Can You Order a Bowl of Ramen in a Gas Station? In Japan, You Can!

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  • Japan’s love for ramen noodles is evident at different times and different places. It is one of the country’s well-loved comfort foods. It has even spread far and wide throughout the world. There are so many restaurants in the country igniting people with unique ramen experience in which many of them easily spark a discussion online. Included in this is the new trend of ramen stores being set up from old gas stations which is quite an unusual place for noodles. Gas stations are solely used for filling up petrol as well as washing and servicing cars in the country, so setting them up for purchasing ramen noodles or any type of food is completely a foreign thought.

    The Popularity of Ramen in Japan

    Ramen is a soup dish consisting of wheat noodles served in a fish or meat broth. It uses several toppings such as green onions, seaweeds, and pork. It comes in several variations and is served in different styles. Though the origin of ramen is yet unclear, every region in the country has its own ramen variation. Some say it originated from China, while others say it was invented in Japan. It then became a popular dish for eating out during the Showa Period.

    The first specialized ramen shop opened in Asakusa (浅草) in 1910 with the first-ever ramen soup flavored with shoyu or soy sauce being introduced in Tokyo soon afterward. With Nissin’s Momofuku Ando’s invention of instant noodles including instant ramen in 1958, everyone was given the chance to make an approximation of this dish by simply adding boiling water. Its popularity made it an iconic symbol of the country which paved the way towards different studies being conducted from many perspectives.

    Ramen comes in different varieties. The distinguishing ingredient in ramen noodles is “kansui” which is actually the one that gives the noodles its yellowish hue as well as its firm texture. It comes in various shapes and lengths with some being thick and others being thin and ribbon-like. Some noodles are straight while others are wrinkled.

    The soup in ramen used to be made mainly from chicken and pork stock, but these days, there are a variety of soups. It consists of a variety of ingredients such as beef bones, onions, miso, kelp, tuna flakes, and soy sauce. In the later years, several other styles and flavors emerged but the 4 popular ones are shio, tonkotsu, shoyu, and miso.

    Shio has a pale, clear, and yellowish broth which occasionally uses pork bones. Tonkotsu is a cloudy white colored broth boiled over high heat for several hours. Shoyu has a clear brown broth made from chicken and vegetable stock. It uses curly noodles rather than straight ones. Miso is a Japanese ramen featuring a broth from combined amounts of miso blended with oily chicken or fish broth. Its flavor is robust and tangy and can stand with so many toppings such as onions, beans, cabbage, chopped garlic, and so on.

    Unique Ways of Serving Ramen in Japan

    There are actually so many ways in which ramen is served in the country. Dozens of shops offer unique ways for you to have a memorable ramen experience. Some of these are tiny and off the beaten paths. An example of this is the ramen shop located 5 minutes from the South Exit of Shinjuku (新宿) Station in Tokyo (東京). It consists of a long counter where you can see chefs and cooks busily preparing food from behind. Since it is a busy shop, they take your ticket while you’re still in line so that your food will easily arrive once you sit down.

    An equally unique ramen shop is Konjiki Hototogisu (金色不如帰) which is just a short walk from Hatagaya (幡ヶ谷) Station on the Keio Line. It is a classic shop which is famed for having awesome aromatic ramen with a lingering shellfish flavor. The place is a perfect square where there is just enough room and space to squeeze through.

    For a super stylish shop where you can experience good-tasting ramen, you better visit Saikoro (さいころ), owned by Koitani-san who is known for nurturing the ramen boom. The place serves unique bowls of ramen which have a lighter flavor and aromatic quality. The soup is made of pork and chicken base with a whole smoked mackerel added at the end of the cooking process. It gives the food more edge and makes the taste deeper and smokier.

    The Trend

    There are a large number of shops in the country which have already converted gas stations into other businesses such as barber, restaurant, and boulangerie.

    A popular noodle chain called “TENKAIPPIN (天下一品),” which originated in Kyoto, opened a branch from an old gas station that has been set up in a unique way. The petrol pumps have been removed and it has been decorated with the food chain’s logo. It also has boards used to advertise the tasty noodle bowls instead of the petrol prices.

    This prompted the opening of other TENKAIPPIN branches from former gas stations, one of which can be found at Tachibanacho (立花町) in Hyogo (兵庫) Prefecture.

    Though the operation of businesses from former gas stations has been proliferating, there are still several issues noted. Some people think it is a good way to save money especially when it comes to demolition costs. Other people are thinking of an oily greasy ramen being served due to the location. Since this is a new trend, it is believed to continue expanding.

    There are already several unusual places in Japan wherein food chains have been set up and it seems to be attracting many patrons. As a country known for establishing uncommon ways of entertaining people, Japan holds unique places that are perfect if you’ve been dreaming of taking a break from your daily grind.

    Ramen aficionados are surely going to love the idea of ramen shops set up from old gas stations as it adds up to the thrill and excitement of eating. As the love for ramen noodles is stretching across the country, strange ramen stores are expected to appear in the near future and it seems like this trend won’t be stopping any time soon.

    TENKAIPPIN Website *Japanese only

    There are many branches, but we will introduce one of them here.

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