17 October 2013

What We Learnt About Ramen in Sapporo & Tokyo

We constantly bleat about how we've been eating ramen for years yet know nothing about the stuff. So we spent a bit of time on our recent Japan trip trying to reset our tastebuds and expand our knowledge. All we learnt was our heads are up our arses.

We stayed in Sapporo for a week which is the home of miso ramen, one of our favourite ramen styles. Miso ramen isn't like that cup of stuff you get for a dollar with your sushi back in Sydney, it's like a regular ramen with an animal based stock, made extra rich and sweet with a hearty dollop of miso paste. It can get quite hardcore. Wikipedia describes miso ramen as "a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup".

We've eaten much miso ramen in Sydney and assumed it must be uber rich and sweet. But Sapporo taught us otherwise. The first ramen bar we visited in Sapporo, an old-skool joint run by a tops old grandpa, the miso ramen was mild, sedate and pedestrian. At a joint run by a pair of young borderline hipsters the ramen broth was supremely thick, rich and sweet. At another joint it was right in the middle.

After a week in Sapporo we spent a couple of days in Tokyo where we got a couple more ramens in. Our favourite was the simplest, unfanciest ramen we've had. We reckon this ramen wouldn't rate on any blog in Sydney but in Tokyo we're told it's famous. Like celeb chef David Chang discussed in this Gourmet Traveller article on ramen in Sydney, the more ramen we eat, the more we are interested in the lighter, seemingly simpler broths which are far more nuanced and difficult to get right.

Our final ramen in Tokyo was one that really proved we know nothing. It was topped with a mound of cabbage that was raw or only slightly cooked, the flavour was quite jarring. From our understanding of Japanese cooking we thought the cabbage would have been cooked more so it blended with the flavours of the soup. How wrong we were. If we had this in Sydney we would have poo-pooed it. How little we know.



On the first day of our trip we ate in low rent train station noodle bar, an airport waiting lounge, a convenience store and finally this non-descript chain store diner style joint. And it was all freaking fantastic!

Diner action, Sapporo.

Cold ramen was big on our must-eat list. We think this baby is a cold ton ton ramen, derived from the Chinese classic of dan dan noodles. Lovely bitey noodles served topped with pork mince in cold sauce with sweet peanut and sesame flavours, a smidgeon of chili. It's wonderful food from a regular diner style joint.

Another cold ramen topped with pork, egg and veggies. Cold ramen can be found around Sydney, we will be exploring it this summer.

For nitey-night snackage we hit this old-man ramen bar in Susukino, Sapporo.

Old man ramen, not so thick and rich, but pretty dang good.


Sapporo's Ramen Alley is a thin strip with 17 or so tiny ramen joints in a row. It's an easy please to eat because they are used to tourists and there's picture menus everywhere.

In the thick of it at Ramen Alley.

We did a recon trip earlier in the day and picked out this joint - we just had to try that sucker piled high with crab.

In we go...

The masters in action.

Big pots of broth bubbling away. The chef constantly poured water over the metal benchtop surfaces, we wonder whether it was a hygiene or temperature thing.

Our ramens under construction.

Mr Shawn's crabby ramen just before serving.

The crab ramen is pretty good, though not the uber explosion of crab flavours Mr Shawn imagined it to be.

Miss Chicken's crab, pipi, pork and corn ramen. She's a sucker for anything with corn in it.

We discover Anthony Bourdain ate in the same joint. He follows us everywhere.

Ramen Alley in the daytime.

 A smaller ramen alley next to Susukino station. It's a place of romance.

There's a few joints down a narrow indoor passage.

Beer kegs beckon us inside.

This is Mr Shawn's dream miso ramen. It's rich and sweet and he goes into a food nerd trance. 850 yen, about $10.

There's a silty residue at the bottom of the bowl, always a good sign.

And the beers are frosty cold too. With just a few nights in town it was a tough decision whether to eat here again where we know we love it, or try somewhere else. First world problems.

On another night we try another joint in the same alley. This joint had a long queue the other night. Tonight it's empty. We learnt long ago not to pay too much attention to queues. When choosing a restaurant, use the force.

Our ramen under construction.

