By Mandy Bartok
Ramen is one of the most widely known and enjoyed Japanese dishes around the world. While instant packages of the noodles and broth might be satisfying on a cold evening or when you just don’t feel like cooking, nothing compares to a well crafted bowl prepared for you by chefs who really know what makes great ramen.
Of all the ramen shops I visited during my time in Japan, the best I ever found (in my humble opinion) was right in my own town: TenTenYu Ramen (天天有ラーメン). Simple and cozy, the shop is only open for three hours over lunch from Friday to Wednesday. It is always packed and with good reason, but you won’t have to wait long; the talented chefs are very quick at their work. The owners, Nobuyo and Kaname Ikeda have been honing their skills for years, and it shows!
Opening their first shop in 1961, they have operated out of several locations before settling in the town of Kajiki (of Kumo Gassen fame) in Aira City.
What makes the ramen so excellent is a matter of skill, practice and great ingredients – although those ingredients are no secret; the owners share them on their website (linked on the right). To the Ikedas the important thing is that their customers are happier leaving their shop than they were when they arrived, and to keep improving their recipe and methods. “We want to make something that makes our customers say, ‘Even if we are having a fight, once we eat delicious food, we will relax and forget we were even arguing. What is ‘delicious’? We don’t know yet, but we’ll keep pursuing it.”
Travelers who don’t consider their Japanese up-to-snuff and who find ordering food in a busy restaurant vexing should not worry. For several years Nobuyo has hosted a free Eikaiwa (English conversation class) run by the local Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in the area once a week after business hours and has picked up more than a phrase or two. If you have trouble with the menu options or have a quick question about the area, she can certainly help you out.
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Laura Keating spends most of her time writing, and over-caffeinating herself, usually at the same time. She has traveled extensively around Asia (including a two year stay in southern Japan), Central Asia, and Europe. She is in the process of moving to Toronto, and will spend her time divided between there and Syracuse, New York, for the foreseeable future.