When I found out that I was coming to Tokyo, one of the first names that I wrote on my list of things to do was Ippudo, the famed Hakata-style ramen house. The servers here wear T-shirts that proclaim, “Your happiness of eating this ramen makes us happy,” and on my visit they must have been very happy indeed, because I was positively overflowing with happiness.
Ippudo offers two variations of their rich, creamy, pork-bone broth ramen. The classic version is called Shiromaru Moto-Aji, which is a thick, white broth with a breathtaking intensity, harmony and complexity of flavor. It’s full-bodied and pungent yet never heavy, and I slurped every last drop out of my big, white bowl. The Akamaru Shin-Aji powers it up a notch, if that’s possible, with an even richer, porkier broth, plus a spoonful of red pork fat in case you haven’t had quite enough. This is an unbridled celebration of the pig, emphasizing richness and depth of flavor, whereas the Shiromaru (while being plenty rich in its own right) seems to have a bit more clarity and complexity. Both are utterly, fabulously delicious. I liked that the noodles in the Akamaru are ever-so-slightly thicker to balance the extra richness of the broth—the sort of attention to detail that lets you know these guys are really serious about their ramen.
On the table are a number of condiments to enliven your ramen (not that it really needs any enlivening), including spicy beansprouts, pickled greens, pickled ginger, fresh garlic (accompanied by a garlic press) and freshly ground sesame seeds. You’ll see your fellow diners heaping all of this stuff into their bowls, but I’d advise moderation at first, the better to enjoy the gloriously porky goodness of the broth. The Shiromaru is only ¥750 for a huge bowl, and the Akamaru ¥850, but for ¥100 more you can get the lunchtime set, which includes light, crunchy gyoza and a bowl of plain rice. At first I imagined the rice as overkill, but I was soon glad for its inclusion, as the pork broth is so rich that you almost need the rice to give you a bit of ballast.
As of the 17th of March, Ippudo has opened a branch in Manhattan, at 65 Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th. I’m hoping it will be as spectacular as it is in Tokyo, but I’ll have to wait a little while to find out.
Ippudo, Hiroo 1-3-13, Tokyo (on Meiji-dori in the direction of Hiroo, on the left just past the post office)