Eat a Delicious Bowl of Michelin Ramen For Only 900 Yen in Tokyo!
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Tsuta Ramen: Using Their Noodle
The sound of summer cicadas and a squawking crow fill the air. Surrounded by swirling conversations in multiple languages -- Japanese, Mandarin, English, French and Spanish -- I count the number of people queuing ahead of me. Nineteen. I glance at my watch. I look at my coloured ticket. I'll probably be waiting at least another forty minutes or so before I can enter Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta and order lunch.
Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta -- Photo by Nathan Hosken
Queuing is standard at the nine-seater Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, or "Tsuta" as the ramen shop is affectionately known. Located in the north Tokyo suburb of Sugamo, the restaurant has always been popular due to the high-level quality of its food: stone-milled flour house-made noodles, flavoursome meat and well-rounded broths. But the awarding of a Michelin Star in 2015 sent the media into a frenzy and crowds into overdrive.
Tsuta's Ticketing System, Explained -- Photo by Jane K
The crowds don't always sit well with the locals. As such, Tsuta introduced a ticketing system to appease its neighbours and streamline customer wait times. On June 20 in 2016, this system was changed again. Before the store opens, staff sell colour-coded tickets (according dining times between 11 am and 4 pm). One person can buy tickets for up to three people and each ticket needs a ¥1,000 deposit. Diners come back at the allotted mealtime -- and wait some more -- before exchanging their tickets to pay and order from the vending machine.
Read the Rules Closely at Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta -- Photo by Jane K
"We had to implement this system," Tsuta staff say as I survey the crowd around me, milling in anticipation for one of the world's most affordable Michelin starred meals. "You'd normally never catch me lining up like this, but I love ramen and fine dining," says Robert, visiting from Los Angeles. "I'd read about Tsuta getting the Michelin Star, so coming here was a no-brainer," he adds. (Robert later gives an overwhelming vote of approval for his meal -- "The ramen broth is full of umami, incredibly tasty, light yet complex at the same time.")
Tsuta's Michelin award recognizes its shoyu or soy ramen, which expert and connoisseur Brian MacDuckston says via his blog, "Ramen Adventures," uses a fusion of three kinds of soy sauces accented with black truffle. The first soy sauce comes from a small island -- Shodo Island -- in Japan's Seto Inland Sea. The island is famous for fermenting its soy sauce the old-fashioned way, in traditional wooden barrels. The second hails from Ibaraki Prefecture. Wakayama is the source for the third.
Shoyu Ramen at Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta -- Photo by Jane K
The shoyu ramen is definitely Tsuta's signature dish, but the chefs boldly trial other items on the menu. In mid- to late 2015, Tuesdays were a chance to try a chicken-focused ramen. The dish was a hearty mix of chicken, miso and a definite outlier ingredient: chickpeas. This summer, the chefs experimented with a limited-run Southeast Asian-influenced tsukemen, or noodles served with a dipping broth. The dish's heady flavour profile was based on shrimp, lemongrass and nuts. Such experimentation is commonplace in the ramen world. Many Japanese ramen restaurants showcase different styles, fuse cuisines and explore ways of attracting new consumers.
Experimental Chicken Ramen -- Photo by Jane K
As of August 19, 2016, Tsuta are rotating their menu and replacing the summer tsukemen. Diners will be treated to a new ramen. This version will feature chicken stock and use pork belly instead of the restaurant's typical shoulder cut. "Admittedly, this will make our ramen a little more expensive," staff reveal. But with a Michelin meal at Tsuta already (and only) edging around the ¥1,000 mark, I know I'll be back -- as will countless others -- to give it a try.
Porcini-flavoured Tsukemen, with Extra Char Siu Pork -- Photo by Jane K
Want to learn more about ramen? Check out our Ramen theme page!