Ramen, more than any other soup, will divide people. Are you after an opaque tonkotsu or a brighter chicken shoyu broth? Firm hand-cut noodles or soft squiggly noodles? Do you add in some intense black garlic or keep it simple? Would you like your chasu extra fatty or thinly sliced and lean…
Each ramen house will have its own distinctive broth, but toppings (mushrooms, eggs, seaweed, bamboo and corn) and seasonings (soy, miso, salt) let you cater to your own tastes.
Need a winter challenge? Find your favourite ramen in Sydney the old fashioned way – try them all. We did, and regret nothing except that we now need to buy bigger jeans
Not feeling like ramen? Check out Sydney's best Japanese restaurants.
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The best ramen in Sydney
They say that you can eat ramen, or you can experience ramen, and if you want to get as close as possible to experiencing it without flying to Tokyo, Gumshara is the place. Inside the stark, fluoro-lit surrounds of Chinatown’s Eating World, this small ramen joint pumps out a seriously authentic tonkotsu broth made from just two ingredients: pork bones and water. It leaves a collagen film in your mouth and it’s so dense you can barely see the noodles through it – plus it’s almost big enough to share one between two (not that you’ll want to).
Order the: Super Mega. They specialise in tonkotsu here and they take pork seriously. This mammoth ramen comes with barbecue pork skewer, a rib, a pork round and an egg.
Gogyo comes from the same people that brought Japanese ramen juggernaut Ippudo to Australia. As soon as you step inside Gogyo the first thing that hits you is a smoky, burnt aroma wafts from the fast-paced open kitchen, where they’re firing up the unique style kogashi ramen.
Order the: Kogshi ramen. They specialise in 'charred’ ramen here, which sees a pan and heated to a smoking-hot temperature, before a dollop of miso paste is added and then deglazed it with chicken broth. The resulting ramen is underpinned by a distinct smokiness, that’s intense in flavour and appearance. It’s imbued with ash flecks, and the chewy noodles and chashu look a little ominous and odd swimming in the slick black broth, but it tastes damn good. It’s not as heavy as a tonkotsu courtesy of the lighter chicken broth base, but still had has a rich umami flavour and salty intensity thanks to the charred miso paste.
Sydney is a town of many noodle soups, so what makes this one worth waiting for? To start with, the char siu roast pork gets an extra flavour kick by being seared quickly on a hot plate before serving. The little bits of caramelised fat and meat intensifies the flavour, and all that hot fat means the mouthfeel is extra luxurious. Plus, free-range locally sourced meat means double points for promoting good farming practices. The seasoned eggs are also free range, so order an extra half without guilt, and also because they are delicious.
Order the: Tonkotsu is the staple broth here, which you can customise with black garlic and a chilli oil that makes your stomach glow like a gentle campfire. There are also limited runs each day of a miso tonkatsu. Or if you are really just here for the noodles, branch out with a soup-free bowl of thick noodles, pork, eggs, green onion, sprouts, cabbage, onion, chilli, mayo and bonito.
Outside the original Crows Nest shop (there’s a second one in Bondi Junction) a hand-painted sign tells the story of Ryo, who was born in Fukuoka (often cited as the home of ramen) and brought his ramen recipes to Sydney in 2003. He did so with great success – on any given night you’ll find a queue of 20 people waiting for a taste. For the ramen uninitiated a friendly chalkboard will guide you through their most popular bowls; tonkotsu soy flavoured with roast pork takes out the number one spot. On the walls surrounding you’ll find every item on the menu scrawled in Japanese and mounted with origami paper, waving maneki-neko fortune cats on shelves and even Ryo’s own t-shirts for mega fans. The ramen truly is the star here but if you've got room order the fried chicken. Uneven cuts of juicy thigh meat (with the skin on) are coated in an extra crunchy batter. Try with a swipe of Japanese mayo and pickled ginger for a fried flavour party.
Order the: Tonkotsu soy. The heart of the dish is the broth, which is bold in flavour but not too salty despite the addition of soy seasoning – it's like liquid roast pork and is thick enough so your spoon disappears after being dunked in just a centimetre but manages to not be too heavy. The egg is soft and seasoned with soy, the round roast pork melts in your mouth and the noodles are stringy yet firm, making for a total textural adventure.
This Chinatown hotspot is the one of eight ramen shops from chef Kazuteru Oh (along with Wok and Noodle in Potts Point, and several in Japan). You can watch a noodle maker at work here – all noodles are made in house and the results are silky smooth, a perfect match for gelatinous pork soup. Really like your ramen thick? You can ask for it to come thicker here too. Hop tip: they deliver!
Order the: Miso-flavoured tonkotsu. The addition of the fermented bean paste adds a depth of flavour to the creamy soup. The rounds of pork are extra smoky and there are bonus nubbles of pork mince throughout the soup.
