Ramen is definitely one of my must have dishes in Japan. I love noodles and how the Japanese use their many years of experience and know how to create so many variations. Every part of Japan has their own style of making ramen according to their climate, geography, farming produce and culinary traditions. During my stay in Hotel Vista Kyoto, I walked across to the Kyoto Station Building, not only trying Kyoto ramen but widening my palette across the ramen tasting empire to Kansai and other parts of Japan.
On the 10th floor of Kyoto Station building there is a recreation of an eat street called Kyoto Ramen Koji or Ramen Alley, where I could find 8 ramen restaurants. From Sapporo in the North to Hakata on the southwestern island of Kyushu, this is the place the ramen fans could taste the genuine flavors from around Japan. The restaurants are the branches of their original stores in the prefectures; they try their best to give their customers the feeling of visiting the original restaurant by the same recipes of cooking and interior design of the store. I had Banai-shokudo ramen restaurant from Fukushima, and while I did not know exactly where Kitakata city is, but I was in luck, as I found out later that Kitakata has more ramen shops per person than any town in Japan.
Another reason I chose this is because I am a meat-lover. You should see their signature ramen with grilled pork belly slices covering the whole bowl. Filled with glistening fatty goodness, it is amazingly delicious. The grilled pork belly slices possess me with its hearty and warm aroma. With its clear shio savory broth, these chewy noodles are lovingly seasoned with a light soy sauce.
The restaurants capture their regional style well and you do feel like you are in their hometown. While the menus are mostly in Japanese, the picture menus give you a good idea of what you are about to eat. The idea is to select and pay your ramen at the vending machine with pictures of the products and then to give the ticket to the staff. So you do not have to speak or understand a word of Japanese to order here, and you can get an idea of what the popular dishes are as you watch the locals order.
While Banai-shokudo ramen remains true to its street food roots with its sharp pricing (nothing is more than 950 yen), there is a trick in finding Ramen Alley. Look for the elevator next to JR Isetan Department Store on the west side of the Central Exit of JR Kyoto Station. You cannot access via the elevators inside the department store but via the side door next to Isetan main entrance. Otherwise, ask the friendly staff at the information counter. What an easy way to eat your way through Japan in a meal, without leaving the train station.