There's something wonderful about ramen. In a country full of culinary delights, it remains a highlight. The noodle soup is also incredibly varied, with almost as many different types as there are regions. With so many kinds of broths, noodle textures, firmness, and, of course, toppings, there's always something new to try. The best way to experience all of the ramen goodness that Japan has to offer is by heading to one of Japan's many ramen towns. These five should be at the top of any ramen adventurer's list.
Most visits to Japan begin in Tokyo, and so should your ramen tour. Home of some of the best ramen in Japan, Tokyo is a noodle-lover's paradise. With people moving to Tokyo from all corners of the country, you can find almost every variety in existence. From Hakata-style tonkotsu to Sapporo butter miso, it's all there for the taking.
Tokyo also has its own ramen, shoyu (soy sauce), with creaky old establishments still serving the same recipes after generations. Expect negi (green onions), menma (pickled bamboo shoots), bean sprouts, and a swirly-printed fish cake called naruto as toppings. Tokyo is also home to the new ramen vanguard, with adventurous chefs pushing the envelope of what ramen is and can be. For our yen, though, some of Tokyo's best ramen is actually tsukemen, dipping ramen with a thick and vinegary soup served on the side.
Did you know? Tokyo's most expensive ramen is priced at $100 — and it's worth the splurge. Book this once-in-a-lifetime experience on byFood.
2. Hakata (Fukuoka)
Fukuoka is a major city on Kyushu, Japan's southernmost big island. Known as Hakata to the locals, it's home to one of Japan's main ramen varieties, tonkotsu. First developed in nearby Kurume in the 1930s, it's now best known as Hakata ramen. With its thin, hard noodles and creamy broth made from boiled pig bones (the literal meaning of tonkotsu), Hakata ramen is best enjoyed at one of the city's many outdoor food stalls (yatai in Japanese). You can find them clustered in the Tenjin and Nakasu areas. Just pull up a stool and order a steaming bowl of Hakata ramen. For toppings, you'll find chashu pork, negi, kikurage mushrooms and benishoga, pickled red ginger. Don't forget to save room for kaedama, an extra serving of noodles. Just say, "Kaedama kudasai!" ("Extra noodles, please!")
For fans of miso ramen, you'll want to hop a plane to the far north. Your destination: Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. There, you'll find the birthplace of miso ramen, one of Japan's main ramen types. Hearty, flavorful, and packed with umami, miso ramen is the perfect food for a cold winter's day — and Hokkaido gets very cold indeed. The bold miso punch is enhanced by the use of aged, crinkly noodles, which soak up the flavor. Common toppings include bean sprouts, negi, and chashu pork. Try adding butter and corn, two native Hokkaido ingredients, for an even richer experience. Sapporo is jammed to the gills with ramen restaurants, but for the full experience, head to Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho, aka Ramen Alley, and start your miso ramen hero's journey there.
Ramen is regularly eaten for lunch, dinner, and as a late-night snack. But for breakfast? Called asara, morning ramen is pretty rare in most of Japan. One place that wholeheartedly embraces ramen for breakfast, though, is Kitakata. Located in the mountains of Fukushima, this town of less than 50,000 people boats the highest concentration of ramen shops per capita, with more than 130 locations — some even open for breakfast. Kitakata ramen is characterized by its high-quality shoyu base bolstered with niboshi, or dried baby sardines. This is complemented by thick, wavy noodles with a higher percentage than usual of water, making them easy to slurp. Negi green onions, menma, chashu pork, and naruto often join the party. Kitakata is relatively remote, so it's only for the ramen headstrong, but if that's you, then surely a visit for a bowl of morning ramen is in order.
Yamagata Prefecture, sitting on the Sea of Japan side of northern Japan, is bitterly cold in the winter, with wind and snow blowing in from Siberia. Yamagata residents have learned to brave the cold by slurping piping hot bowls of ramen, with locals regularly eating more ramen than other places in Japan. One city where the ramen competition is particularly fierce is Nanyo, which has more than 50 shops within a five-kilometer radius. While there's no one single type that dominates, Nanyo's most famous variety is spicy miso. Called karamiso in Japanese, a broth of pork, chicken, vegetables, and niboshi is topped with a dollop of spicy red miso, which permeates warmly throughout the soup as you eat. Chewy noodles, chashu pork, negi, menma, and other toppings add to the experience. Spicy miso was born at Akayu Ramen Ryu Shanghai, but there are plenty of other places to try.
Pro Ramen Travel Tips
Japan is packed with so much good ramen that it's impossible to list all of its seichi, or sacred spots. Along with the five mentioned here, other towns worth visiting include Onomichi in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kumamoto, and Yokohama, the birthplace of ramen. If you don't have time to head into the hinterlands but still want to try a variety of noodle bowls, Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum houses five restaurants from around the world, including Nanyo's Ryu Shanghai. Fukuoka Ramen Stadium at Canal City Hakata likewise features eight ramen joints in one convenient food court. Most are Kyushu-based, but Sapporo is also represented.
While most ramen is made with chicken, pork, or seafood, Japan has great vegetarian and vegan options too. If you're visiting Tokyo, this vegan ramen tour was designed just for you.