If you are not among the ramen-obsessed, it's probably difficult to fathom how people can get so worked up about a bowl of soup. Sure, there are ramen's various elements and regional categories, intricate as some medieval scholastic doctrine; the delineation of broth and tare, of noodle and topping; and the endless beautiful myths of origin. But maybe just stop a minute to consider the experience.
|Tokushima ramen at Men Oh Tokushima Ramen|
A crowded shop the size of a large closet, bowls lined up along the bar like an altar, orders not intoned but shouted as you pull up a seat between hungry strangers. Steam rises from the enormous vats where noodles are dunked in military precision, your bowl filled and outfitted with the necessary components in exacting order, then presented to you, a silent gift. You eat from the bowl as fast as you're able, ignoring the scalding temperature, slurping the noodles before they have a chance to cool or mellow. The level in your bowl sinks in direct proportion to your rising happiness until you're done, chopsticks down, head bowed, seat pulled back for the next in line. I once timed the drunk guys at a midnight ramen joint in Shinagawa at, on average, seven minutes from the time they came through the door, ramen ticket in hand, to when they left, still drunk but cheerfully sated.
You may prefer your ramen earlier in the day, with or without friends and booze and bullet trains, but the happiness factor is pretty much the same. And thankfully, there are many, many ramen shops a lot closer to home for us than Tokyo. More »