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) lets you cater to your own tastes (always an extra onsen egg).
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
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).
How much: $10.50
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.
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.
How much: $14.50
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 textual 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!
How much: $13
Order the: These guys do a mean 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.
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.
How much: $12.80
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.
How much: $13.90
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.
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.
How much: $15
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 it 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.
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.
How much: $16
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.
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.
How much: $
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.
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.
How much: $12.90
Order the: Yasai with bean sprouts, pak choy, carrot and sweet corn to freshen up the tonkotsu base; or the Karami with hot chilli pork mince.
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.
Although during summer soup for lunch might not make much sense, Sydney does get pretty cold come June. And when you’re in the midst of the working day, there is nothing more comforting that a bowl of steaming-hot soup to warm your cockles and help you power through the afternoon. Here are our favourite soups in the city right now.