The Best Ramen In Tokyo – Guest Post
The best ramen in Tokyo is at Tsuta Ramen – according to the Michelin Star guide anyway! In 2015 Tsuta was given it’s Michelin Star. The best Japanese restaurant for ramen joined the city’s growing list of Michelin Starred establishments – which is a huge list, Tokyo has the most Michelin Starred restaurants in the world! I love Japanese food and finding the best ramen restaurant in the world is pretty high on my list of priorities but unfortunately I have not been to Japan (yet). Fortunately, however, this is the internet and I am so happy to have Ben from Horizon Unknown guest post on the best ramen in Tokyo for us!
Ben writes great features on amazing places but his photos will give you serious wanderlust! Ben left Australia in 2013 and focuses on how to have incredible and rich experiences without breaking the bank. You can find Ben on Horizon Unknown’s Facebook page and other social media.
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So, if you’re going to have ramen in Japan – surely you should try the best ramen in the world?
During 2017 I travelled Japan for three months. From snowy Hokkaido all the way down to the tropical Okinawa Islands. I came to love many things about Japan; the friendly locals, amazing places to visit, and of course, the ramen. So much ramen! I even tried one that was set on fire right in front of me! I became obsessed. So when I learnt that Tokyo was the first city in the world to have a ramen restaurant earn a Michelin Star award, I devoted a whole day of my travels to make sure I got a seat at the table.
The famed Japanese Soba Noodle ramen restaurant, Tsuta, isn’t an easy restaurant to get a seat at. Master Chef Onishi Yuki believes “ramen is the noodles of which Japan can boast to the world”, and so Tsuta was opened in Sugamo, Tokyo in 2012. Having gained a prestigious Michelin Star in December 2015, it became an overnight favourite and has retained that status ever since. There is a reason why people continue to wake up in the early hours each morning to wait in long lines to book a spot at Tsuta for the best ramen in Tokyo.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am not a foodie. Not in travel, or life in general. But I did try a lot of this iconic Japanese staple and became intrigued to compare the difference between a “top of the line” Michelin starred ramen and it’s “regular” and cheaper counterpart.
Michelin Star Guide
If you’re unfamiliar with the Michelin Star guide, a little bit of background might help. In 1900 the Michelin tire company began writing guides to promote road tripping. It does seem a little strange a tire company is so invested in rating restaurant, but they have been at it ever since becoming one of the most prestigious recognitions a venue can receive!
In 1926, the Michelin guide evolved from a single star, to up to a maximum of 3 stars for restaurants. A 3-star rating is given if the establishment is, “worth a special journey, exceptional in quality, precisely executed cuisine”. Losing or gaining stars can have a massive impact on the success of a restaurant – Gordon Ramsay is known to have actually cried after losing a star at his restaurant in New York. Pretty serious stuff in the high-end culinary world!
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Why Should You Plan Ahead For Tsuta
As I mentioned before, it isn’t easy to get a meal at Tsuta. Line-ups starting from 6:30am are common, as the restaurant only produces around 150 bowls of ramen a day. And that’s if the ingredients don’t run out first! : This tiny, hole-in-the-wall –looking restaurant seats only 9 people at a time in classic Japanese-style ramen bar fashion where you can watch the food being prepared freshly in front of your eyes! Also, do not plan to wake up early on a Wednesday morning, as Tsuta are closed this entire day.
As part of your planning you could always read up on ramen with Tove Nilson, a self proclaimed ramen addict who tries ramen wherever she goes! Grab a copy of Ramen from Book Depository
Here’s a bit of a walk-through of what to expect if you want a bowl of this tasty Japanese dish! Tsuta Soba Noodle restaurant is super easy to get to as Tokyo has an incredible transit system linking rail, subway and metro. Being only a two minute walk from Sugamo station on the JR Yamanote Line, if only gaining a seat was this quick and easy! But that’s part of the adventure, right!
How to get a seat at Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodle Restaurant
Producing only 150 bowls at most a day, rocking up at midday is a big roll of the dice if you’re set on trying this famed restaurant’s speciality. As I said, lines can begin to form as early as 6:30! Now, you might be thinking, who wants ramen at 6:30am?! You won’t be eating that early at Tstuta. The whole point of lining up early is to secure a ticket which will allow you to come back at one of the slotted times later in the day. And there are only 150 tickets. I got there around 7:00am and was able to secure my seat in the earliest time slot of 11am. With that being said, it obviously varies and unfortunately, you can’t know how busy it will be before you get there.
There isn’t much to do in this quiet Tokyo suburb while you wait. So bringing a book (or like me, a travel journal) to pass the time is key!
Is it too kitschy to wear ramen while you go to eat ramen? Of course not! The only piece of enamel to ever make me hungry! Grab this adorable ramen pin from Etsy.
By lining up so early you’re all but guaranteed a spot throughout day, provided you follow a few important rules. They really want you to work for it!
- A 1000 Yen (approximately $9 USD) deposit is required to secure your place in line. In return, you will get a colour coded, laminated ticket for each hourly time slot (mine was white = 11am time slot). For all colours and what time you are due back, there is a full instruction page right at the front door.
- If you lose this card, not only will you be out the 1000 Yen deposit, but you will also lose your seat you woke up so early for!
- As you wait in line, you can read the full instruction page right at the front door explaining all the colours and what time you are due back
- When you arrive for your slotted time, you will be asked to hand over your coloured laminated ticket, and you will get your 1000 Yen deposit back. Then, you are shown inside and asked to use a vending machine to select and pay for your meal. This nifty machine will then print out little tickets for you to hand to the chef once you get seated. It’s quite common throughout ramen shops in Japan to have a vending machine take your order, and it’s super easy! Most have English translation and/or have pictures.
When I visited, some of the people who were unable to reserve a ticket earlier that morning (because the line was so long!) came back throughout the day to see if anyone missed their time slot!
Enough about how to get a seat, time to finally talk about the food!
Tsuta Japanese Ramen Meal
For 450 Yen (approximately $4 USD), I got an appetiser of shredded pork and beef, glazed in some kind of almost sweet sauce. Topped with red onion for a little spice. It was a fairly small serving, but mighty big on flavor . Once again, I’m no “foodie”, but I could have eaten that all day! But then there would be no room for ramen!
Soba noodle aren’t a common ingredient in ramen. While most dishes are accompanied with regular ramen noodles. This soba style is made from buckwheat flour, which turns the noodle brown, and soaks about more moisture – great for that ramen broth!
Shoyu Soba, or soy sauce ramen, is Tsuta’s specially dish and they do it so well – judging by the line up at 7:00am, I feel like that’s no secret at all!
At the time of my visit, Tsuta’s soy sauce ramen cost 1650 Yen (approximately $15 USD). Which is by far the most expensive ramen I ate in Japan. It was roughly 7-8 times more expensive than any other bowl I had!
I’m not too sure if my palette has ever tasted something so amazing. This heaping bowl of perfectly cooked pork, soba noodles all in a truffle oil broth that was so full of flavor was presented in front of me in no time. Plus, the traditional ramen egg on top which was soft-boiled to perfection.
This whole half day process was, by far, my most expensive meal in Japan. Plus, it was far from easy to secure a ticket, but I think the experience itself was well worth the effort, let alone that tasty, tasty ramen!
If you have the time and either love ramen or a Michelin Star restaurant intrigues you (both are true in my case), Tsuta’s Japanese Soba Noodle restaurant should definitely be on your list of places to dine at while in this beautiful country.
Just make sure you plan ahead to be sure you get a seat!