Friday, June 17, 2016

Travel | Kyoto 2016: Ramen- Impossibly large, delicious and firey!



Ramenso Chikyu Kibo


Our Airbnb host had kindly provided us a guide to the local area, and starred all the restaurants he recommended- this was the only one with three stars so we had to try it. If you’re anything like me and plan your trip around recommendations on the internet, you’d never end up at this restaurant (search the name up on google and you’ll barely find a mention). About the tiniest ramen bar I’ve been to, Ramenso Chikyu Kibo inconspicuously tucked away within the quiet residential area of Fushimi (not to be confused with Fushimi Inari).

Blink and you’ll miss it.

There’s no signage to the restaurant, nor is there any type of fancy décor. When we first walked past it before they opened, we honestly thought it was a warehouse. And we probably wouldn’t have realised it was the restaurant we had on our itinerary were it not for the line of people outside!



Before you hop in line, order from the vending machine- we’d used a couple of these before at other ramen shops so we thought we’d be fine…..until we realised none of the options were in English. Since the only word I could really read was “pork” and “noodle”, which wasn’t particularly helpful in this situation, we took a random stab at the machine and ordered two of the dearer options thinking it’s probably be more interesting than the cheaper ones.

The machine spits out coloured plastic tags instead of tickets, with a different colour corresponding to a different ramen (there were a couple of people in line with the same colour as me so I figured I was off to a good start). As the waiter informs us, the shop sells large sized ramen- so if you don’t think you can finish it all, add a peg to the tag to indicate you want a smaller portion. You’ll probably want to add the tag, even if you think you’re hungry, because if you order the regular size, you have to finish it all!

The restaurant is mostly self-serviced- there’s a little shelf at the entrance where you grab your heated hand towels, chopsticks and water. Place your tag on the counter and your ramen will be served. Hopefully you will be hungry too…..

Mystery Ramen #2 (regular size) 900yen

Because they were not kidding when they said their ramen were large!

For the regular sized ramen, the bowl is filled to the top with noodles, and then topped with a ridiculous amount of meat. Forget the two thin slices of chashu you usually get with your ramen- these are big, thick chunks of stewed pork, with enough pieces to cover the noodles completely!

Topped with enough garlic to give you garlic breath for a week (optional), the ramen was definitely not lacking in flavour! The broth was soy based, and not too heavy, such that the meat was what was giving it most of the flavour. The noodles are of the thicker variety and remind me of the maze soba I had in Osaka, although maze soba is dry whilst this one is in soup.


Mystery ramen (small sized) 1050yen

For the smaller sized ramen, the bowl is filled with less noodles, but still easily enough to feed two. We’d ordered two different ramens but we soon figured that the only difference between the ramen options were the toppings. The 1050yen version is the most expensive on the menu, and comes with a mountain of meat, made up of pork belly chunks as well as the slices of stewed pork. The meat is surprisingly tender and moist, especially the sliced chashu which we see cooking away in a big pot in the kitchen (I’m not as much of a fan of the pork chunks which are quite fatty). There’s enough flavour without being overly salty and the meat could easily be served as a dish in itself! Even if impossibly large serving sizes aren’t your thing, you’d want to come and try the ramen for the pork slices.

We're slow to make progress, with all 6 other diners who started at the same time as us leaving before we’re even halfway through (we’re not used to eating at a fast pace!) but we did end up finishing our ramen, a feat we do feel proud of!

Arashiyama Bamboo Groves


There's only really two tourist spots we're particularly keen to see in Kyoto, one being the red gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha, the other being the bamboo groves in Arashiyama. It's my second time visiting and it's interesting how much more details I noticed this time, for example these mini stone set models set up on the side of the path.


But food first! We love the little set up of small stalls right at the entrance of the bamboo groves and we're eyeing all the ice cream options, given the warm weather.


We end up going for the super creamy soft serve, which is very reasonably priced considering its location!


The bamboo groves are as beautiful as we remember, and just like the photos although with the crowds, it is impossible to take a perfect shot. 


We venture further in hopes of finding the perfect photo spot, without the crowds and end up stumbling upon this beautiful lake.






Ramen Sen No Kaze





We were yet to have our ramen fix for the day, so we queued up at Ramen Sen No Kaze which I’d bookmarked from somewhere (but had no recollection of it). The wait was quite long, and I must admit, we almost decided to give up and try the ninja restaurant across from it instead. But boy were we glad we didn’t!

