Miku Okazaki is currently serving as a Guest Editor at Ramen Hero. She interviews famous Japanese ramen shops to find the best ramens. If you are interested in her other content, you can check out her Youtube Channel!
Ramen Yamaguchi: The local, award-winning ramen you need to try!
Hello! I am Ramen journalist Miku Okazaki. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into Ramen Yamaguchi and their delicious ramen.
Ramen Yamaguchi is known for its distinctive clear soy sauce ramen and its delicious balance of chicken and other ingredients. Personally, I’m a fan of clear soup in ramen, and I was pleasantly surprised by the elegant balance between flavorful chicken broth and soy sauce.
So how does one create something so delicious? That’s exactly what we’re going to look at today. I will report some of Ramen Yamaguchi’s amazing dishes and have an exclusive interview with the story behind the ramen.
Winner of the Tokyo famous newcomer ramen shop award and many others!
Ramen Yamaguchi is located about a six-minute walk from Nishi-Waseda Station (Exit 2) on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line.
It has quickly made a name of itself, garnering many prestigious awards. Ramen Yamaguchi wom "TRY Newcomer Grand Prize" at the Tokyo Ramen of the Year 2013. It was also selected as a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide, Tokyo. Since 2017, the restaurant has been ranked as one of the "100 Best Ramen Restaurants in Tokyo” consistently.
Perfectly balanced Chicken Soba
For my first ramen, I’ll be trying the Chicken Soba, priced at 950 yen!
I’m ready for my first bowl! Once it’s served, you’re immediately enveloped by the aroma of the chicken and ingredients, creating a mouth-watering experience before the first bite!
On the top of noodles, chashu (pork), menma (bamboo shoots), and kaiware daikon (radish) are topped.
I decided to start with the soup. At first sip, I found the chicken to be incredibly flavorful without being overpowering. Carefully selected chickens such as the Aizu Jidori whole chicken of Aizu, the owner's hometown, are used for the soup. Amazingly, more than 90% of the ingredients used in the soup are chicken!
The umami of the soy sauce tare, which uses raw soy sauce aged for 3 years, and the umami of chicken start to dance in my mouth. It's like a delicious waltz.
Perfectly balanced, the Chicken Soba is immediately impressive.
Now we come to the noodles. The ramen uses special noodles, developed in collaboration with Menya Teigaku, a long-established noodle factory in Kyoto.
The Chicken Soba includes medium-thin straight noodles that are comfortable to slurp. The moderate firmness of the noodles matches the soup well and beautifully accentuates the flavor.
While there are many noodle mills in Tokyo, there is a reason why the noodles are imported all the way from Kyoto. We’ll dive into this in the exclusive interview in the second half of the article, so keep reading to learn more!
The chashu pork is cooked at low temperature and used a two-step cooking method to make it moist and tender. It’s incredibly tasty with a strong but not overpowering pork flavor. Everything comes together well, and we definitely enjoyed this delicious bowl of ramen!
From office worker to ramen chef
Takadanobaba is one the most competitive areas in Tokyo for ramen, and amongst all the competition, Ramen Yamaguchi remains at the top! We’ll take a closer look at the origin of the restaurant and its rise to fame.
The owner of the restaurant, Mr. Hiroshi Yamaguchi, is from Aizuwakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Previously, he was employed as an office worker in an industry completely unrelated to the food business in his hometown.
Why did you decide to transition from office worker to becoming a ramen chef?
My original hobby was cooking, and that's how I got into making ramen. About Japanese soba noodles, curry, and Italian food, I learned flavors with the help of technical books. However, at that time, there were not many technical books on ramen.
When I was working as an office worker, I tried to make ramen through trial and error based on the few materials I had, but it did not taste good at all. It was mortifying, so I was motivated. But at first, I wasn't thinking about making ramen a living business.
But you did! What was the trigger for you to enter the ramen industry?
I guess one of the reasons was that I started making websites around 2000. When I was an office worker, I was addicted to making ramen and eating it out. I also participated in a local ramen forum where I could exchange information on ramen, which got me even more interested!
I wanted to provide information myself, so I bought a computer. But I thought I would be a latecomer and get buried! I started to think about something unique that I could do, something other people were not doing. So I decided to give away my own ramen recipe. After about three or four years, I gradually started to be recognized by people around me as someone who makes ramen after creating my own website and sending out information.