This is Alison's Goldilox miso ramen - not too plain like we got at the old man ramen joint, and not too rich like we got at the hipster ramen joint. It's just right.

Subterranean views from our perch.

If slumming it in ramen alley isn't your thing then try this themed ramen food court in the Esta department store building. It's theme-park cheesy but the ramen is probably pretty good.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.

Random ramen menu somewhere in Sapporo.



When we get to Tokyo our first priority is a ramen from a joint we'd eaten at on our last visit to the wonderful Piss Alley in Shinjuku.

Last time we dine here a lovely well-to-do lady in her tennis whites tells us the ramen here is famous. We knew it was a plain style of ramen, exactly what we were in the mood for.

The chef in action.

The broth is seemingly simple but perfectly done, a chicken base we would guess. This is the kind of ramen you could have every day.

Some pan-fried gyoza on the side. We reckon gyoza has to be on of the most over-rated dishes around. Gyoza's are nice but nothing compared to some good Chinese pan fried dumplings.

On our last night in town we hit the streets of Shinjuku for a final ramen fix.

We pick this joint at random. Ramen Sakagami near the West Exit, with a blog that has wonderful twitter ramblings and pictures of highball drinks made from Monster Energy Drink. Class. The freiendface page says it is a Chinese restaurant, but it was doing a good job at making Japanese.

The joint is buzzing. The wait staff are super friendly. The cooks look mean and surly, like they learnt to cook in prison. These mean looking dudes are juxtaposed with cheesy 1970's soft rock coming from the speakers, including 'Shandi', 'You're my inspiration' some Belinda Carlisle and Sheena Easton, kind of like listening to Love Song Dedications. The mean looking dudes turn out to be super polite and friendly. We love Japan.

Miss Chicken is overjoyed to find fresh garlic amongst the condiments.

She squeezes that sucker with a 1970's style garlic crusher. The other thing we learnt on this trip is that it's ok to flavour your ramen, that's what all those condiments and stuff are there for. We like to start off vanilla, then add flavours halfway through the bowl.

Miss Chicken's ramen. Great mix of shoyu and tonkostsu base with thin noodles.

The final ramen of the trip that taught us we know nothing. It was piled high with raw or only slightly cooked cabbage and clashed with the soup bigtime. We've bitched like ramen divas when we've been served cabbage like this in our ramen back in Sydney, and here it is in Japan. Later on we discover this joint bills itself as a Chinese restaurant, which just goes to prove, what the heck do we know?

The ramen quest will never end. There will never be one ramen to rule them all, but we will keep on hunting.


  1. Having been to Japan many times now, I have to say the only thing I really know for sure is that there's SO MANY kinds of ramen and they're all awesome :D

  2. Have to agree with you, if i see bean sprouts or cabbage in my ramen in Sydney, I will whinge and moan. I hate it, it doesn't belong!!! But i guess, different strokes for different folks!

  3. Great post, very informative!

  4. But ramen IS Chinese (at least in the opinion of most Japanese people). That's why ramen is usually (OK, not always) written in Katakana, the character set used for foreign words.

  5. Loved this blog big time !!!
    But.........do you guys have any other hobbies and interests besides street food and grog?

    There must be more to life than just tucker and grog.

    1. Sure we do, but then we'd have to start another blog just to cover everything else!

  6. I had a bowl of ramen in Asakusa where the broth was made using dried salty fish. The boss lady tried to warn me about the dried fish broth but the taste was amazing, not overly fishy. I don't think it'll be on the menu here anytime soon. Oh well, just another reason to go back.

    Lovin your travel posts guys!

    1. Oooh I love a fishy note in the broth, that's a favourite.

  7. yummmmmm i do miss reading your blog...now i need to go visit japan and have more ramen!!

  8. AMAZING ramen adventure! Wish I could hop on a plane to Japan right now!

    The water pouring over the metal benchtops are a temperature thing as it gets way too hot, we used to do that at our chinese takeaway, and ditto on gyozas being overated!

    1. Thanks Lucy, and I know you do love a ramen too! We asked ourselves when are we going back just last night. Japan really gets under your skin and firmly stays there.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).