Updated: September 11, 2019
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How Did Tsukemen Become as Popular as Ramen?

Tsukemen (dipping ramen) has seen an incredible boom in popularity in recent years. Just how did it become so popular? The reason for its massive popularity today can be traced back to its creator, Kazuo Yamagishi and his outlook on ramen making.

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How Did Tsukemen Become as Popular as Ramen?

These days, tsukemen is just as popular as ramen. As proof, one need only look at any of the countless famous tsukemen shops that have a line of waiting customers out the door.
Tsukemen was first created around 1955 by a ramen chef named Kazuo Yamagishi, who ran the ramen shop 'Higashi Ikebukuro Taishoken' (東池袋 大勝軒).

Supposedly, Mr. Yamagishi used to pour soy sauce and leftover ramen broth into a teacup which he would then dip noodles into and eat as his dinner. One day, a customer peeking into the kitchen saw what he was eating and asked him to serve that next time.
Shortly after, Yamagishi began serving what he called 'Mori Soba' (piled noodles), which featured a plate piled with ramen noodles that could be dipped into soup and eaten. The 'Mori Soba' soon surpassed the conventional ramen in popularity and became the top seller.

In 1970, the tsukemen boom really began. From this time on, instead of 'mori soba,' 'tsukemen' became the word of choice to describe the dish. Around this time, the apprentices who had studied under Mr. Yamagishi began to open their own ramen shops, and 'tsukemen' started entering the mainstream.

In 2007, Mr. Yamagishi retired, closing 'Taishoken' after 60 years of opoeration. On his final day at work, more than 500 customers lined up to eat his famous tsukemen.

However, one year later, thanks to the unceasing requests from passionate fans, Taishoken reopened in a location just 100 meters from the original shop. Although Mr. Yamagishi was no longer the head cook, he could be regularly seen at the restaurant, making sure that the flavor of the soup was still just right.
'Higashi Ikebukuro Taishoken's' 'Tokusei Mori Soba' ¥800
Mr. Yamagishi passed away in 2015, after a great career during which he mentored more than 100 apprentices!

The reason that Mr. Yamagishi was so beloved by his apprentices and why tsukemen was able to spread and become so popular throughout Japan was simple: Mr Yamagishi was generous about sharing everything he knew about tsukemen with his apprentices.

While many ramen chefs are secretive about their recipes and methods, Mr. Yamagishi was always open about everything that he did, instead being happy to spread his knowledge and recipes around. He thought of his apprentices like his children, and was happy to help them succeed and further spread tsukemen throughout the country. Many of the most popular tsukemen shops today are run by these apprentices, and so Mr. Yamagishi's legend lives on.

If you're interested to try the original tsukemen, head to Taishoken in Ikebukuro!
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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