Ramen soup is a delight that’s over in minutes. In Tokyo, there are places selling it everywhere, and each one has its own recipe.
There’s something magical about your first ramen soup in Japan. The oily film left by the broth in your throat, the steaming, far-too-long wheat noodles that burn your tongue, the tender pork and the famous ajitsuke tamago egg floating innocently in the bowl. Ramen is a very Japanese thing. It originated in China and only became popular in Japan in the 19th century. Today, ramen is a fixture in cities all over the West.
No one knows the exact number of ramen restaurants in Japan, but it’s said to be at least 200 000 – between 5000 and 10 000 in Tokyo alone. Which one should I pick? A friend sends me to Akihabara, a district known chiefly for electronic toys, to a small restaurant, the Menya Musashi Bujin – one of the best and nearly always crowded. A long wait is all part of the experience here, as is choosing your soup from a machine, always bearing three things in mind.
First: The fish-stock version tastes strange and leaves a funny smell in the restaurant. Second: The “large portion” is meant for laborers, not the usual Central European stomachs. Third: Ramen is not for sedate spooning; you wolf it down because once all the ingredients have been added to the broth, the noodles turn slimy within ten minutes. Fourth: After draining your bowl, please vacate your seat swiftly – there’s a long line waiting. The notoriously hectic atmosphere precludes the annoying “best lists” that often dog international dishes. There are no bests with ramen; how can you enjoy when you wolf? So my ramen rule no. 5 for Toyko is: The best soup is the one you are currently eating.