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A guide to the best ramen in Kyoto

Top Ramen (Clockwise from left) People queue up for lunch, a Japanese couple in kimonos near the Fushimi Inari-taisha, tourists wander down the narrow streets of Higashiyama District in Kyoto and two types of ramen

Top Ramen (Clockwise from left) People queue up for lunch, a Japanese couple in kimonos near the Fushimi Inari-taisha, tourists wander down the narrow streets of Higashiyama District in Kyoto and two types of ramen  

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A very hungry couple scours the streets of Kyoto in search of the perfect bowl of ramen, with quick bursts of sightseeing in between

We are on a quest to find the most delicious ramen in Kyoto. For this, some help is definitely required.

Between booking our tickets and landing in Tokyo, we had researched and booked every single meal we would have during our holiday in Japan, save one.

This was extremely special because we had kept it aside for one of our favourite things in the world: ramen!

The word “ra” means pulled and “men” means noodles. The dough is kneaded together, hand-pulled, cut and steamed. Noodles float in a broth that is simmered for hours. It is usually classified into shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and tonkotsu (pork). The toppings seem endless, ranging from char-siu pork, pork belly and runny poached eggs to spring onions, nori (dried seaweed) and pickled ginger.

In Kyoto, we head out to experience Japan’s unique night life like the locals — sipping sake at izakayas (small, local drinking houses) and tachinomiyas (street-side standing bars). Our izakaya guide, Justin Lee, a self-proclaimed ramen connoisseur, who is a part-time guide and full-time magician, gives us the low-down on how to find the finest ramen.

Stating that the main reason he moved to Japan from Singapore was due to his love for ramen and anime, he explains how it is a staple for people in Japan. A meal they can eat every day after a hard day’s work, on the way home.

He adds that there is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of steaming hot ramen, especially in the colder months.

A guide to the best ramen in Kyoto

The perfect bowl

His personal standard? First, it has to be less than 1,000 yen (roughly ₹650). There are, of course, a plethora of expensive ramen shops across Tokyo and Kyoto. Chef Yuji Wakiya’s $180 bowl at KOA in New York, which is one of the world’s most expensive ramen, is a far cry from Japan’s traditional humble comfort food.

Second, the broth has to be full of depth and have a rich, umami flavour, without being too heavy. It is usually a stock made from chicken, pork or fish bones. It could also be a mixture of all three. The broth should not be too oily and you should be able to drink (or slurp in my case) the entire bowl.

Third, the noodles should have the right amount of “bite”. Usually thin, if overcooked they turn mushy in the broth. Typically, ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, salt, water and an alkaline water called kansui, which gives them their springy texture and yellow colour.

Finally, great ramen needs to have a perfectly poached egg on top. When broken into, the yolk should just run into the warm broth adding another layer of flavour. It is usually also topped with chicken or char-siu pork. The chicken is poached, which makes it so soft, it practically melts into the broth. Char-siu pork needs to be roasted to perfection and laid on top of the ramen.

Kyoto is filled to the brim with ramen shops. We are torn between Zundoya (a restaurant chain recommended by Justin), Ginjo Ramen Kubota (located near the Kyoto station), famous for their Ginjo tsukemen miso, a rich soup flavoured with miso sauce, and Touhichi Ramen.

After research, we settle upon Touhichi Ramen, a tiny restaurant that features in the Michelin guide. (There are eight ramen shops in Kyoto mentioned in the guide.)

This restaurant specialises in organic ramen and prides itself on sourcing the best chicken from Tanba and Nagoya.

Cameras ready

Since it is close to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), we also manage to squeeze in some sightseeing. A Zen Buddhist temple, Kinkaku-ji was originally the house of a rich statesman, which was purchased from the Saionji family and then converted into a shrine.

A guide to the best ramen in Kyoto

After taking some lovely pictures, we hurry to Touhichi because we are really looking forward to lunch, and we know there will be a queue. It takes 45 minutes of waiting in the cold outside, but we finally get a table.

Ordering is an overwhelming process, as it has to be done on a vending machine with instructions, and the menu is in Japanese.

However, everything looks spectacular, right from the chicken soy sauce tsukesoba (noodles in a light soup with a dipping sauce on the side) to the chicken paitan (creamy chicken broth).

A guide to the best ramen in Kyoto

The staff recommend the chicken shoyu ramen. Noticing multiple plates of golden fried chicken at most tables, we decide to order that as well. The fried chicken kara-age is a delightful surprise. With a shichimi (Japanese seven spice), cumin, salt and pepper coating, it is juicy and tender on the inside, with a crisp outer layer.

The chicken shoyu ramen ticks every single box on Justin’s list. The broth is packed with flavour, accompanied by a salty punch of soya sauce. The noodles are handmade: delicate and faultless. The poached chicken literally melts in our mouths and the pork is perfectly roasted and succulent.

The ramen is topped with menma — fermented bamboo shoots, which add a bit of texture. All in all, an extremely satisfying meal, easy on the stomach as well as the wallet: A huge bowl of ramen here is priced between 700 and 800 yen (approximately ₹500).

In Kyoto, every meal we eat is special, but it is the ramen that has a heart and soul of its own. Unfortunately, we do not get to sample as many places as we would like to, but I comfort myself with the thought that it means we now have something to look forward to the next time.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 12:21:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/your-guide-to-the-best-ramen-in-kyoto/article30178750.ece

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