Ramen Iida Shoten (らぁ麺飯田商店) is Japan's no. 1 ranked ramen shop! It's popular to the point that it's tough to get a reservation. But I got lucky on the third try.
This is an in-depth breakdown of what many consider to be Japan's BEST ramen shop.
Ramen Iida Shoten - How It Works
In the past, you'd have to visit Iida Shoten early in the morning to reserve a spot for lunch. But now they take reservations exclusively on booking platform Omakase.
While this eliminates the need to wake up early, reserving isn't exactly easy. The booking window is just once a week and all seats normally go within 5 minutes. This said, I was elated when I got a reservation. This was after three consecutive weeks of trying.
Iida Shoten is no. 1 in Japan on several local websites, including Tabelog and Ramen Database. With this understanding, the expectations were certainly high when I visited.
They're located in Yugawara, Kanagawa prefecture. This is South of Tokyo and a bit over an hour on a fast train.
Shoyu Ramen - Most Popular
Everyone tries the shoyu (soy sauce) ramen. The recipe has changed several times, with masterchef Iida-san making tweaks every so often. The latest rendition is impressive. An organic koikuchi (dark) shoyu from Hyogo anchors the ship.
An usukuchi (light) shoyu from Tatsuno, Hyogo serves as a sidekick. These two shoyu are combined with a koikuchi one from Wakayama and an aged one from Aichi. This shoyu quartet generates a sweet, sour, and fairly salty base.
This base carries a soup concentrated on whole chickens and chicken bones. They use only the finest chicken breeds from around Japan. This includes Kurosatsuma from Kagoshima, Hinai Jidori, Nagoya Cochin, and Sansui Jidori.
The soup also includes pork meat and bones (trotters and back). They're just as high-grade as the chickens. They use TOKYO X, Kirishima Kogen, Iberian, and Kinkaton pork. They've spared no effort with the soup.
Despite the long list of ingredients, it doesn't feel over-elaborate. By design it's unpretentious and elegant in a very Japanese way.
The thin, silky noodles are blended with several types of wheat flour. This includes Haru yo Koi, Haruyutaka, Sanuki no Yume, and Kitahonami. All you need to know is that these varieties of wheat flour are top-notch. Furthermore, the noodles use kansui (lye water) from Inner Mongolia and Okinawan sea salt.
This style of shoyu ramen is similar to what you get at Tokyo ramen shops like Muginae, Toybox and Yamaguchi. But there's no doubt that Iida's version is one of the best.
Shio Tsukemen - My Favorite
So the shoyu ramen is excellent. But it's the tsukemen (dipping ramen) that stole my heart. In it, the shio (salt) seasoning is radiant as the sun. Salt from Christmas Island, Kiribati is the protagonist.
There's also salt from Kochi, sun-dried salt from Oshima, and sea salt crystals from Niigata. They even add Okinawan sea salt to kelp and scallops to create a dashi. All together, this foundation is a harmonious symphony of salts.
The chicken flavors in the soup shine even more brightly than in the shoyu ramen.
You're treated to two types of noodles. The yellow-colored ones on the left are thick and slippery like typical tsukemen noodles. The ones on the right are almost like soba, with a stronger buckwheat flavor and graininess. Two separate noodles experiences!
But it doesn't stop there. Besides the golden colored broth, there's a separate bowl of tsukejiru. Think of tsukejiru as a light shoyu broth commonly paired with soba. Then comes the final act - a kombu (kelp) and katsuo (bonito) oil. This is meant to be poured directly over the remaining noodles.
The carefully extracted flavors in this oil reinforce a sense of Japanese elegance. Towards the end of the meal they'll also bring super soft slices of slow-cooked pork. You add these to the main soup, which makes it meatier.
I haven't even mentioned the condiments - wasabi, ume (plum) and white negi (spring onions). Lastly, just like in the ramen, the cuts of pork chashu are excellent. I could literally write another essay about how they're prepared and seasoned. But I'll stop here.
On another note, Iida Shoten has created one of the best instant ramen I've ever tried. It's based off the shoyu ramen above:
There is no question that Iida Ramen delivers one of the finest ramen experiences in Japan. From the moment you sit down this fact is as clear as the tsukemen soup.
Owner Iida-san is understandably a rock star in the ramen world. Many abroad may recognize him from the documentary Ramenheads. Inside, he takes the time to bow to every single customer.
Their ramen is priced higher than most Japan ramen shops. This is not to mention the travel costs associated with getting to Yugawara.
But nobody quite does it like Iida.