Then, there was a contest to find newcomers called "Ramen Tryout" at "Ramen Square" in Tachikawa, and I was offered the chance to participate.
What is Ramen Square's "Ramen Tryout"?
The winning prize is the opportunity to open a new store in Ramen Square and replace an existing store. Winners also receive 1,000,000 yen in cash as a gift to celebrate the opening of the new restaurant, also known as preparation funds.
Actually, I participated in the competition just out of curiosity to test my skills at the time, but I was able to win in the inexperienced category. This was my opportunity to step into the ramen industry in 2007.
That's the background! When you won the contest, was the taste of your ramen different from what it is today?
It was completely different. I offered two types of ramen: a seafood and pork-based ramen with a good amount of niboshi, and my hometown Kitakata ramen with a twist.
How did you come to open your own store after the contest?
First, I opened a restaurant at Tachikawa Ramen Square for a year, and then I helped an acquaintance set up ramen. In January 2013, I opened Ramen Yamaguchi, and here I am today!
“The roots of my chicken soba come from Shirakawa Ramen in Fukushima, my hometown.”
Where are the roots of the ramen you make, including "Chicken Soba" that has established your own taste and has won numerous awards?
In my hometown, there are two types of ramen: Shirakawa ramen, which is mainly made from chicken bones, and Kitakata ramen, which is mainly made from dried sardines and pork bones.
The main dish, chicken soba, originated from Shirakawa Ramen, the local ramen of Fukushima. Our current ramen is a modern version of Shirakawa Ramen with a soy sauce flavor.
For example, the roasted pork in Shirakawa Ramen is often roasted over charcoal, but in our restaurant, it is roasted in the oven. The aromatic flavor of the pork is then added to the sauce to complete the soup.
I see! So the chicken used in the soup is mainly local Aizu Jidori. One thing that caught my attention about the ingredients is that you order the noodles all the way from a noodle factory in Kyoto.
Yes, that's right. The restaurant of an acquaintance of mine that I helped open used to make its own noodles. I really wanted to use the brushed-up version of the noodle recipe at that time, so I contacted several companies.
However, we were often turned down because of the requirements such as "400 serving or more" or "50 kg or more...".
I was starting to worry, and I made a last-ditch request to Menya Teigaku in Kyoto, my current supplier. Luckily, they agreed to make a special order for us.
"Sadly, we live in a world where even 800 yen ramen is considered expensive.”
In 2015, you opened your second restaurant, "Ramen Yamaguchi Ratsushiki" in Toyocho. Why did you decide to try "Mapo Mazesoba" for your new restaurant?
Personally, I love spicy food. But on the other hand, I've always disliked Sichuan style Mapo Noodles. I felt that the noodles and mapo paste didn’t come together. I wanted to make Mapo Noodles that worked well together, and that's when I started trying to produce a new ramen.
When I offered it as a limited menu item at the main restaurant, it was very popular. However, since the main dish, chicken soba, has a delicate taste, I was worried that the tastes would clash. So we started looking for a new location and found a place at just the right time. I opened a second brand with "Mapo Mazesoba" as a signature dish.
Here is the Mapo Mazesoba (950 yen).
This is a mala style, and the hot oil and flower pepper go right up your nose! The noodles are thicker and more plump, mixing well with the delicious mapo paste. This dish is a must-have for Mala lovers.
What kind of challenges do you want to take on in the future?
I have a lot of creative ideas while still keeping myself as a craftsman. There are some things that I cannot achieve on my own, so I would like to introduce various types of ramen as a supervisor.
Also, in a world where ramen is said to be expensive, even at 800 yen, I feel sad that it is not worth the effort…
The 1,000 yen barrier has been a setback for many of our predecessors in the past, and it has put a brake on the development of ramen. However, in the past few years, the ramen industry has been awarded a Michelin star, and it seems that the industry’s perception has changed a little.
It would be great to see a new field, a distinction between expensive restaurants and affordable restaurants, and a new direction like Japanese soba noodles and sushi. I would be more than happy to be a part of that!
Among the many types of ramen, there have been many restaurants claiming to be of the "chicken clear broth" type in recent years. But the more I try Ramen Yamaguchi, the more I feel that it is an authentic bowl of ramen. In fact, I didn't know that it had its roots in Shirakawa Ramen, a local ramen in Fukushima Prefecture!