We had perused the archives of Ramen Tokyo most assiduously in preparation for what to expect at a Ramen-ya in Japan. We had read of the interminable lines and of the push-button Nihongo-only ticket pre-ordering with no photos whatsoever. We read of tiny shops with only counter seating, and of patrons who dined solo, heads-down, looking and interacting with no one until their bowl is thus rapidly consumed. We read of instances where couples and friends may not necessarily get to sit next to each other. We read of having to procure your drinks prior to arrival, or at least while waiting in line (usually there is a vending machine or two nearby), of the need to bring a packet of tissues or your hankachi (handkerchief) since no napkins would be provided.We had heard of Ippudo Ramen because of its outpost in New York and some recommendations from friends and blogs, but had not done much research beyond that.
Well, Ippudo Ramen near the Shinsaibashi Station in Osaka was nothing like the descriptions above. We had walked from our hotel in the Dotonbori, passing through miles and miles (it seemed) of Shinsaibashi shops, got a little lost, but eventually found the spot just a few minutes before noon. No line, no sign of life really… until we crossed the threshold. Had we done a little more research we would have discovered that Ippudo is definitely a classier joint. This restaurant looked large – it was narrow and long rather than wide, everything seemed bright, sleek and shiny, and there seemed to be picnic-style bench tables as well as counter seats (if a picnic-style table was made artfully in a rustic, rough-cut style and exposed grain polished to a high sheen). We were greeted by a smiling server immediately and waved to a table, upon which was clustered a number of intriguing sauce canisters and bowls of pickles. She also brought us a nice bucket for our bags and coats.
The menu was entirely in Japanese but contained photos and between these and our broken Japanese we were able to order. DD chose the version that contained a knob of spicy miso - Akamaru Kasaneaji (赤丸新味); I opted for the bowl that flanked the other side of the menu (一風堂かさね味) and showed something similar to Danny's except without the spicy miso and with nori, chasu and shoyu tamago. They apparently also have a very reasonable lunch special that includes mini gyoza and all-you-can-eat rice for just ￥100 more.
Ippudo Ramen is Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen. This means that the noodles are not curly, and generally have a firmer texture…and the broth is inevitably, gloriously, tonkotsu pork broth, simmered for many hours until it achieves a milky-white consistency. It originates in Fukuoka, Kyushu, where its founder "Ramen King" Shigemi Kawahara first started the chain of over 50 locations, including outposts in New York and Singapore.
Our server had asked us about the noodle firmness, pointing the little graphic in the lower corner of the menu. Basically the ranges state ふつう- futsuu, or normal; カタ- kata - firm, or バリカタ – bari kata - very firm. DD told the server “omakase” – chef’s choice; I selected kata. I ended up enjoying DD’s futsu noodles better – mine were larger in circumference and a bit too thick and chewy for my taste. All in all Ippudo was a huge improvement from the Kinryuu Ramen we had on our first delirious night in Osaka; the broth was richer and more complex-tasting, and we enjoyed the varied sauces and extra toppings at the table. The surroundings were sparkly clean, classy, with paper napkins and self-serve Roobios tea to boot. However, towards the end my broth became a bit too salty, and I just couldn't finish it without more noodles (which I could have ordered had I been physically able to consume more) to temper the dish. At ￥850 each for a delicious, filling bowl of ramen, this was definitely one of our cheaper meals of the trip.
It seems we had arrived at just the right time since lines had begun to form by the time we left.
This Osaka branch of Ippudo is located in the Namba district, near the Shinsaibashi subway station.
一風堂長堀店, 〒542-0081 大阪府大阪市中央区南船場３丁目１１−２８ tel.: +81 6-4704-7101
Ippudo, 〒 542-0081 Minamisenba 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 11-28 tel:+81 6-4704-7101