1. ramen on table
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  2. Menya Nukaji
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaMenya Nukaji

6 popular types of ramen and where to eat them in Tokyo

Can’t tell your shoyu from your shio? Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of Japanese ramen

Kasey Furutani
Written by
Kasey Furutani
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Noodle novices and experts alike have faced the dilemma of what to order at the ramen shop. Ramen refuses to be categorised neatly. Generally, ramen can be classified by soup (or flavouring; tare), or noodle type or region – you can see why it gets confusing. Everything is jumbled together to create one of Japan’s best dishes. 

The four main types are tonkotsu, miso, shoyu and shio, but there are other popular options, too. You’ll also see combinations of these; for example, miso ramen and tonkotsu, a pork bone broth, are sometimes mixed. Specific types of noodles accompany different soups, so you won't find curly noodles everywhere. Most ramen dishes are also associated with their region – you’ll find meaty shoyu ramen in Yokohama whereas Hokkaido is famous for serving hearty miso ramen (with corn!). 

This might warp your brain a bit, but remember, the best part of ramen is that there are no strict rules. For all its Michelin stars and global fame, ramen is still the fun and experimental sibling of traditional Japanese noodles such as udon or soba

This guide breaks down all the classic ramen flavors, and where to eat them in Tokyo. Now go ahead and indulge in that hot bowl of comfort. You deserve it.

RECOMMENDED: Break away from tradition with the best modern ramen in Tokyo

The big four

Tonkotsu
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Tonkotsu

Hakata ramen, which hails from Fukuoka and is commonly found at yatai street stalls on Nakasu Island, is the most popular version of tonkotsu pork bone ramen. The soup is identified by its rich and creamy broth and thin, al dente noodles that compensate for the heaviness of the soup. Hakata ramen leans less on toppings. You’ll find your bowl topped with only the essentials: a piece of chashu, a pinch of negi and other optional ramen goods such as menma and kikurage.

Classic Hakata ramen is best served beside the waters of Fukuoka. If you can’t make the trek south, there are plenty of top tonkotsu shops in Tokyo, like Akanoren (pictured), the first Hakata ramen shop in Kanto. For carnivores, Kibou-ken offers a pork-rimmed tonkotsu ramen sure to satisfy any meat lover. Or, for something less traditional, try the clear tonkotsu ramen from Butasoba Tsukiya in Hiroo. Tonkotsu ramen is also one of the most famous styles outside of Japan due to the global popularity of Ichiran and Ippudo.

Miso
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Miso

The best way to warm up on a sub-zero winter day is by inhaling a hot bowl of comfort. No wonder some of the best ramen comes from Hokkaido, the land of miso butter corn ramen. Miso broth is a standard across Japan but the ramen shops in Sapporo take it to a whole new level. Hokkaido’s abundant butter and summer sweet corn pairs perfectly with umami-rich white miso broth, resulting in a bowl akin to a loving hug.  

Luckily, you don’t have to head up to Hokkaido for a bowl of proper miso ramen. Oshima, one of the best miso ramen restaurants in Tokyo, is run by a former staff member of the popular Sapporo ramen shop Sumire. For a hint of spice, Do Miso (pictured) offers spicy miso ramen with five different spice levels, as well as a standard miso ramen with sweet corn, bean sprouts, char siu and other toppings.

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Shoyu
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Shoyu

You can never go wrong with the classic shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. Shoyu is a flavoring, not a broth, so you’ll find most shoyu ramen has a tonkotsu or chicken base. The base for Tokyo and Yokohama (also known as iekei) style ramen, shoyu is the perfect starter for anyone having their first non-instant ramen experience. Known for its curly noodles and hint of dashi, Tokyo ramen has a lighter base than most soups. The addition of dashi separates Tokyo from Yokohama: Tokyo chicken shoyu soup is lighter while Yokohama’s tonkotsu blend is kotteri, richer and more flavourful.  

Not all shoyu ramen comes from Kanto. For a twist on the classic, Gamushara from Nagaoka offers a ginger and shoyu broth, which is surprisingly soothing on the stomach. Originally from Nagaoka, the ramen sports the usual toppings: chashu, menma, spinach and extra grated ginger for that added punch. Back in Tokyo, fans line up for the sharp shoyu at Toy Box in Minowa (pictured) – it’s earned the shop a Michelin Bib Gourmand rating. Yakumo near the Meguro River is famous for its classy spin on shoyu wontonmen. If it’s too difficult to choose between the sweet white or black shoyu boups, then you can opt for a mixture of the two.

Shio
ソバハウス 金色不如帰

Shio

Shio, or salt, ramen might sound the simplest but in fact, it’s the most complex flavoring. Commonly paired with seafood-based broth like clams or sea bream, clear shio ramen is light on the stomach. Don’t be scared, shio does not equate to salty. Instead, the pure broth brings out succulent flavours that are not overpowered by thick noodles or extra toppings. 

You can’t go wrong with a Michelin-starred ramen shop for a taste of the sea. Konjiki Hototogisu (pictured) uses clams and red sea bream for a delicate shio soup and tops it off with white truffle oil for an elegant, yet affordable, experience. Shinjuku’s Menya Sho is serious about its shio ramen. The chicken-based chintan (clear) broth uses four different types of salt from Italy, France, Mongolia and Japan to create an intricate flavour profile that complements the tender chashu pork and thin noodles.

That’s just the start...

Tsukemen
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Tsukemen

Tsukemen is a different experience from ramen. The noodles are served cold and dipped in a concentrated broth that’s warm or lukewarm. Pork- and seafood-based broth is common, and the most delicious. Most tsukemen restaurants also offer hot water to dilute the broth after finishing the noodles. There’s always a line out the door at old school Fu-unji – it’s best to get there early. Or try a fully loaded serving at Tsukemen Michi in Adachi (pictured). Afuri Kurenai offers karakurenai tsukemen with yuzu and your choice of spice level, from zero to fire engine eight.

Vegan
Photo: Jikasei Mensho

Vegan

The vegan diet is notoriously difficult to accommodate in the land of dashi broth, although there are some ramen joints substituing heavy, meat-based broth with vegetable stock. The ramen chain Afuri, which specialises in chicken-based assari (clear and thin) broth, offers a plant-based bowl filled with colourful seasonal veggies.

If you get a noodle craving in Shibuya, Jikasei Mensho on the basement floor of Parco has a spicy cup of low-gluten quinoa noodles in a broth that packs just as much punch as the shop’s usual shoyu base. You can even have an artistic slurping session at the one-of-a-kind Vegan Ramen Uzu, located inside teamLab Planets.

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