Beyond Temples & Geishas – Real Ramen in Kyoto

First visit to Japan, two days in Kyoto, one quest. Authentic Ramen.

Thanks to the travel tips of long term Kyoto resident and Lonely Planet writer Chris Rowthorn we enjoyed some real delights of Kyoto cuisine. Kaiseki being a local haute cuisine his online guide provides some wonderful dining options across Kyoto. For first time visitors I highly recommend checking out his experiences @ http://www.insidekyoto.com

Being a spicy soup fan and having tried Ramen on multiple occasions in Singapore and London I felt a quest to find the best Ramen in Kyoto. I secretly hoped they would be far tastier in Japan. In conclusion, they were. Favourites were the Ramen at Ippudo and Karako.

Ippudo

Ippudo having had many positive reviews on tripadvisor it took my fancy first in the thirst for spicetastic soup.  Once you manage to find Ippudo on the back streets of Nishiki Market you will enter to a communal table embedded with attractive condiments and pickles to spice up your Ramen.

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A great perk in most eateries in Japan is the visual menus full of pictures of what you might potentially eat. Fear not non-speaking Japanese folks I promise you will leave Japan full in the stomach, we most certainly did!

Ippudo had the plus of an english menu which enabled us to understand where the Ramen’s originated from in Japan which was great.

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Feeling the need for heat I opted for the Ippudo Karaka Ramen which had 5 levels of spiciness to choose from. If you can take the heat I recommend experimenting at level 4 or 5, I didn’t find it overly hot! The Ippudo Karaka Ramen has a classic Shiromaru Pork Soup as its base with a spicy Miso topping mixed with several herbs and spices. It was apparently created in 1989 and has gained a lot of popularity with Spice lovers. Till date I have not slurped on more tender noodles….

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The reviews were worthy and the Ramen really were sublime as were the accompanying gyoza which we ordered double portions of! We also had a side of Hakata Chikara Meshi (The most tender Braised Pork with Rice & Illuminos Pickled Ginger) which went down so fast with my husband that I only got about two bites. If I was to have the privilege of dining again at Ippudo Kyoto I would reorder everything we had plus an additional item of the Shiromuru Special Ramen which is the Ippudo Original a speciality of tonkotso broth served with pork belly and black fungus.

Do note that Ippudo has chains in other countries however I hear they are not all quite as great as the Kyoto joint.

Karako

Being well located in the Temple district north east of Central Kyoto (Okazaki) was one of my favourite finds on our entire trip. Totally understated in its location and decor but so heart-warmingly tasty and welcoming in service I would shoot back to Kyoto just for a luncheon encore.

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As we sat down with about 6 other Japanese men on the busy lunch hour we ordered what they all seemed to be eating, the “Kotteri Noodles Ramen“. We opted for the “meal deal” a bowl of ramen, two pieces of fried chicken and some nibbles from the communal bar!

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The chashu pork slices were super tender and moist with a crumbly texture due to the patient slow cooking of the roast pork. The flavoursome ramen broth and vegetables had quite a refreshing taste to them, quite light to eat which enables you to snack on the mind blowing “Karaage” (boneless fried chicken). Though being on a hunt for the best Ramen this Karaage was an amazing discovery, it was and is the best fried chicken I have ever gnawed on. Crispy, crunchy, spicy, tender, moist and boneless but with all the flavour of what meat on the bone normally brings. I don’t know how they do it but I like it immensely. Amazing.

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Aside from the tips on where to grab a bowl of great Ramen I think its helpful to know that timing is key when planning a meal. Living in Asia has taught me well to avoid the midday rush. Get there 15mins before or you can expect to wait a heck of a time for a table at both these joints and many close at 2pm so don’t be late either. Below are some patient queuers’.

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Aside great Ramen, Kyoto packs a punch of cultural treats – full of beautiful hill risen temples, shrines and the most highly statute Geisha District in Japan. The history of Geisha’s is magnificent and you cannot help but be immersed into the gentle yet complex world that is hidden out of plain sight. Make sure you spend quality time in Gion to take in the atmosphere regardless of whether you spot a Geisha or not its a quaint and beautiful part of Kyoto.

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Other recommendations:

Nishiki Market – a huge buzzing local market know as ‘Kyoto’s Pantry”

Temple Tours – there are tons so pace yourself and do some research ahead to shortlist

Gion – Geisha District and high end Kyoto haute cuisine

Museum of Modern Art is a worthy morning spent and if you are really into art there is the Municipal Museum of Art across the road

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5 thoughts on “Beyond Temples & Geishas – Real Ramen in Kyoto

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