20 years ago, when people around the world thought of Japan, they thought of high-tech gadgets and compact cars. Maybe a bit of sumo or sushi in there too.
The world is a rapidly-changing place, and as the rest of the world has figured out how to make video games, reliable cars, and even excellent sumo wrestlers, Japan has leaped ahead once again in the world of RAMEN. Maybe they've never been behind. Anyways.
Every time I go back to Los Angeles, it's impressive to see the number of ramen shops increasing. Supposedly they are getting better and better too. But I still don't think they hold a candle to the real-deal ramen in places like Sapporo.
One interesting dynamic I've experienced is that ramen style and flavour varies DRASTICALLY depending on where you are in the country. Some places offer a more subtle flavour with a light-yellow clear soup, while some places offer deep gold, super heavy miso-based soups. I can't really imagine anything that would hit the spot more in the middle of a blizzard than a piping hot miso ramen. But my wife loves the lighter flavours.
With a dramatic and ever-unfolding history, Sapporo is arguably THE place to be for amazing ramen. But I've talked to people from Kyuushu who claim that it really is better down there. Tell us about your favourite ramen experience in the comments below!
I have a friend, Mike, who came to study abroad in Sapporo a few years ago. He ended up writing the Sapporo Ramen Guide, a blog that he just kept as he went on his near-daily excursions to ramen shops around the city, sometimes in mid-blizzard. He even interviewed some of the chefs! Probably as a result of our many experiences together, he also loves the thick-n'-oily miso flavours of Hokkaido ramen.
Check out his ramen guide here:
Unfortunately he was only here for about a year, so the blog ended updates in 2010, but Mike continues to pursue his passion for ramen in Chicago, where he hand-makes his own noodles and broths on a near-weekly basis.
Another interesting phenomena I've noticed here is that there are "alleys" or "republics" of ramen shops all clustered together throughout the city. As a small-businessman, there are few things I can imagine that I would dread more than being surrounded by competition at all times, but these are interesting places. A lot of the big names in ramen have made their way into these alleys, and you'll also find some old-time classics that never went anywhere else. On the other hand, you'll see the odd shop that comes in for only a few months, and is quickly vanquished by the strict competition.
Here are a couple in Sapporo:
-Shin-Chitose Airport's foodcourt.
-Ramen Republic in the food court above the ESTA building, just south-east of Sapporo Station. (Ramen kyo-wa-koku.)
-Ramen Alley in the middle of Susukino. (Ramen yoko-chou.)
And if you're having trouble finding any of these places because you can't get online, don't forget to order one of our pocket wifi routers for your time in Japan!
Share about your favourite ramen experience, even if you're NOT in Japan!