This yakitori go-to changes things up on Monday evenings and Wednesday through Saturday lunches, serving up four types of ramen: fat soy (similar to a tonkotsu), fish salt (with scallop and a John Dory dumpling), yuzu salt, and chilli coriander. There’s usually a queue out the front, so don’t arrive starving. Inside, you’ll be rewarded for your patience with hearty ramen, but also try the sizzling gyoza – the pork inside is textural rather than stewed and flecked with shallots. And try a glass yuzu shu – the bright citrus nip is the perfect accompaniment to the hot salty broth.
Order the: The chilli coriander. This number packs a serious payload courtesy of the three kinds of chilli used in the broth – Korean chilli for the flavour, Thai chilli for the kick and spicy habanero to round it out. The broth is clear but buttery, the chicken chasu is a slither of soft, lean chicken thigh instead of the fatty pork, and the strands of coriander wilt into the soup. The hum of chilli tingles in your mouth after you’ve put your spoon down, but you’ll be picking it up again for more in no time.
It’s a beautiful space here: an open kitchen and coffee bar downstairs with the motorbikes (and requisite bikers) off to one side, fiddling away. Upstairs there are a few long tables and a comfy-looking Chesterfield. We get brilliant service from our waitress – the kind of service where they sit down to chat with you as if they have all the time in the world and aren’t, you know, working.
Order the: The breakfast ramen. This such a good idea that our heads hurt a little from the excitement. It’s a beautiful big bowl of rich, fatty broth made from an infusion of buttered toast, topped with stretchy, firm noodles made exclusively for Rising Sun Workshop to their own recipe. The whole lot is topped with a just-set onsen egg, shards of crisp bacon and a charred tomato – the savoury, umami depth of which is a strike of pure genius.
From the moment you enter Yasaka (and are rewarded with extra-loud 'Irasshaimase!' greetings) you'll believe they live their motto: 'No ramen, no life.' They specialise in tonkotsu here, with miso, salt and soy seasoning options, alongside specials like the black garlic and extra spicy ramen. The base packs an umami punch, the noodles are firm and the eggs are soft, seasoned and warm.
Order the: Tonkotsu shoyu with extra grilled chasu pork. The grilled, rolled pork is delicate and smoky with just the right amount of fat, so order an extra slice. They make their noodles in-house here – so consider saving some room for kaedama – an extra serving of noodles to add to the leftover broth in your bowl.
In an alley off of World Square you’ll find the bustling Zundo. Here, they specialise in a light, clear chicken broth (which you can also get in Tokyo Soy or Shio styles) as well as a rich pork broth, which takes 12 hours to cook.
Order the: The Light Zundo takes the clear chicken broth and adds in a hearty punch of pork, so it’s not quite as heavy as your typical tonkotsu. The noodles are made in house and are best served a little firmer.
Despite cropping up at every other shopping centre (you’ll find Ippudo’s at Central Park, Macquarie Centre, Chatswood and Sydney Westfield), this Japanese chain has managed to maintain a high quality of service and consistency (which hasn’t been a trend for many international chains trying their luck in Sydney). These guys specialise only in the tonkotsu broth base, which then comes with either blended miso paste, garlic oil and pork belly (akaramu shinaji) or in the traditional Hakata style with pork loin, bean sprouts and black fungus. You can choose your noodle firmness and get extra toppings.
Order the: Seasonal special. Usually ‘specials’ are anything but, but Ippudo manage to pull off some seriously tasty seasonal dishes. In summer, it might be a cold ramen with a light chicken shoyu broth, topped with folds of prosciutto and rocket. In winter you’ll find their tonkotsu topped with an extra round of fatty pork, coriander, garlic and parmesan.
This newbie on Glebe Point Road may not be slick on service, but they make a solid bowl of ramen. They opt for swapping out different toppings and accompaniments, and are interchangeable with four or five different broth bases (salt, miso, soy, seafood or tonkotsu). They also use free-range eggs, which come seasoned and soft on the outside and gooey in the centre.
Order the: Yasai with bean sprouts. Here pak choy, carrot and sweet corn freshen up the tonkotsu base; or the try the Karami with hot chilli pork mince.
You’ll find Ramen Manupuku in both Kingsford and Chatswood. They make the noodles in house, which are firm and stringy and come in three varieties (they’ll recommend a type depending on what ramen you order). You can also order half serves of ramen, which is perfect for when you feel like trying out other snacks on the menu.
Order the: Gyokai black garlic ramen. The typically rich tonkotsu here isn’t strongly flavoured, but the roasted garlic in the Gyokai black garlic ramen helps up the umami stakes. As they tell us when we order: “Garlic’s good for health, and bad for kissing!”
Japanese food fits into the Sydney climate like soybeans fit into their little pods. And so it’s good that, thanks to all of the incredible Japanese chefs gracing our shores, we know how to do it right. From the sushi roll lunch-run to the full sashimi-laden dego, here’s where to do Japanese in Sydney.