The Rise of Premium Ramen

by Ramen Hero - July 06, 2021

He will introduce us to some of the latest ramen trends in the world. Ramen Guide Japan is currently serving as a Guest Editor at Ramen Hero. He introduce Japanese cutting-edge ramen trend in the world. If you are interested in his other content, you can check out Ramen Guide Japan!

 

One of the prevailing trends in the culinary industry is the quest for dishes using high quality, local ingredients. Chefs around the world scour farmer’s markets and seek out local producers for the chance to get their hands on high quality ingredients for use in their restaurants to provide an authentic, farm to table dining experience. Tokyo has been no different and ramen shops have been utilizing domestic, Japanese producers of chicken, pork, shoyu, and vegetables for years now in order to serve the highest quality ramen they possibly can. What was once just a casual, quick meal soon became a gourmet delicacy with chefs ushering in a new era of injecting premiere culinary techniques and high end ingredients into their simple bowls. 


Arguably, the chef who pioneered this change was the late Sano Minoru who started the popular ramen shop 支那そばや (Shina Soba-ya) in the late 80s. Sano-san was a self proclaimed ingredient nerd who traveled up and down Japan looking for the perfect pieces for his ramen. Due to his insistence on using high end ingredients, his ramen was priced a bit higher than what was typically bench marked in the industry. While there was a slight backlash due to the price hike, ramen enthusiasts and gourmet hunters soon embraced the price point as it arguably accurately reflected the quality and preparation of Sano-san’s bowls. Both the ramen itself and the customers’ acceptance of Sano-san’s price point inspired a new generation of ramen masters to explore the ceiling of ramen and see how high they can take it. The following is a list of what I consider some of the best shops who pioneered this elegant trend and ones to add to your ramen itinerary.


Ramen-ya Toy Box (ラーメン屋 トイ・ボックス)

 

 

 

Arguably one of the best in class for taking chicken shoyu ramen to the next level is Ramen-ya Toy Box which popularized the now trending 水鶏, or chicken and water, ramen style. The concept is simple…take the core, basic elements of chicken shoyu ramen and elevate them by using the highest quality ingredients, as Sano-san would have done, while still balancing the overall flavor profile of the bowl. In following this concept, Toy Box created a pure, elegant, and ultra refined ramen that has both ramen masters and ramen enthusiasts raving. The most popular menu item is the Shoyu Ramen, but they make some phenomenal Shio and Miso varieties as well, so worth making multiple visits (or multiple bowls per visit!) for a full rounded Toy Box experience. 


Toy Box uses the finest, domestic chicken and the results are mind blowing. Soup is brimming with deep, impactful chicken flavors which comes from Sansui Chicken, which was popularized by Sano-san, and a variety of Shamo typically used for cock fighting in Southeast Asia. The broth, made from these high end chicken breeds, is then combined with a shoyu tare composed of 7 handpicked soy sauces from around Japan (at the time of writing) giving it a kick of umami in the process. Noodles are crafted to perfectly pair with the soup for a thin, but snappy finish and an incredibly satisfying slurp. 


Ramen Sugimoto (らぁ麺 すぎ本)

 

 

Ramen Sugimoto is a former Shina Sobaya disciple with the master having had the late Sano-san sample his ramen before opening his shop for service. A short TV documentary was made about his opening leading to huge lines since its inception which continues to this day. Ramen Sugimoto recently moved into the Aobadai area of Kanagawa where they make their own noodles and create their beautiful soup for a truly unforgettable experience. The shop was a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient for four straight years and produces quality ramen that exemplifies that distinction. 


Three key points that owner Sugimoto-san prides his ramen on are the noodles, broth, and toppings. For the noodles, Sugimoto-san handcrafts them at his shop using flour sourced from Hokkaido prefecture; Haruyokoi and Kitahonami being the two most famous out of a blend of five varieties. The combination makes for a unique slipperiness and flour aroma which radiates with every bite. Second is the broth which utilizes the Sansui Jidori, a brand variety of chicken popularized by Sano-san as mentioned earlier. In addition to the Sansui Jidori, Sugimoto-san also incorporates pork bones and different dried seafood elements to infuse different flavor profiles to pair alongside his house made noodles. Finally the chashu toppings, of which the bowl comes in pork and chicken varieties. The chicken is a domestic Daisan dori while the pork is sourced from the Galicia area of Spain. The three Kodawari elements combine to make an incredible bowl that I’m sure would make even Sano-san proud. 


