This is the second post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi Akasaka.
How do you find a good ramen place in Japan?
Easy - just look for the place with the longest lines. Japanese people absolutely adore their ramen and are very willing to patiently wait in long, organized lines in order to partake in this soul-satisfying hot bowl of noodles.
A perfect example would be Rokurinsha, a ramen shop that opened in 2005 in a quiet residential area in the Osaki district of Tokyo. Although it was a bit out of the way, the place was always packed, filled with lines that sometimes reached over 300 people on busy weekends. It was not unusual to show up at 11AM and wait about two hours before getting into the tiny 12-seater dining area.
Eventually in 2010, under much pressure from angry residential neighbors complaining about the crazy lines, Rokurisha closed its Osaki shop and re-opened elsewhere in the city.
The location most people talk about is the one inside Tokyo Station on Tokyo Ramen Street, a corridor full of ramen shops all in a row. A second one resides at the shopping complex at the Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo's newest attraction (and the tallest tower in the world).
The Tokyo Sky Tree is very, very tall and opened up to the public on May of 2012. The opening was so highly anticipated that some people waited in line for a week to get first dibs on tickets. Even now, it is quite popular with both tourists and locals alike. In fact, I waited over an hour in line before getting onto the uber fast elevator to the observatory.
It's quite fun to see Tokyo from such a height. I saw parts of the city I had never seen before (what is that cool area with all that water??)
On a clear day, you can see many of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Fuji.
If you're not afraid of heights, you can step onto the glass floor area and look all the way down. It's quite something!
Afterwards, you can head on over to Rokurinsha. Take the elevator back down and head over to the 6th floor of "Solamachi", the new shopping complex that's connected to Tokyo Sky Tree. Yes, there will be a line, of course (it wraps around the entire restaurant). What do you expect?
At least they have chairs for the people who have waited in line for quite awhile. Once you get to the chairs section, you also get a copy of the menu to peruse.
You have to purchase your "tickets" for the ramen before you enter the restaurant. The prices are quite reasonable, with most bowls being somewhere around 850-1050 yen range (about $10-$12 US).
After about an hour, we were finally seated! We had awesome seats at the bar, which was great. It was fun watching the chefs making the ramen right behind the counter.
They give you bibs because they think it's so messy!
After all, Rokurinsha specializes in tsukemen, or dipping noodles. You get your noodles and broth separately, and then you just dip the noodles into the soup. This explains why you may sometimes make a mess.
I'm not sure if the noodles were freshly made on site (perhaps not), but the texture was still excellent. They were super thick, very chewy, and really fun to eat.
But the star of the show was the gorgeously thick broth. I really think it was one of the best bowls of ramen I'd ever had in my life. The tonkotsu (pork bone) and dried fish based broth is stewed for over 13 hours. This results in a deeply flavorful broth that's brimming with umami. The bonito flakes on top add even more umami, making the entire soup oh-so-satisfying to eat.
The egg is boiled just the right amount to retain that soft, almost gelatinous center. Here I've dipped some of my noodles into my broth.
It was a fantastic meal. Because I had waited in multiple lines by lunchtime (both at the Sky Tree and then in the ramen restaurant line), I was famished by the time these noodles were laid in front of me. I was happy about the bib, as I'm sure I splashed some broth around in my attempts at dipping the noodles.
By the way, it's perfectly OK to making slurping sounds while eating your noodles in Japan. In fact, you should slurp. It shows that you are really enjoying your noodles. It's almost more rude not to slurp, since the chef may think you don't like the noodles.
So slurp away!
I was thrilled to discover that they sold takeaway packs for Rokurinsha ramen at home. Definitely not cheap at around $15 a pack (serves two people I believe), I bought one to take back with me to the US so that Bryan could try it too. Unfortunately, I could not buy the pork that they sold (no meat products!), but I'm really excited to try their packaged noodles + dried soup base to see how good it is!
In short, I cannot recommend this place highly enough . Granted, I haven't tried that many ramen places in Tokyo (after all, I've been focusing on sushi for quite sometime my past few trips). However, the rest of Tokyo seems to be vouching for this place as well, evidenced by the insane lines at all of its branches. Is it any surprise that the branch of Rokurinsha at Tokyo Ramen Street always has the longest line?
Definitely check out this place if you're visiting Tokyo. It's worth the wait. I promise.
Reminder - today's the last day to enter the Radisson Hotel free night's stay Giveaway. Winner will be announced tomorrow.
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