We’re seated right at the bar so we watched all the action whilst we waited- all ramen are made to order, so be prepared for a bit of the wait. You can order the ramen alone, or for a little bit more in a variety of sets which may include anything from rice to gyoza to salad. I still don’t understand why people eat rice with ramen but maybe that’s just me. 


We order ours with gyoza, which are premade and frozen and then slid onto the gyoza grill to heat for a couple of minutes. We’ve enjoyed every gyoza experience in Japan and this was no exception- with its delicate thin wrapping and beautifully crisp bottom. There are three sauces to dip them in, but I find the soft pork and cabbage filling tasty enough to eat on its own. 

But as delicious as the gyoza are- save your stomach space for the ramen!

The menu notes that the most popular ramen are the Yamato no Miso and the Kyo no Shio- with the miso variety more popular with the tourists and the shio variety more popular with the locals. Of course we try both!


The Yamato no Miso soup base certainly packs a punch, with a strong bold flavour from the miso- I can definitely see why it’s so popular with the locals. There’s a good balance of flavours such that the lightness of the pork broth is still noticeable, and the miso too salty nor overwhelming. The noodles are nice and bouncy, and there’s quite a bit going on with the toppings, in the form of bean sprouts, shallots and minced pork.

And while we’re speaking about the toppings, let me draw your attention to the chashu. I don’t usually really care much for chashu in ramen- it’s nice and all, but there’s a bit too much fat for my liking and not that exciting. This chashu however, is not simply a matter of stewed pork belly- they even dedicate a special grill just for heating the pork belly slices! Each pork slice is grilled until golden with a light char- it’s not a simple process, and we watch quite a few get thrown away from being overcooked. But the result is quite amazing- the grilling enhancing the complexity of flavours and imparting a light smoky flavour. And the fat is so crispy, it’s like bacon. Only better. 


The Kyo no Shio is apparently more popular with the locals, but as even tourists, this one is the one that really knocks our socks off. The toppings are basically the same, and again the chashu are three slices of heaven that we wish we’d ordered more of. But with this ramen, even the chashu can’t steal the spotlight away from the soup base. 

Whereas the miso flavoured broth had quite a strong flavour, the shio (salt flavoured) one is much lighter and subtle. It’s surprisingly creamy, almost like drinking a milk based soup but with the fragrant taste of pork, and it’s one of the less oily soup ramen broths I’ve had in Japan. There’s quite a few reviews on Tripadvisor rating it as the ‘best’ ramen they’ve ever tried, and whilst I don’t really usually believe anything ever the ‘best’ (everything’s relative right?), I’m actually quite tempted to join that clan.



We head to the Nishiki markets for a quick stroll after lunch- a long covered market with plenty of food offerings which we find quite similar to the Kuromon Ichiba Markets in Osaka. As tempting as all the offerings are, we’re a little too full to try anything so we let our camera do all the ‘eating’ so to speak……

Menbakaichidai 

We’re back at Fire Ramen for dinner as they re-open at 6pm- it’s not quite as popular as we’d imagined, despite its high Tripadvisor rating, with only a handful of tourists when we arrived. We were imagining long queues but maybe having ramen lit on fire isn’t everyone’s thing.



No photos for this one, because cameras and fire are a no-no. The whole counter looks a bit oily and burnt, but they do take safety seriously, with a number of safety instructions prior to serving the ramen- almost like the mandatory safety demonstrations you get before a flight. All personal belongings are to be placed out of the way, aprons are given to protect clothes, hands are to be kept behind you and running away is not allowed. Any fringes need to be tied up, fountain style specifically (for the lols), and they even provide a selection of coloured hair elastics for this purpose. Talk about Japanese hospitality!

We opt for the ‘special set’ (2150yen) because it is the only one which comes with a ‘cool badge’. It also includes fire ramen, fried rice, gyoza and fried chicken but who really cares about that when you have a cool badge?

The fire ramen itself isn’t particularly special, a simple bowl of ramen topped with plenty of green onions. It’s a little on the salty side and quite oily after the fire, but we were really more here for the experience than the noodles. And what an experience it was to have your ramen light up in a massive flame only inches away from your face!

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