With strict rules about etiquette, specialized lingo that puts Starbucks to shame, and an ordering system that sounds like a magic spell, Ramen Jiro is the only bowl of ramen you'll ever have to study for.
If you haven't heard about Ramen Jiro you're missing out on the junkiest of junk food ramen, known for massive portions, gruff shop staff, and their chant-like ordering system (find out more in The Cult of Ramen Jiro and join the ranks of the initiated). But the highest hurdle a Ramen Jiro newbie has to clear is not the amount of food, but the ordering etiquette and lingo. To take the fear out of ordering Ramen Jiro's Everest-sized ramen, here's a guide covering the basics about how to order at Ramen Jiro, plus some bonus jargon thrown in at the end.
There are around 40 Ramen Jiro locations in the Tokyo area and each has a slightly different way of doing things. Ramen Jiro Shinjuku (Kabukicho) is one of the better branches for first-timers as the broth and chashu pork are much less fatty than at other locations. The staff are also a bit nicer. Ramen Jiro in Hachioji is known as one of the tastiest, while the Ramen Jiro Sagamiono shop is rumored to be owned by a former sumo wrestler, so that's kind of cool.
Take along a bottle of water (or tea/soft drink) and napkins or tissues, as not all locations supply them.
Depending on the locations, you may need to:
Choose your size at the vending machine - 小 (Sho - Small) or 大 (Dai - Large). The small at Jiro is much bigger than regular ramen servings elsewhere, so stick with small if you are a first-timer.
While you are still in line, the staff may come around asking whether you want a small or large serving. If you already have a ticket, show it. They just want to know the amount of noodles to cook, and nothing else at this time. DO NOT ask for extra toppings yet.
Protocol for seating may differ from location to location, so it's best to follow the staff’s lead. Once seated, try not to stand up until you are done. Place your ticket on the raised countertop in front of you so the staff can see it. Then watch and wait...
Just before the bowl comes your way, you will be asked, “Nin-niku iremasuka?” (ニンニク 入れますか？- Add garlic?), referring to chopped raw garlic. This question is also an invitation for you to ask for extra toppings (more on that later). Alternatively, they may ask "Toppingu wa?" (トッピングは？- Toppings?). But if you are a beginner, stick with these responses:
Just as you wouldn't add more salt to a dish before tasting it, first-timers really should go with "Deforuto" (default). However, if you're feeling adventurous or want to become a seasoned Ramen Jiro pro, try some of the customizations below.
At Call #1, along with the amount of noodles (small or large), you can specify the noodle’s firmness:
When the shopkeeper asks about garlic you can also customize the amounts of toppings.
Jumon is a play on words, a pun on chumon (注文) meaning to order. At Jiro, you cast a spell to customize your order.
Refers to Ramen Jiro Mita Main Store.
Refers to Takumi Yamada, the founder of Ramen Jiro and the owner of the Mita Main Store.
These folks worship only at the Mita Main Store and are not patrons of other Ramen Jiro shops.
A Ramen Jiro fanatic. Probably uses this kind of lingo on a daily basis.
A sophisticated Ramen Jiro-eating technique. Involves pulling ramen noodles up out of the broth and over the vegetables. Will make sure the noodles won’t sop up the soup and expand to intimidating proportions. Also helps cool off the noodles and flavor the vegetables with the broth from below.
Refers to Jiro Sagamiono Ekimae, where the shop owner is rumored to be an ex-sumo wrestler.
Japanese pronunciation of the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. A type of order for when “mashi mashi” (add much more) doesn’t quite cut it. It’s so huge that some Ramen Jiro locations do not support this level of gluttony. If you do manage to order it, be prepared to finish the whole bowl under scrutiny from everyone in the shop.
Refers to when someone can’t finish their bowl and, shamefully, must give up. If they ordered "mashi" or "mashi mashi" the level of shame increases exponentially.