As you may already know, I love ramen. So when my buddy Mark from WorkLifeinJapan told me about a ramen tour with a Tokyo native, my stomach thought “what are you waiting for?”
An hour later, I found myself with gang of ramen heads led by Frank Striegl. Frank is a ramen aficionado and the blogger behind 5amRamen.com. He recently started walking tours of Tokyo’s diverse ramen houses. So in between slurps of noodles, I interviewed him (Mandarin version for WorklifeinJapan be found here):
KENT: Frank, tell the audience at FunFriendsFoodTravel.com about yourself
FRANK: I'm a Filipino American that grew up in Tokyo. As such, I was exposed to ramen at a very early age - I literally grew up on ramen! I'm a huge fan of noodles and believe that ramen is the tastiest hot noodle dish out there.
KENT: For those just getting into ramen, what are the basic types/styles of ramen?
FRANK: The most well known ramen types are
shoyu — soy sauce - the OG
shio — salt - light and refreshing
tonkotsu — pork bone broth- creamy
miso — sweet and savory, the umami bomb
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other types of ramen, like tsukemen (dipping noodles) or abura soba (soupless ramen).
KENT: Why do you see so much recent innovation in ramen? After going on tour with you, I’m convinced that as ramen’s evolution is speeding up. Who would have thought I’d enjoy ramen with pesto sauce?!
FRANK: I think this is because of ramen's relatively young history. Since ramen is really only about 130 years old, there aren't that many rules. Ramen has always been about experimenting and trying new things (pesto sauce included)!
KENT: What are the qualities of good ramen?
FRANK: There needs to be a harmonious marriage between broth, noodles and toppings. Dedicated ramen chefs are able to achieve this harmony.
KENT: What is your favorite ramen joint in Tokyo, London and Taipei?
FRANK: Tokyo is tough because there are so many good ramen joints. I'll visit different shops and have different types of ramen depending on my mood. But one of my all times favorites in Tokyo is Soba Dining Quattro near Shinagawa. They might have an unusual name for a ramen shop...but their take on ramen is unique and their ramen is insanely delicious. Another shop I really like is Ramen Ren in Kamata. They have terrific miso ramen and tsukemen.
I haven't explored much of the ramen scene in those cities outside of Japan you mentioned. In London I do remember enjoying my bowl at Kanadaya (tonkotsu ramen with truffle sauce).
Whenever I'm in Taipei, I'm usually diving into the local cuisine at the night markets. Taiwan is an adventure for any kind of noodle.
KENT: What’s your story behind your Tokyo Ramen Tour? What style do you start with first and what should you end with?
FRANK: So I’m trying to build a new experience in Tokyo. I’ve started a Ramen Tasting Tour. I take participants to 3 award-winning ramen shops in Tokyo to experience different styles of ramen (6 tour-exclusive mini bowls).
For this particular tour, I think it's important to start with a lighter ramen. The end should include ramen that surprises and pleases and is definitely heavier than the start...but not too heavy. It's almost like a piano concerto - you want people to walk away with a varied experience and satisfying finish.
KENT: Eating several ramen bowls requires a serious appetite! Do you take your guests on a run in between bites?
FRANK: Running in between bites - there's an idea! On the Ramen Tasting Tour we all hop on the train and walk to each of the ramen shops. This certainly helps everyone burn some calories and work up an appetite before each bite.
KENT: How do you select the chefs you work with?
FRANK: First and foremost, the ramen shops on the Ramen Tasting Tour make ramen that's out of this world. These places have serious game for the styles they produce. Tokyo has an incredible variety of ramen places. So it also comes down to the customer, I have to make sure the ramen is tailored to the people joining the tours (not just ramen that I personally enjoy).
KENT: What’s your favorite and most unusual bowl of ramen you’ve had?
FRANK: Hmmm...tequila ramen or green tea ramen were 2 of the most unusual I've had. They weren't exactly one my favorite though! If the ramen has to meet both criteria, I've always liked the pineapple ramen at Papapapine.
KENT: So there you have it. If you want to visit some of Tokyo’s most interesting ramen joints, check out Frank’s Tour and blog at 5amRamen.com. Below is the list of places we toured with the Frank. You’ll want to visit these places with Frank to get the full experience.
Here’s the video from the Ramen Tasting Tour experience:
Stop 1: Ramen Emoto Masahiro
〒150-0044, 28-8 Maruyamacho
Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0044
Stop 2: Ramen Nagi
Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0002, Japan
Phone: +81 3-6427-4558
Stop 3: Shuuichi (Ramen)
1 Chome-7-4 Ebisunishi
Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0021
PS. MARK, we need to do Tokyo’s top ten burger joints!
Kent is a management consultant who has spent years traveling for work. His refuge is looking for the perfect meal so that he can reproduce it at home with his wife and friends.