One of the most well known foods in Japan is ramen (Wikipedia), however, it’s actually a Chinese food. There’s a few different kinds, and it’s a delicacy that each ramen restaurant (or franchise) wants to be distinguished from the competition. That is to say, each restaurant will have slightly different styles and tastes, but are generally quite similar. One restaurant I went to, the noodles were quite eggy in flavour, others not at all. Because it’s also a dish that Japanese people have very particular tastes for, there are options that you can request when ordering. You don’t just say “ramen”, and a bowl of it magically appears, there are questions. Of all the places I’ve seen, this place featured below is definitely the most visitor friendly with English info. So, here are 5 things about ordering and enjoying ramen in Japan.
1. Street displays. Most places will show pictures of their products outside to lure you in. Here you can get a sense of what you want and the prices, and can compare to other nearby restaurants. As you can see, you can expect to pay between 690 to 900 yen (USD$6-10) for a hearty, healthy, and great tasting meal.
2. Ordering. Many places now have a machine that you put money in, push buttons, and get tickets. You give the ticket to the staff member. Often they’ll ask you these questions you see in the picture below. It’s quite ok to say in English “regular”, “medium”, or “normal” or in Japanese “futsu” or “zembu futsu” for ‘everything normal’. I recommend keep all communication simple and to single words, so there’s little chance of confusion. Once you start using English sentences, communication quality drops. Single words for simple communication.
3. What’s in it? It’s basically a soup broth, either fish, miso, or pork broths, Chinese wheat noodles, a slice of pork, sheets of seaweed, maybe half a boiled egg, and some vegetable matter. This one pictured below also includes a local type of spinach, and spring onions. The varying flavour between restaurants is usually down to the broth and the secret ingredients they use. This one below is a common pork and pork-broth ramen, with some spring onions, local spinach, and seaweed. It’s actually my favourite.
4. What to do. Actually, this picture below has pretty good advice. Once you get it, try it, and you can adjust it with condiments and seasonings that are usually on the bench near you. I usually like to add some diced spring onions, or a small spoon of mashed garlic, depending on how I feel that day. The particular restaurant I went to gives some rice for free that you can add to your noodle soup. You’d need the Chinese soup spoon to scoop it up. I never do, as it’s already a lot of carbohydrates, but it’s additional energy that weary travelers might actually need.
5. How to eat. I eat it in the same way Korean ladies do, just because it’s easier, I look less of a fool, and perhaps less sloppy. Step one, use the chopsticks to load about a mouthful of noodles onto the small Chinese spoon (like the one shown below). Step two, once you’ve got a manageable amount on the spoon, then it’s easier to pick up the noodles as a bunch with the chopsticks and transfer the load to your mouth. Step three, repeat for each mouthful. Once you’ve finished, you can use the spoon to drink up the soup one scoop at a time. It may be a little salty though, so you don’t need to drink much, some people do finish it. Most places provide courtesy jugs of water, so you can wash the salt of your tongue or re-hydrate after a long day in the summer heat. Jugs are replaceable by the staff, so don’t worry about emptying the shops supply or the local lake. Also, there are tissues provided so you can wipe your mouth and the the surrounding bench of splashes.
The picture below also shows below the shelf the other condiments you can add to your ramen. Don’t add them all, just open and sniff and figure out what might be to your liking. As you can see, I was thirsty from a long day travelling and photographing, so the jug is almost empty.
Bonus advice. Never settle on a “favourite way” to enjoy ramen in your first few visits. Try a variety of different flavours and combinations of condiments, at least until you can settle on something you are in love with.