One reason ramen is an icon of Japanese cuisine is that it has a life of its own, its ingredients and way of cooking having a sense of dynamism, transforming its taste from its place of origin, as well as from one cook to the next.
Everyone can make their own version of Ramen, and be respected for their invention. So it is always an adventure to try a new ramen restaurant, especially when there is a local chef and not the branch of a branded chain. During my stay in Hotel Anteroom Kyoto, located in a quiet residential area devoid of tourists, I strolled around to look for a local Ramen restaurant for lunch and found Sankyo Restaurant about 5-minute walk from the hotel northwards towards Kyoto Station. It is a small restaurant on the ground at the cross roads of Kujo and Karasuma streets.
Like many Chinese inspired ramen restaurants it has a red flag hanging on its front door. Though ramen varies amongst different restaurants, the basic layout is often similar. This restaurant has about 20 seats, with a long counter where you can watch the proceedings in the open kitchen. Likewise the decor is simple and unadorned with solid furniture in polished dark brown wood. As fans of the noodle cult film Tampopo would know, everything needs to be just right. The counter can’t be too low so that the chef breaks his back serving customers, and this no frills eatery has got everything in the right proportion. You can feel the authentic ramen shop atmosphere, especially when the owner was friendly chatting with his customer at the bar.
Now, back to the food, the true protagonist of this article. There are about six lunch sets which include a bowl of regular ramen, a small bowl of rice and a snack sized serving of deep fried potato croquette nuggets or beef toppings on rice. I chose the set with miso grilled pork ramen and seaweed minced pork rice with a raw egg. Mixing the egg with the rice gives it a smooth almost creamy, frothy texture. The seaweed and minced pork provided different layers of tastes. The ramen was even better. The soup has strong taste of pork and miso but not so thick as to smother the other ingredients, and complemented the pork slices. The crunchy bean sprouts and spring onions added another layer, along with a soft cooked egg. These all worked together to season the chewy noodles. According to the hand written instructions, you can order the noodles in three different textures, soft, medium or hard, allowing you to dial the level of bite. Spring onions also come in three levels, lots, normal or nothing, while oil levels range from a little to a lot. The chef recommends hard noodles with lots of spring onions. So all in all, nine different ways to have the same ramen. All this for just 800 yen per set or you can just have ramen from 400 yen and up. You can also order drinks but cold tea is complementary.