Tokyo: Enjoying good food without blowing the budget (part 1)

September 09, 2018

Article available in English

Japanese food’s standard is relatively high compared to the world. You don’t have to dine at a Michelin star restaurant, or a restaurant in a 5-star hotel to get all the best from the Japanese cuisine. The elegance of Japanese cuisine lies in inexpensive streets, in local eateries with dull-looking outward appearances. Definitely, it won’t cost you the earth to try the most wonderful food in Japan!

Small reminder

If your time allows, enjoying food at lunch is much cheaper than dinner. The meal usually costs only as half as dinner, and some eateries close very soon. I will gradually introduce all Japanese dishes that I have tried in Tokyo in the series, along with the price for each dish, and the addresses too (if I still remember the places lol). Based on my personal experience I will give each picture a point to indicate the yumminess of it, with the max of 10. Now, let’s start our first journey to the kingdom of Japanese cuisine in Tokyo!

Today is Ramen

Japan is well-known for ramen. You will be tempted to try all kinds of ramen when you arrive here. All variants of ramen are delightful, but personally, I found the Hakata tonkotsu variant suits me the best. Hakata-styled ramen usually is a mixture of small string noodle, wood ear mushroom (kikurage), chopped onion, seasoned egg (ajitama), slices of pork (chashu), salted sliced bamboo shoot (menma), and white, sweet scent of broth. Many people also claimed that the best ramen they had tried in Japan was Hakata style. Hakata-styled ramen restaurants often have a quiet, chill atmosphere.

The TripAdvisor’s favorite Ichiran (一蘭) serves Hakata-styled ramen. Starting from 1100¥. 8/10. It was delicious although TripAdvisor reviewers were overhyping it. Besides, you have to queue for about 1 hour in every time of the day before you can order, which is painful (ironically, Ichiran guests are all fellow foreigners).

A Hakata-variant ramen at Fuku-no-ken (福の軒), Akihabara. Costs around 750¥. 8/10. Not very special but cost performance is excellent, serving is fast and efficient, and you don’t have to queue for hours.

Hakata-variant ramen near Ikebukuro station. Just 600¥ for this bowl. 7.5/10 I remembered that it didn’t taste that bad and 600¥ in Ikebukuro sounds like a steal.

Hakata ramen at Ippudo (一風堂). Starting from 790¥. 9/10 my favorite place, the noodle, soup, topping everything is magnificently prepared. No wonder why they have their branches established overseas!

Besides the Hakata variant, the Yokohama variants are noteworthy too. Yokohama-styled ramen often uses big string noodle, thickly sliced pork, spinach, and deep brown, thick, greasy fatty broth. Many Yokohama-styled ramen restaurants (Yokohama iekei) have a tiny place, only a bar with around ten seats, and the restaurants often cultivate a boisterous, energetic environment. Therefore it might be best to taste the Yokohama-styled ramen going alone, and it might not be suitable for women.

Yokohama-styled pork slice ramen at Musashiya (武蔵家) starts from 750¥. Queues will often begin to form before dinner. 7.5/10 this isn’t everyone’s favorite but it does have its own distinctive flavor.

These were at Yokohama iekei ramen - Yokohama-do (横浜家系ラーメン 横浜道) in Chuo-dori, Akihabara. Starting from 950¥. Always full of people so you will have to wait for a little. 8.5/10 godsend, worth queueing for this (queue time isn’t as much as half the queue time for Ichiran).

And these were at an eatery that was 8 min away from Yokohama station (so they were authentic Yokohama style lol). Starting from 750¥. 7/10 very cheap but doesn’t suit anyone, this is for when you’d like quantity over quality.

Say hello to the Ippudo (一風堂) ramen again. Both starting from 790¥. 9/10

This Yokohama-styled ramen is 30m away from Tsunashima station. A little bit pricey to get to the full option (880¥). 8/10 same as the Musashiya above.

I also came across some variants which I couldn’t specify their origins.

A seem-like Hokkaido-styled tonkotsu ramen at ramen chain restaurant Kagetsu Arashi (花月嵐). From 650¥ even in Tokyo. 8/10 cost performance is outstanding, and this restaurant’s branches are quite common in Tokyo.

This is from a ramen restaurant in the underground stage of Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (新横浜ラーメン博物館). I couldn’t remember the origin of the restaurant except the price 1150¥ for this bowl and an impression of “this was worth queueing for an hour”.

This is from the Michelin star restaurant Tsuta (蔦) near Sugamo station (the menu in the restaurant lists this as “soba” and not “ramen”, though it tasted no different than regular ramen). This full-fledged option will set you back for 1650¥. 8.5/10 the noodle, the soup, sliced porks are excellent, but since the price is a bit unordinary, and you have to queue for hours before you can order and hours before you can take your lunch, I’m not putting much into it. This restaurant always closes at 6pm. You will meet many fellow foreigners waiting to try the Michelin star ramen here like in Ichiran.

The verdict

Hakata-styled is a must try when you arrive in Japan, and fortunately, you don’t have to go all the way to Hakata to try this legendary ramen, as many places in Tokyo will offer this variant. Your safe bet is Ippudo (一風堂), they have established many branches globally so it means that they must have confidence in their recipe. Hakata-styled ramen restaurants often have a wide place, and they have an atmosphere of a normal restaurant so you can have your meal together with your friends. For Yokohama-styled ramen, you can rest assured that every Yokohama iekei (横浜家系, means Yokohama-styled) you try will likely taste the same. Since the restaurants are small, and the Yokohama-styled ramen restaurants are often loud and noisy, having your meal alone is going to be your best choice.

Ramen is one of the Japanese dishes that brings Japanese cuisine to the world. Having your best bowl of ramen will leave you with beautiful memories when you think back to your time in Japan.