It was my last night in Tokyo and I was looking for a place to eat near my Airbnb that wouldn’t break the bank. Unfortunately, I was staying in Ginza, one of the most expensive areas in all of Tokyo. Enter any restaurant in Ginza and you can easily walk out with a 20,000 ($179.91) yen bill.
While wandering the area, I happened to stumble upon Ippudo Ginza, a chain of ramen restaurants with locations found all across Japan and the world. Locations outside of Japan include Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Paris, London, San Francisco, and New York City to name a few.
Ippudo, also known as Hakata Ippūdō, is famous for their tonkotsu ramen. To make this ramen, pork bones are simmered for hours until you have a rich, flavorful broth. Lonely Planet went even as far as to call the chain “the most famous tonkotsu ramen shop in Japan.”
If you are looking for more information about Tokyo and Japan, I highly recommend you pick up a guidebook such as Lonely Planet Best of Tokyo 2020
When I walked through the door into the restaurant, I was surprised to find a large, open dining room. The interior was bright both in color and in lighting. While some of the floors and ceilings were black, there was an explosion of color everywhere from the red and white chairs to the colorful hanging lights. Adorning the walls was a mosaic of countless ramen spoons and dried ramen noodles. I thought this was a nice, unique touch.
While not upscale or fine dining, this was not your typical ramen shop with only a few seats. It felt warm and welcoming. While casual, the decor was modern and sleek. It felt as if the interior was designed just for Ginza.
On one side of the dining room was a small counter located next to an open-air kitchen. This is where I sat. I thought this was the best seat in the house. From my seat at the counter, I could watch the chefs dressed in black preparing bowls of ramen, yelling orders to each other, and greeting guests as they entered and exited.
Ippudo Ginza Menu
The menu at Ippudo Ginza offered four different types of ramen.
If this is your first visit to Ippudo, I recommend the Shiromaru Classic (790 yen or about $7.11). This is Ippudo’s original tonkotsu ramen made homemade Hakata-style noodles and broth simmered for 18 hours. The special version, with extra pork, roasted seaweed, and a soft-boiled egg, was 1,020 yen or about $9.18.
The Akamaru Modern (850 yen or about $7.11) is a modern take on tonkotsu ramen made with miso paste and fragrant oil along with homemade medium-thick noodles. The special version was 1,080 yen or about $9.72.
In 2001, a special bowl of ramen known as Ippudo Kasane (850 yen or about $7.65) was introduced at Ippudo’s main store in Hakata. This ramen is made with a mixture of tonkotsu broth and chicken broth. There was no special version available.
Finally, there was the Ippudo Karaka (890 yen or about $8.01) made with silky pork broth mixed with minced meat, chili bean paste, sweet soy bean paste, and a chili oil made with Japanese sansho peppers. For this ramen, you could choose from five different heat levels. The special version was 1,120 yen or about $10.08.
Like most ramen shops in Japan, there was the option to add toppings to any bowl of ramen for an additional charge.
Bean sprouts, scallion, kikurage mushrooms, roasted seaweed, seasoned quail eggs, and home-made chili oil could be added for 80 yen or about $0.72.
A soft-boiled egg and flavored soft-boiled egg could be added for 100 yen or about $0.90
Vegetables, mentai (flavored cod roe), spicy meat miso, and wonton (dumplings) could be added for 200 yen or about $1.80
For 300 yen or about $2.70, you could choose one topping from each price category above (80 yen, 100 yen, 200 yen).
In addition, for 150 yen or about $1.35, you could get yourself two extra pieces of chashu (sliced pork). Four extra slices of pork set you back 280 yen or about $2.52.
There was also an assortment of rice dishes. This included Mentaiko Gohan (300 yen or about $2.70), Hakata Chikara Meshi (360 yen or about $3.24), Rice with Soft-Boiled Egg (260 yen or about $2.34), and Steamed White Rice (160 yen or about $1.44)
Side dishes included Cucumber with Sesame (400 yen or about $3.60), Chashu (550 yen or about $4.95), Stir-Fried Sprouts (550 yen), Pickled Tomato (400 yen), Giblets with Ponzu Sauce (400 yen), Boiled Dumplings (500 yen or about $4.50), and Hakata Bite-Sized Dumplings (220 yen or about $1.98 for 5 pieces, 420 yen or about $3.78 for 10 pieces).
I always enjoy when restaurants offer complementary green tea. I don’t know if I got a bad batch of tea or something, but the tea was rancid. It tasted like cough syrup. It was horrible.
Because I needed something else to drink, I decided to order a draft beer (500 yen or about $4.50). I found it interesting how the beer was served in a tall copper cup. The beer did its job by rinsing out the flavors of the tea.
I can’t forget about the assortment of condiments found on the counter and on each table. There was everything you needed to add to your bowl or ramen or gyoza dipping sauce. Condiments included bean sprounts, some pickled vegetables, soy sauce, sesame seeds, pepper, and gloves of garlic that could be crushed using the tool.
