The question of how to eat ramen has always been sort of a puzzle for me. Do you shovel it into your maw salaryman-style with lightning-quick chopstick technique, emptying your bowl in one dizzying inhale? Or do you go it a few noodles at a time, pausing now and then to sip broth from the ramen spoon, hoping the chef can hear your zealous slurp of respect? Perhaps you even whip out your own fork for the job—and if you’re going to be that guy, you might as well go all the way and make it a Sugakiya ramen spork.
I encountered the famous ramen spork on my first trip to Sugakiya, a ramen chain in Aichi Prefecture, when this weirdo of a utensil showed up in my bowl. Typically, in an effort to balance the all-important noodle-to-broth ratio, I place clusters of noodles in the soup spoon and (clumsily) slide it all into my mouth with the broth. But at Sugakiya, I was met with a new quandary: How do you eat ramen with a spork without making an utter fool of yourself? The answer, my friend, is in those sweet, sweet tines.
What is Sugakiya Ramen?
Sugakiya is a well-known ramen chain native to the Chūbu and Kansai regions of Japan. With 327 ramen shops, Sugakiya primarily targets families and children in malls, shopping streets, and even a library or two in central Japan. They even include a variety of soft-serve ice cream flavors on their menu, a rarity among usually austere and distinctly grown-up ramen places.
But if Sugakiya is famous for one thing worldwide, it’s their gloriously dorky-looking spoon-fork innovation: the ramen spork.
Brief History of the Sugakiya Spork
Sugakiya was born in Sakae, the heart of Aichi Prefecture's capital city of Nagoya. The company was founded in the 1960s and actually started as an instant ramen manufacturer, only opening their own chain restaurant years later.
Product designer Masami Takahashi created the ramen spork for Sugakiya in hopes of both reducing the environmental waste of single-use wooden chopsticks and improving the ramen-eating experience. The charming utensil was even deemed worthy of sale at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Currently, you can buy your very own Masami Takahashi spork at the MoMA design store for 2,200 yen.
Why Do People Love Sugakiya Ramen?
1. Surprisingly Well-Designed Slurping
Eating ramen with a Sugakiya spork is much like eating spaghetti soup, if such a monstrosity existed. You twirl the noodles with the tines on the end of the spork and dip the spoon part in to collect some broth. Then, you just shove it all in your mouth at once like the classy sophisticate you are.
Admittedly, it's not that different from munching on the noodles with chopsticks while intermittently switching to the standard ramen soup spoon to slurp up some broth. But getting to experience both elements simultaneously is surprisingly satisfying, not to mention easier for children and those who lack noodle dexterity (myself included!).
2. A Cheap, Filling Meal
Much of Sugakiya's appeal lies in their cheap prices for large, hot bowls of ramen that would usually cost at least 600 yen at other ramen shops. But at Sugakiya, a standard, no-frills bowl of their signature ramen starts at only 290 yen with their simplest toppings: a small slice of pork, green onions, and seasoned bamboo shoots (or menma). You can upgrade your ramen to include more pork, an egg, and/or more vegetables, and it'll only increase the price to 340-420 yen.
Interestingly, another draw might in fact be the comparative lack of options at Sugakiya. Most ramen joints offer variations of the four common ramen flavors: soy sauce (shoyu), salt (shio), miso, and pork bone (tonkotsu), and sometimes other unique varieties. But Sugakiya only specializes in their particular spin on tonkotsu ramen, meaning no matter what you order, the same flavor will linger in your memory as belonging to Sugakiya ramen alone. No wonder the chain breeds loyal, lifelong fans of that one pork-tastic flavor across central Japan.
3. The “Soul Food” of Nagoya
Several of my friends native to Nagoya describe Sugakiya as a mandatory visit—not for the five-star cuisine, but for the simple experience of slurping an Aichi family staple. The tonkotsu ramen at this charming chain is an old standby, the "soul food of Nagoya," that people from central Japan famously grow nostalgic for when they move to farther prefectures. If you're looking to feel like a hungry Nagoyan three-year-old in your mommy's lap, Sugakiya is certainly the place (if any) to do so!
Where to Find Sugakiya Ramen
Sugakiya branches can be found in many family-oriented places around Aichi, like Aeon malls and several libraries around Nagoya, including Tsuruma Central Library and Aichi Prefectural Library. They're also in all the most popping spots in Nagoya, including three in Osu Kannon Shopping Street alone. Just look for the iconic red logo and little girl mascot with pigtails that defy the laws of physics.
Your Local Japanese Supermarket
To sate the noodle-y desires of Aichi natives in all prefectures, Sugakiya sells their original ramen as cup, instant, and even chilled ramen in grocery stores nationwide. Unlike with their restaurant menu, they've diversified their grocery products to include Japanese soup stock, or dashi, as well as a line of special cooking sauces, including one for Nagoya chicken wings, or tebasaki. You might even be able to find them at your local Asian grocer outside of Japan, as well.
Eating at Sugakiya ramen is a truly novelty experience for visitors to central Japan, worth it not only for the sporking good time, but also to feel a bit of authenticity in enjoying a beloved regional fast food chain. If you ever find yourself in Aichi, consider dropping three bucks on some comfort food ramen—or just buy the spork from MoMA and never use chopsticks again!
Feeling hungry? Browse these ramen experiences in Japan and get your slurp on!