On my first trip to Japan, Rokurinsha was on our list of ramen restaurants to try, however we were not successful in visiting as the queues were just too long to fit into our itinerary. This time I allowed plenty of time to make sure we got our bowls of noodles before we left the country!
Even so, it took two attempts before we finally made it (I forgot to factor in the fact that they close shortly after breakfast service!). And even though we had timed it so that we visited just as they were opening, we still found ourselves queuing for over an hour, with plenty of hungry tourists keen for a taste of the famous ramen.
All menu options are essentially the same thing, just with different variations of toppings. Don’t be fooled by the photos above- there’s actually a lot more toppings hidden within the soup itself than it appears. The soup is thick and super rich, and quite unique in that it has little more of a fish taste than we’re used to, as a result of the mackerel that is used to cook the soup base as well as the small pile of ground fish flakes sitting atop the nori sheet.
You can also choose your size of noodles, ranging from 180g to a whopping 570g, depending on how hungry you are. We opt for the more reasonable regular size (280g), which we find perfect for ourselves.
And long queues seem to really be a commonality between all ramen restaurants we visited in Japan, with Ramen Fuunji being perhaps the longest queue we endured. Don’t be deceived by the short looking queue in front of this restaurant, it breaks just outside the entrance to allow people to walk through the footpath, and continues all the way through the park on the other side. Once you make your way into the restaurant, you’ll also realise that it continues all the way along the back wall to the other side of the restaurant!
The queue does however move quite quickly, as we notice most diners are very quick to slurp down their bowl of ramen. The only slow pokes are the foreigners (us) who aren’t accustomed to slurping ramen at lightning fast speeds, and although the pressure of having and endless queue of hungry diners helps us eat more quickly than we otherwise would, we notice the seats around us being filled 2-3 times before we reach the bottom of our bowls.
The wait is not as bad as it seems, as once you enter the restaurant itself, the efficiency and almost rhythmic work of the staff is quite mesmerising, especially that of the owner, who almost effortlessly produces bowls and bowls of ramen with incredible speed and calmness.
The timing is also perfectly executed, such that the noodles are placed in front of us as we seat. But logistics aside, the bowl of ramen is really the star of the show here.
Fuunji’s broth is made from a mixture of roasted fish and chicken (rather than pork) bones, and although it doesn’t sound like the most exciting combination, it certainly packs a punch. The broth doesn’t taste much like chicken and is just as meaty in flavour as your typical pork based ramen broths, but also rich and satisfyingly creamy at the same time. It’s a very unique flavour which we fall in love with instantly, and quickly declare it our favourite ramen in Tokyo.
Whilst most diners opt for the Tsukemen option, there is also the option of ramen which is just as delicious. For an extra 100 yen, we also got a very generous sprinkle of shallots on top of the ramen!
We did try to focus our ramen adventures mostly within the Shinjuku area where we stayed, but it ended up spanning a much larger area and the shops being a lot harder to locate we had first thought. Nagi ramen was easily the most difficult to find, especially as we had tried to locate it in the dark and in pouring rain, as the entrance is literally a small stairwell located in an alleyway, marked only by a small sign, camouflaged within the many different neon signs lining the alleyway.
Walk up the incredibly steep stairwell and you’ll find yourself in the smallest space you could imagine, almost like a small attic that was designed more for storage than as a restaurant. We’re lucky enough to snag the last two remaining seats in the corner we’d otherwise have the trek back down the stairs to queue- there simply isn’t enough space in the restaurant or the staircase for anyone to stand. They’ve even got a bit of a DIY PVC pipe running from the kitchen to the entrance of the restaurant to let diners know when a seat is available in the restaurant!
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a nice photo here (it was too squishy for me to bring out my camera), so here’s a quick one from my phone. The broth is not of the thick porky type as it is sardine based, but is not fishy at all, and we quite enjoy the slight smokiness of the soup.
Our ramen adventures in Shinjuku wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the well-known Menya Musashi, easily the most spacious ramen joint we’ve come across. So spacious infact that it can fir the whole queue within the back wall of the restaurant, the lack of queue outside making it even more difficult to find.
The flavour of the soup is really intense, and the volume of soup given in comparison to other Tsukemen we’ve had in Japan give an indication of how concentrated the broth is. Infact a little too overpowering for me, I had to add a little bit of soup to thin it down a little, but delicious all the same. Rather than chashu slices, Menya Musashi’s pork comes in the form of chunks which are meltingly tender and satisfying.
Rokurinsha1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Station Ichibangai Basement Floor, B1F Yaesu South Exit) (map)
Ramen Fuunji2-14-3, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan (map)
Nagi Ramen1 Chome-9-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan (map)
Menya MusashiK-1 Bldg. 1F, 7-2-6 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku (map)