Emily is a name that you don't hear much of in Japan. Karin on the other hand, is a Japanese name, though when you first hear it, it sounds rather like Karen. If I were to name my daughter Karin, I am sure she can bridge that divide between Japan and the rest of the world, a divide that this ramen noodle shop is bridging seamlessly.
Actually Emily is eating my ramen right now. At Ippudo, the ramen comes out searing hot, as it should be, a fireball kept hot by a giant white porcelain bowl. Of course, with the aroma of all that pork stock goodness enveloping her, she throws caution to the wind, and starts slurping . There is this great big almost guzzling sounds of air flowing through her lips. If you close your eyes, she may as well be Sachi or Noriko slurping my ramen, such is her ease in picking up this particular Japanese habit.
The other idiosyncrasy you find in Japan is of Japanese women clapping. Like when you favorite ramen appears before you in all its splendor, you would clap in small motions, but with a massive grin that almost matches the grin in your eyes. It is like you are trying to be polite by controlling your hand movements, but your face can't hide your excitement and it is obvious for all to see. Emily claps so much like Sachi or Noriko, she may as well be Japanese.
There are lots of Emilys and Sachis on this cold evening, just as there are lots of Marcuses and Takeshis ducking in for a quick pick me up.
Despite its simple and concise menu it can be hard for first timers to make a choice here. So this is where Emily or Takeshi comes in. You order two different noodles and enjoy devouring both of them in turn. That is, if Emily leaves some for me. Despite the large bowl and the substantial carbohydrates in the noodles, there is room for something else afterwards.
Start with the classic Hakata style Shiromaru motoaji, bathed in a pork based tonkotsu broth with black mushrooms and green onions. It is a good introduction to the world of ramen,with just enough kick without being overpowering. On the other hand, the Akamaru Shinaji, takes the original broth to a newer level of complexity, with a combination of special miso paste and garlic oil. It comes in a red bowl, with overtones of char siu barbeque pork and a light yet rich hued stock, reminding me of lobster broth in its richness with an inter play of sweet, savory and bitter tasting notes.
When it is first served, it is tempting to mix it all up. Instead, like a tea ceremony, take a good look at this masterpiece, its vivid colors preparing your eyes for a treat. Then take in the aroma, and taste each of the ingredients separately in turn. The red miso paste in particular, is strong but stunning in grabbing your attention. Only then should you mix it up and eat.
The beauty of Ippudo is that, despite the standardized chain store like offering, you can pick and choose how you eat the ramen. Whether you want the red or white stock, or mix and match amongst bean sprouts, chili or sesame seeds seasoning, you can do it to your heart’s delight. It is like making your own ramen, without having to cook it yourself. The ramen thickness may seem too thin to some, but it makes the meal more palatable and lets you enjoy more of the broth. What’s more you can even choose how soft or firm the noodles are cooked.
The Gyoza on the other hand, had universal acclaim. All the ingredients blended into a tender juicy, almost mousse like mince inside warm and crispy pockets of pastry, it manages to be perfectly cooked and tender at the same time. Pour some soy sauce and spicy la yu , a Japanese chilli sauce made with sesame oil, chilli, and paprika, topped with some freshly grated ginger and green onion to make a dipping sauce, and these mini dumplings work like a treat.
While other places can offer a more economical or bespoke experience, everyone raves about Ippudo. What draws people back is its consistency of decent ramen, so whether you have just broken up or if you are in that grey zone between tipsy and drunk and wanting some comfort food late in the night, this eatery delivers comfort food in heartwarming portions.
Ippudo is a four minute walk from exit 18 at Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. It is a bit longer from Sanjo subway station. They have menus in English, Japanese and Chinese.