chicken stock, made daily and kept simmering separately, are mixed in your bowl, along with the thin, firm noodles. Two slices of pork set on top of the bowl.
The master studied traditional Chinese medicine, and his soup incorporates a secret blend of herbs and spices that lend it a sophisticated, excellent flavor. He’s quite talkative, and if you’re a regular, or he takes a liking to you, there are special, flat Cantonese noodles that he makes himself kept in one of the refrigerators. They’re not on the menu, but if you can wheedle some out of him, they’re fantastic.
If you’re downtown, or in the mood for something a little more standard, you can’t go wrong with Ichiran, a Hakata-style chain with a shop in Hondori, just across from Sun Mall. It’s a funny set up; you sit at a counter with walls between customers, and a small window opening into the kitchen. There are directions in English for ordering, the ramen is delicious, and they claim it will be in front of you 15 seconds after you put in your order slip. But this isn’t the best choice if you want to socialize. The feeling is a bit like being a barn animal in a feed stall, and you’re not encouraged to linger. But the noodles themselves are famous enough that when they opened a few years ago, people lined up around the corner for weeks.
The rest of the country has a dish called tsukemen, too, but it’s a gray thing next to the Hiroshima version. In fact, they’re different enough to have caused some controversy over which is the original. Naturally enough, Hiroshima claims its tsukemen is the real thing. It’s a plate of cold wheat noodles, along with vegetables like cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onion. You’ll also get slices of pork and, at some places, a boiled egg. Then there’s the dipping sauce, a scarlet bowl of chili, oil, and sesame. You can choose your level of spice from relatively mild (though still not child-friendly) up to levels that will earn you a photo on the “wall of honor.”
Don’t overdo it. You may be able to handle a level 100 bowl of sauce, but all you’ll taste is the chili, which would be a shame.
There are many options around town. If you’re anywhere near Peace Memorial Park, you’re within easy striking distance of Karabu, an excellent little tsukemen spot in my neighborhood. Just across from Aster Plaza, a few blocks south of Peace Park along Yoshijima-dori, Karabu is another fairly small shop, but I’ve never been turned away. Grab a beer, and make sure you have a tissue box nearby. You’ll need both.
This is a soupless Japanese version of Chinese dandan noodles, from the Sichuan province. Notable here is the inclusion of ‘sanshou,’ or Sichuan pepper. I’m not versed on the physiology, but part of the perception of “spice” from sanshou is an odd, tingly numbing of the tongue. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s good. Shakers of red pepper are also close at hand, along with extra sanshou if you need a heavier hit. This is another dish where the noodles arrive on the side, but here you don’t dip, you swirl. The instructions are to tip your noodles into the sauce and swirl them until no visible liquid remains. I’ve been told more than once that thirty swirls is the minimum number, but do what feels right. Then you’re ready to eat. If you’ve ordered a poached egg on the side (and you should), dredge the noodles through the egg before taking a bite. At the end, scoop your rice into the bowl and use it to soak up any remaining sauce. Delicious.
One of the more popular options for this dish in Hiroshima is King Ken, a small chain. You’ll order from a machine near the door, but if you’re having difficulty you can ask for help. The easiest location to find, and conveniently close to Peace Park, is south of Peace Boulevard on the street running along the east side of the Sunroute Hotel.
Address: 8-6 Kyobashi-cho, Minamiku
Access: Heading away from Hiroshima Station on the main road into downtown, turn right at the Hiroshima Grand Intelligent Hotel. You’ll find Takobouzu a block and half on toward the Enko River, on the right.
Hours: 11:15 to 14:00, 17:30-23:00, holidays when he feels the need
Prices: Ramen 650 JPY, Mabodofu 650 JPY
Additional Info: Very limited English, beyond what’s needed to order. Ask about his handmade Canton style noodles, unadvertised. Smoking permitted.
Website: Absolutely nonexistent
Address: M2F/2F 2-3-22 Kamiyacho Naka-ku
Access: In the Hondori Shopping Arcade, east of the streetcar line, across from the Shappo hat shop.
Hours: “Flavor Concentration Stalls” are open 24 hours a day, every day.
Prices: Basic ramen from 890 JPY
Additional Info: Ordering slip system seems needlessly complicated, but there are English language instructions for filling it out.
Website: Unusually good, located here https://en.ichiran.com/shop/chugoku/hiroshima-hondori/
Address: 8-13, Kakomachi, Nakaku
Access: Walk south on Yoshijima-dori from Peace Memorial Museum for about four blocks. You’ll find it on the left, across from Aster Plaza.
Hours: 11:00-15:00 / 17:00-0:00, irregular holidays
Prices: Tsukemen from 550 JPY
Additional Info: Limited English. Lunch hour may require a wait. Smoking permitted.
Website: None, online review sites direct you to a personal tsukemen blog.
Address: 3-14, 3-chome, Otemachi, Nakaku
Access: From the front entrance to the Sunroute Hotel on Peace Boulevard, walk south (one block in from the Motoyasu River). You’ll find King Ken on your right, just around the first corner.
Hours: 11:00-15:00, 17:00-20:00 Monday through Friday (11:00-15:00 Saturday & National Holidays), closed Sundays
Prices: Tantanmen 580 JPY, poached egg 50 JPY, rice 100 PY, green onion and celery 250 JPY
Additional Info: Order from the ticket machine, and present your tickets. Ask for help if you need it.