In the sleepy seaside town of Yugawara, famous for its hot springs and idyllic coastal views, Iida Shouten (らぁ麺屋飯田商店) gives the town another claim to fame – award-winning ramen.
Visitors who make the journey out here may frown at the low-key setting—an aging two-storey prefab in this quiet residential backstreet—but as customers quickly gather outside in the mid-morning sunshine, a sense of growing anticipation hints at something special.
Iida Shouten is well-known on the ramen circuit since bursting onto the scene in March 2010 and often quoted as the best ramen shop in Kanagawa prefecture. Glowing reviews have brought accolades from across the industry, including Tabelog, TRY (Tokyo Ramen of the Year) and the Ramen Database, amongst others. I first caught reference to them when they collaborated with Tsuta and Tomita Ramen for the latter's 10th anniversary. To be associated with such company almost immediately justifies Iida Shouten's credentials.
Stepping inside will reset any assumption possibly made about this ramen shop's cosy, old-school interior. A major refurbishment in June 2016 has transformed the interior into one of the best looking ramen shops in Japan. A huge, spacious interior houses a long, wide L-shaped wood finish counter overlooking a giant kitchen area. There's a sense of unity with the chefs' workspace as onlookers are invited to gaze at the magic that goes on in front of them.
The bowl itself is a divine experience and certainly one of the best bowls out there. Each variety (soy sauce, salt, tsukemen) is on the menu, though the shoyu is probably the natural choice for the first-time visitor. Poring over the select ingredient list reveals a level of detail fairly consistent with modern ramen trends. The shoyu tare uses 6 kinds of raw, unpasteurised soy sauces from across Hyogo, Gunma and Wakayama to deliver a unique blend (including 4 dark soy sauces, 1 light soy sauce, 1 re-fermented soy sauce). The main soup is chicken based, drawing on Akita Hinai-jidori, Nagoya-cochin and Sansui-jidori chicken to enhance the flavour.
The noodles themselves are light, chewy and flavourful – so good in fact I could lots of people ordering extra. Handmade at the rear of the shop each day, a blend of domestic wheats from across Hokkaido, Fukuoka and Kagawa is used alongside natural sea water from Inner Mongolia and Okinawan Nuchi-masu salt.
Char siu comes in two varieties: local Kanagawa-born Sagami pork and chicken, both slow-cooked and marinated.
The optional wonton topping feels like a signature addition to the bowl, so worth paying a little extra for. You even get two: the black pork wonton (looks like a tiny Dementor) uses Hirata pork from Yamagata, with the white wonton uses Tankai-jidori chicken from Shiga.
For those choosing salt ramen, you won't be disappointed either. The shio tare uses a blend of 4-5 different salts, including Okinawan Nuchi-masu, Ishigaki salt and a Fukuen variety from China.
Even the bowls are specially made – Arita-yaki from Saga prefecture.
Yugawara has much to offer and is worth a visit in itself, but combines well with a visit to Iida Shouten. Not only can you expect fabulous coastal views just 5 minutes east of the shop, the Yugawara area is blessed with several day-entry onsens, and mountainous views.
Despite Iida Shouten's remote location, you can still expect to queue over an hour on weekends. If you need to secure an early spot, they dish out numbered tickets ('seiriken') at set times of 8am, 9am, 10am and 10:30am. Ticket holders get priority queuing from 10:50am, just before the shop opens at 11am.