Japanese LOVES Ramen. This is in no way an over statement.
Finding a good ramen shop one likes is actually not that easy because of the sheer amount of ramen shops in Japan. Japanese LOVE ramen and they eat it all the time. There is a weird culture of finishing off the night with a bowl of ramen after drinking which seems to help with hang over. From what I read, its the mixture of sodium, water, carbohydrate and protein that does the job (sorry, no citation).
That being said, finding a ramen shop you like can be surprisingly difficult. I ate at over 10 ramen shops around Shin-Osaka area only to find couple shops that I like. From the experience of dining at countless ramen shop across eastern Japan, I can give you a simple guide to make it little easier for you to find THE store for yourself.
The best and quickest way would be to find which type of soup you like the best and narrow down the stores from there. Listed below are 4 groups of ramen to help you navigate through Japanese ramen kingdom.
4 Styles of Ramen.
The ramen is divided largely into four different type of categories listed below. Ramen culture makes a rapid evolution but they fall into these categories by large so if can find a specific group to your liking, it will be easier later to narrow the choices down. It is very common for stores to mix two flavors and usually teeters towards the stronger of the two.
The main stream of main stream, shoyu ramen is the de-facto standard of the ramen world. Japanese love Shoyu and is adopted all over the country.
Shoyu ramen tends to be not tooo salty, but just right so shoyu ramen can be your course adviser for your future ramen. If you want more flavor, try miso or tonkotsu. If you prefer milder flavor, try the shio ramen.
Miso ramen became really popluar in the 1980s which was a period when anything Hokkaido was considered really cool. It is still widely eaten all across Japan, but dominantly its a Hokkaido thing. Because of countless variations of miso itself, the type of miso ramen varies across Japan and are abundant in style. My favorite is Ichigen in Hokkaido. They serve miso ramen with shrimp stock, you must try them. The balance of shrip fused with miso is simply amazing.
Shio is salt flavored ramen. You may wonder how would one flavor salt, and how they do it by mixing soup derived from various origin, such as fish, lemon, etc, to bring out the flavor. Shio ramen are often topped with lightly flavored char-siu instead of dense flavored char-siu often found on tonkotsu ramen.
Tonkotsu (Pork broth)
Tonkotsu, literally meaning “pork bone”, is gaining large popularity in the ramen industry due to its thick, dense flavor. The trend is to mix fish powder, or Gyofun, to diversify the flavoring and odor and this is where shops compete for originality. The famous Jiro-style from Tokyo and Yokoyama E.A.K style are prominent in this category, but Tonkotsu style is originally from Kyushu prefecture, where it is widely known as Hakata ramen.
Authenticity of Soup
Good way to tell whether the store is serving authentic soup is by the odor of store. What I mean by authentic is because there are pre-made stock soup mix available for purchase. Sort of like instant soup mix, and if you are paying more than 700 for these ramen then I think you are paying too much. If the store is making soup from scratch, they would have a very large pot where they draw the stock from so if you are interested, take a quick peek into the kitchen.
Now that you know the 4 groups of ramen, find the style, and narrow down the stores accordingly to find THE store for yourself quicker. Just simply choosing from the photo should be good enough for the first time trying.
Here are my personal recommendation around Shi-Osaka area. I have tried around 15 ramen shop around the area, and these two stores are absolutely top of the tier.
Tsukemen Tokiya （つけ麺 時屋） – “Tsukemen” noodle dipping style ramen.
Altho they are on the heavy side, their ramen won’t give you a overwhelming sense of thickness that lingers in your mouth after a bowl. Instead, they go down rather quickly and easy to chow down.
Jinrui Mina Menrui（人類皆麺類）
These guys have become so famous that average waiting time ranges anywhere from 30 minutes to over a hour. Ramen is shoyu based and bit on the sweeter side with hint of sea food broth. You have the option of getting one big chunck of char-siu or have them cut it up for you (I prefer big)