Motenashi Kuroki (饗 くろ喜)

 

 

Motenashi Kuroki has long been known as one of the best Shio ramen makers in Tokyo and rightfully so. While the other bowls I’ve showcased so far have been Shoyu, which Kuroki also serves, Kuroki’s Shio is so well known that I had to include it here. Opened in 2011, Kuroki has continuously been one of the top shops in Tokyo thanks to his use of premium ingredients, not only for his ramen, but his side dishes as well. Noodles are made in house utilizing Kuroki-san’s years of ramen making experience and provide two types; a thick hand massaged type and a thin snappy version. 


The soup base is made using an animal broth of chicken, pork, and duck with a kombu dashi and vegetables added for aromatics. No seafood elements in his soup, but Kuroki-san does a phenomenal job of drawing every bit of impactful flavors from his other ingredients. His Kodawari, or key points, of his ramen are the use of five different types of salt for his Shio Ramen tare seasoning as well as garnishing his bowls with Kujo Negi, a Japanese premium brand green onion. Even his menma bamboo shoots are of utmost quality, sourcing them from a local producer in Fukuoka prefecture. The combination of these ingredients aren’t just for show as they balance perfectly for an incredible bowl of ramen. Roasted tomato toppings give the ramen an extra push of umami and the raw peppercorn is one of a kind with very few shops utilizing this in their bowls. 


Konjiki Hototogisu (SOBA HOUSE 金色不如帰)

 

 

Michelin star restaurant Konjiki Hototogisu is probably the most prestigious of the bunch having claimed numerous awards since the master, Yamamoto-san, opened in 2008. Since then, the shop has moved into their current Shinjuku Gyoen location where they were crowned a Michelin one star which they still hold today. The master trained at Eifukucho Taishoken dreaming of some day opening a shop serving similar ramen until trying the ramen at Shina Sobaya. Seeing the progressive style of Sano-san using high end ingredients and raising the price point to reflect the ramen’s quality, Yamamoto-san set out to try different premium ingredients not commonly used for his one of a kind bowl. After numerous trial and error, Hototogisu settled on a clam based ramen which garnered them all of their countless awards. 


As you might expect from a Michelin starred restaurant, the ambiance is top notch and the ramen is unrivaled. The reason for their move to this new location was for a bigger space to make their own noodles, something that the previous shop was too small to handle. When you grab a bowl here, be sure to appreciate the time and dedication put into these noodles as it pairs perfectly with their clam based soup. The current iteration of the soup uses three types of clams, Madai snapper, and different katsuobushi and niboshi for an incredibly impactful, umami enriched soup. A bit of truffle infused oil finishes the bowl for that extra touch of extravagance and premium feel that you’d expect from a Michelin star. A bit of porcini mushrooms elevate the soup for that subtle bump in umami feel for an incredibly satisfying ramen. 


Ramenya Shima (らぁ麺や 嶋)

 

 

The newest shop on this list is Ramenya Shima which has a connection to Sano-san that is a bit more obvious than just inspiration. The master at Shima trained at the former Ramen Museum location of Sano-san’s Shina Sobaya and the esteemed Kashiwagi in Higashi Nakano before opening his own shop near Shinjuku Go-chome station. Shima serves four ramen varieties; Shoyu, Shio and Tsukemen in both tare options. Taking on direct training as well as getting his noodles made by Shina Sobaya itself, many have hyped up the shop before it even served their first bowl with people queuing for hours to try a bowl. 


What makes the ramen here at Shima so special is the utilization of high end ingredients, much like Sano-san, with Shima steeping their broth with the Sansui Jidori, a brand name domestic Japanese chicken akin to Wagyu beef in chicken form popularized by Sano-san. The broth is 100% chicken using them whole and adding spare chicken bones and momiji chicken feet. Aroma oil is also chicken using rendered chicken fat to give the soup a mellowing, deep flavor profile. The Tokusei comes adorned with wontons, pork chashu slices, sous vide chicken, and an Ajitama soft boiled egg for a truly decadent bowl of ramen. The balance is phenomenal and makes for a truly one of a kind experience that is definitely worth the time invested in the queue.