Most foreigners think of sushi when they think of Japanese cuisine, but noodles are an extremely popular item here. There are your standard cold soba (buckwheat) noodles, your thick wheaty udon noodles (often served with tofu or vegetables) … and then there is ramen.
Nothing starts an argument faster in Japan than proclaiming one type of ramen to be better than another. Which is why the ShinYokohama Ramen Museum is the perfect place to go to make up your own mind about the matter.
Sure, part of the ShinYokohama Ramen Museum is just that – a museum. Sadly, the last time I was there, all of the exhibits were in Japanese only but the first floor is entirely devoted to the history and production of this much-admired noodle soup. You’ll see displays on ramen making tools, ramen bowls and even matchbooks from various ramen shops. You can trace the chronological history of ramen and its arrival (from China, of course) in Japan. You’ll even see a corner devoted to the currently maligned (oh the sodium!!) but revolutionary Cup Noodle, a Japanese creation that indeed changed the face of ramen and instant food production the world over.
But who are we kidding – the real fun is downstairs. Here’s where the museum becomes a pseudo theme park, representing the streets of a shitamachi (local downtown) n the Showa period (specifically 1958, the year the Cup Noodle was born). There are cotton candy vendors and a roving sake cart, but the highlight is the nine ramen shops that offer noodles from all over Japan. Browse the museum guide to make your pick. Do you want shoyu (soy sauce) or shio (salt) based ramen? What about Kyushu’s famous tonkotsu (pork bone) noodles or the hearty miso broth of Hokkaido? All of the shops here are outposts of actual ramen shops that operate in Japan’s various prefectures. If you’ve got the appetite, you can eat your way from Sapporo to Kumamoto and back again.
Museum entrance is ¥300 and each bowl of ramen is an additional charge on top of that (payable at the individual restaurants). Check the English language website for detailed directions and a printable discount coupon.