Ramen in Japan is as wide and varied as chili or barbecue in the United States. From miso and shoyu (soy sauce) to shio (salt) and tonkotsu (pork bone), each prefecture and region has their own specialty of ramen, and each shop has their own particular take.
Dedicated ramen aficionados like Keizo Shimamoto, father of the Ramen Burger, go to great lengths to try as many variations of the dish as possible. In 2009, Shimamoto ate 55 bowls in 28 days, across 21 cities, in order to learn everything he could about this beloved dish.
Vegetarians, though, need not be left out of the experience. A handful of chefs and shop owners believe in ramen for everyone, and to that end have created dishes just as mouth-wateringly good as their meaty cousins. Move over, pork: it’s veggie time.
Chabuzen’s onigiri set
(Photo by Joan Bailey)
This little shop in Shimokitazawa is where Daiji Takada works his magic with two burners, a grill, and a kitchen space not much larger than a recliner. From this tiny space comes a menu of mostly vegetarian soups, curries, and of course, ramen, along with one or two fish and chicken dishes. Five years ago, Takada noticed an unmet demand for meatless ramen and decided to try his hand at it. The vegetarian miso ramen packs a pleasant kick while the vegan version—meaning no garlic, onion, long onion, nira (garlic chives) or rakkyou (Japanese leek)—offers a light and smooth broth. Paired with the brown-rice onigiri set, it makes for a perfect meal.
6-16-20 Daita, Setagaya-ku. Wed-Mon 12-3pm & 5-11pm. Nearest station: Shimokitazawa.
Loving Hut’s soy milk-based tantan
(Photo by Joan Bailey)
Jimbocho, Tokyo’s famed book-selling district, is home to ramen shops aplenty. However, a 10-minute walk from the train station is one well worth searching out. Masae Yoshii opened the Tokyo branch of this international franchise in 2008 out of a desire to do her part to change the world, one bowl of noodles at a time. The spicy soy milk-based tantan, with savory chunks of soy meat and seasonal greens grown on Yoshii’s organic farm in Chiba, is rich, warm and satisfying. The deep smoky flavor of Youjou Men, a soup that was reportedly conceived for Mongolian royalty and uses traditional Chinese medicinals, comes in either spicy or regular. And it’s just what the doctor ordered.
1-54 Kanda, Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku. Mon-Fri 11:30am-5pm & 6-9pm; Sat 11:30am-3:30pm. Nearest station: Jimbocho.
T’S TANTAN MEN
A branch of the successful vegetarian T’s Restaurant in Jiyūgaoka, T’s Tantan opened inside Tokyo Station in 2011. Offering a noodle-centric menu based on popular dishes from their flagship store, the owner hoped to spread the good news about vegan eating quickly and deliciously to travelers. The menu boasts five kinds of tantan ramen, including spicy-sour and a green version topped with pumpkin seeds, as well as a solid shoyu-based vegan ramen. A side dish of their scrumptious soy chahan (fried rice) is necessary and oh-so wonderful.
Keiyo Street, Tokyo Station, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. 7am-11pm. Nearest station: Tokyo; visitors must be inside the turnstiles.