Hakata Bite-Sized Dumplings
First up were five pieces of the Hakata Bite-Sized Dumplings (220 yen or about $1.98 for 5 pieces, 420 yen or about $3.78 for 10 pieces). I don’t know what it is about me and dumplings, but whenever I see them on a menu, even at a ramen place, I feel like I need to try them.
As the name implies, these bite-sized dumplings were, well, bite-sized. They were the perfect appetizer while I patiently waited for my bowl of ramen to be prepared.
Each dumpling was pan fried until hot and crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside. Inside was a mixture of juicy minced pork and minced vegetables. While there wasn’t a whole lot of pork, what was in there was rich, salty, and delicious. The vegetables, including a mixture of white and green onions, added a nice crunchy texture.
On the side was a dollop of a spicy, smoky red chili paste that reminded me of Korean gochujang.
These dumplings, though simple and nothing extraordinary, just hit the spot. I was ready for the spicy ramen.
Special Ippudo Karaka
While there were many great options on the menu, I was in the mood for something spicy on a cold winter night in Tokyo.
I decided on the Special Ippudo Karaka Ramen (1,120 yen or about $10.08). This bowl of ramen was made with a silken pork broth and spicy minced meat miso seasoned with chili bean paste, sweet soy bean paste, and chili oil. Topping the bowl were scallions, roasted seaweed, and a soft-boiled egg.
For my preferred level of spiciness, I went for 8 spices. This selection was right in the middle of the five options. I was hoping my selection would be spicy without overpowering the broth. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect or what spices would be added.
The broth looked beautiful, almost fiery. It was orange and red with specks of oil floating around. I knew it had to be spicy. Since the broth was pork based, I was expecting it to be heavy and thick. This was not the case. The broth was lighter than expected.
So was it spicy? Yes and no. For me, I thought the broth and chili left the perfect slow burn in my mouth that intensified as I ate more. It was perfect. For others, they might find it too spicy. There was definitely some sansho peppers or Sichucan peppers mixed in. These peppers make your mouth tingle. It reminded me of the spicy ramen at Karashibi Miso Ramen Kikanbo.
I was expecting the silken pork broth to be rich, luscious, and packed with flavor. Maybe it was, but I couldn’t tell. The chili bean paste, sweet soy bean paste, and chili oil, while delicious, overpowered the flavors of the broth. These additions made the broth salty, sweet, and spicy. It was umami, which was great, but without any pork flavors. You might enjoy this or not depending on your preferences. For me, I wanted more pork flavors.
Luckily, there were slices of pork chashu floating in the bowl. While thin, the salty slices of pork packed a lot of flavor. Each piece of pork was lean and tender with the perfect amount of melt-in-your-mouth fatty bits.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the minced meat miso. Would it be salty? What kind of meat would it be? Unfortunately, much of the minced pork was lost in the broth by the time I reached it. The meat I did taste had a wonderful, slightly chewy texture with a rich, salty, smoky taste.
Hidden in the broth was a generous portion of handmade noodles. The noodles were tender and springy as expected but were quite basic. I would have never guessed they were handmade if I didn’t know beforehand.
Finishing off this bowl of ramen were slices of crunchy, salty roasted seaweed and a soft-boiled egg. The roasted seaweed, or nori, started out crispy but softened up with a quick dunk in the broth. As the seaweed softened, it soaked up all the flavors of the broth. My favorite component of this bowl of ramen was the soft-boiled egg. It was simple but cooked to perfection. A quick poke with my chopsticks and the egg exploded with a rich, creamy golden yolk that oozed into the broth.
While there was nothing specifically wrong with this bowl of ramen, it just wasn’t my favorite. This wasn’t your normal bowl of Japanese ramen. It reminded me more of a spicy tomato soup. While I had no issues with the heat, I felt as if the peppers and chili oil overpowered the true flavors of the broth. And, I love chili oil. Next time I would order the Shiromaru Classic or head back to Ichiran.
The service was fantastic and efficient, something that is quite normal in Japan. They just know what hospitality is all about.
All the workers seemed to have a smile on their face and greeted each and every customer as they entered and left the restaurant. Even better, my food arrived quickly.
Ippudo Ginza was a beautiful place. The decor was casual yet modern and hip. It felt inviting and warm on a cold night in Tokyo.
The food was just as beautiful. The dumplings, while simple, were packed with a lot of flavor.
On the other hand, the Ippudo Karaka ramen was a bit of a let down. I knew beforehand that Ippudo Ginza was known for their tonkotsu ramen. This is what I should have ordered. While there was nothing wrong with the spicier ramen, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The flavors of the chili and peppers were too bold, masking the flavors of the broth.
If I am back in Ginza in the near future, I will have to stop by and try the original Shiromaru Classic tonkotsu ramen.
- Flavorful dumplings
- Affordable food in an expensive area
- Assortment of condiments
- Beautiful modern and sleek decor
- Friendly service
- Broth in the Ippudo Karaka ramen was overshadowed by chili and peppers
- Often a wait, especially during lunch and dinner hours
1F Central Bldg., 4 Chome-10-3 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan
GPS Coordinates: 35.670628,139.767511