I have a slight massive obsession with ramen. There’s something about the variations possible and combining so many impactful flavours, ingredients and soups into a bowl that gets my tastebuds. After much research and deliberation, I chose these shops because they’re quite special, even in ramen obsessed Japan and quite unique from anything you’ll find outside of Japan, even if you have some great Japanese hits like Ippudo or Ichiran in your country. These ramen-ya are all local favourites and known by connoisseurs so they’re usually SLAMMED – I would suggest going early or off hours if you want to get in without risking a long wait. Without further ado, 3 must try ramen shops when you’re in Tokyo!
1. Ginza Kagari (銀座 篝)
Kagari only sits about 10 people and the star of the show is their broth called “tori-paitan,” which is made completely of chicken. It’s made like a normal tonkotsu broth, but Kagari simmers chicken bones instead of pork bones for many hours to create the stock.
When you taste it you will be blown away. I never would’ve believed you could get such a condensed, powerful flavour just from chicken. The broth is so rich and pure, at times it tasted like carbonara because it’s so intensely rich and creamy. I’m almost certain the reason this isn’t available everywhere in the world because the broth must be incredibly time consuming to make. I’ve had tori-paitan before where the shop claimed they simmered the soup for twelve hours, but still, it tasted nothing like this. In terms of ramen, this bowl is a work of art.
Ginza Kagari (銀座 篝)
Address: 4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Weekdays 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Sat. and holidays 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5:30-9 p.m
First time recommendation: tori-paitan soba (don’t get thrown off by the “soba,” this IS the ramen option you’re looking for!)
2. Fu-unji (風雲児)
Fu-unji is incredibly famous to locals and foodies alike. If you get there during peak hours, you’re almost guaranteed to be in a line for almost 2 hours. Come during off hours (weekdays, not lunch or dinner) or show up 30 minutes before the shop opens. I arrived on a weekday before the store opened and I was still greeted with what looked like a line of a few people. “Okay,” I thought, “not bad!” WRONG. Once you get past their pastel blue noren, you realized you are still f**ked.
The lineup actually continues past the doorway and curls along the walls of the entire restaurant. It’s a bit cruel actually – you’re stood there hovering over customers, smelling the intense flavours of pork and skipjack tuna simmering while watching and hearing people slurp their noodles loudly… FOR ANOTHER 15 MINUTES.
Once you finally get your bowl, you’ll instantly realize what all the fuss is about. The noodles are a beautiful yolk yellow colour and extremely chewy. Many restaurants make use of a mixture of “double tare” which is combing two soup stocks together. The fish and pork combination is now a fairly normal combo, but few ramen shops emphasize the fish taste over pork in the broth, because pork is a much stronger flavour. Fu-unji goes full on with the fish flavour – it’s so concentrated, I can only imagine how much fish is used to get it to that level. Incredible.
When I left, I saw that the line had snaked across the street and now stretched a few blocks! No joke, you want to get to this place early.
Address: 2-14-3, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Hours: Monday through Saturday (Closed on Sunday & Holidays) 11:00~15:00, 17:00~21:00
First time recommendation: get the special tsukemen. (tsukemen = dipping noodles)
3, Afuri (あふり)
Afuri’s claim to fame is that they try to make their ramen dishes as healthy as possible. A lot of their stocks use a simple and light shio (salt) base or shoyu (soy sauce) base with plenty of vegetables. At first glance, it seems like a pretty traditional bowl of ramen, perhaps even underwhelming. What makes the ramen here truly stand out is the taste. You get a nice, unique balanced hit of yuzu upon drinking the soup. If you’ve never tried yuzu – a Japanese citrus fruit – before, the taste is unmistakable. I’d describe it as a refreshing cross between a lemon and tangerine, with another unique flavour component added in between. The addition of yuzu is enough to make the ramen experience refreshing and enjoyable. Even better, this enjoyment extends on after the meal. Usually after eating a bowl of ramen, you’re sitting pretty heavy, but with this one, you’ll leave feeling like a million bucks.
Address: B1 Roppongi Hills, North Tower
Hours: 11AM – 11PM
First time recommendation: get the shio yuzu ramen.
* Multiple locations, the original Afuri is located in Ebisu.