Tokyo Ramen Festivals This Month!

2018 Tokyo Ramen Show.

Next week two ramen festivals overlap in Tokyo. If you’re there, go for a taste of ramen styles throughout Japan.

The annual Tokyo Ramen Show begins this week, running October 24 through November 4 at Komazawa Olympic Park. This overlaps with the month-long Dai Tsukemen Haku competition to crown the best tsukemen ramen in the country, running through November 3. 

On my trip to Japan last fall I discovered, last-minute, that I’d be there for the Tokyo Ramen Show. What luck! The show is outdoors in an open-air promenade setting built for the 1964 Summer Olympics (some 2020 Olympic events will be held there). The show features 36 different ramen purveyors – 18 for the first six days, then the next set of 18 over the remaining 6 days. It’s free to get in, and only costs $8 USD for a ticket that entitles you to one bowl of ramen.

This is a stellar opportunity to taste some of the regional differences in ramen all in one place. The lobster ramen seemed compelling, as did the all-meatball bowl. But how to choose among 18 different booths!? Just like visiting a “ramen street” in a Japanese city, I used the standard technique: find the longest line and stand in it! It turned out to be a Sapporo-based restaurant (didn’t write down their name).

The dish I had was an “aged miso ramen.” The actual serving bowl was plastic – unfortunate, but I suppose necessary for this venue. The broth had red flakes and appeared very spicy hot. But, tasting it, there was only subtle heat that, for my taste, was just enough. The semi-clear miso-based broth was delicious with a rich flavor. The noodles were firm (thankfully common in Japan), and the pork slices – for which I had to pay extra – were thick and flavorful, though not particularly juicy. 

Aged Miso Ramen – Sapporo style.

All in all, it was a good, well-balanced, lightly spiced bowl of ramen. It certainly wasn’t one of the best I’ve had in Japan, but worth the visit to the festival, especially for the fun of it. I’m not calling this an actual review, but I suppose I’d put it in the range of 3 to 3-1/2 stars (out of 5).

Fun for the kids.

I didn’t make it to the Dai Tsukemen Haku competition, but I’ve seen it covered on YouTube and elsewhere. Take a look at this 2016 video from Ramen Adventures.

A lesson I learned is to plan ahead next time, as there’s no way you can sample so many bowls in a day. And everyone served standard bowls, not the half-bowls you see offered sometimes. So I’d come in the morning, have a bowl; then take a walk before my second bowl in the afternoon. Going with some friends and sharing tastes is a better idea.

Yōkoso! (Welcome!)

An enthusiastic ramen shop promotion in the Kaito-ku section of Ueno in Tokyo.

Merriam-Webster says a gourmand is someone “excessively fond of eating and drinking.” A gourmet is “a connoisseur of food and drink.”

So into which category do ramen lovers fall? We’d have to say somewhere in the middle. Ramen, leaving the instant kind aside, is a very basic pedestrian dish in Japan. However when you consider the care and time that goes into the broth, for example, and how certain chefs have elevated a bowl to the level of fine dining, gourmet isn’t far off.

How thin, or thick, did this restaurant slice the chashu? Did it have a char? Does the richness and complexity of the broth have staying power throughout the meal? Do the noodles go beyond good enough to having a texture, flavor and mouth feel that make them special? These are the kind of distinctions and conversations we tend to have about ramen. 

So three friends thought we’d form our own club, first as a joke. Then it got a bit more serious. Inspired by Ramen Adventures and others who write or make videos, we decided to add our voices to the conversation. 

Yes, the “club” is just the three of us. We live near San Francisco. No rules or dues in this club. Not sure how often we’ll post, and topics may vary beyond just reviews. At some point, we may open up to comments or guest posts. Let’s see how it all evolves. Welcome.