Everybody likes ramen. Everybody. Anyone who doesn’t like ramen doesn’t have a body. It’s as simple as that.
Tomfoolery aside, ramen is a serious business for many, if not most lovers of Japanese cuisine. It’s one of those foods that people tend to obsess over, and in Japan such otaku-like behaviours are both plentiful, and oft-encouraged. Japan is a mecca for ramenophiles, which makes the Yokohama Ramen Museum the kabaa. It’s the epicentre; the nucleus of ramen culture in Japan, if not the world. And what’s more, it’s actually touted as “the world’s first food-themed amusement park”. Brilliant!
Whilst you have to pay to enter (¥310, I think), entrance will grant you access to a dozen or so specialist (and independent) ramen shops/stalls, each boasting a regional or other specialisation. Quite surprisingly, you have to go down to a subterranean amphitheatre of a foodcourt in order to reach them. It’s an impressive, moodily lit, bustling, multi-storeyed, high-ceilinged space that is ringed on all sides by the ramen stalls. Connecting the stalls is a warren of passageways adorned with mementoes – old technologies, old games, old foods – from Japan’s past. It’s actually quite enchanting. And, of course, there’s a gift shop selling all manner of ingredients and other ramentastic paraphernalia. The only things this “amusement park” was missing were a few rides (although, strangely, there is a Scalextric-type racing track in the back of the shop) and some noisy package tours.
Most stalls have at least one vegetarian option, which is a rare surprise in Japan. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also lots of scope for customisation (eggs, bamboo, or some meaty extras if you’re that way inclined). Ordering and payment is done via a vending machine (of course), and there are even a few information areas telling you how long the queues are for each stall. And if that wasn’t enough, each stall offers ramen in full-size or half-size bowls, making it easy for you to sample multiple flavours. Par-fait.
We went to Narumi Ippudo – an apparently fusion French-style ramen shop that had some interesting vegetarian options and, perhaps more importantly, a well balanced queue (being not too long, but not too short either!).
In homage to my visit to T’s Tantan earlier this year, I had the shoyu ramen (¥880). It was, unsurprisingly, an absolute joy to beguzzle. A wonderful blend of East-meets-West; a light and refreshing onion consommé, some sliced red onion and enoki mushrooms, a moon-sized half tomato and a little rocket for good measure. Oh, and ramen of course.
It’s difficult to highlight the highlights, as everything worked so well together – a bowl of balance if ever there was one. I was mightily impressed by the size of the tomato (the photo doesn’t do it justice – it must have been at least 3 inches in diameter, probably more), and it tasted wonderfully sweet and slightly sour at the same time. The ramen itself was springy to the bite, and was nicely flavoured by the shoyu. But on balance I would have to say that it was the sensitive use of onions that won me over. Sweet and slightly sharp, they got on immensely well with the shoyu, creating a rich and hearty platform upon which all the other ingredients could sing. And when there’s teamwork like that in a bowl, what’s there not to like. Eh?
Yokohama Ramen Museum, 2 Chome 14-21, Shinyokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama
Open 11:00-22:00 Monday-Friday; 11:00-22:30 Saturday; 10:30-23:00 Sundays & Public Holidays