Updated: August 29, 2019
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What is 'Kyoto Ramen' and Why is it so Rich?

Kyoto City

Kyoto cooking is known for being light and refreshing, with mild and subtle flavors that accentuate the natural flavor of the ingredients used. Why then, is Kyoto-style ramen so rich?

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Kyoto Ramen

People who have never tried Kyoto ramen probably imagine it to be light and delicate, much like Kyoto's other foods. However, the reality is that Kyoto ramen is some of the richest of any of the regional ramen varieties in Japan, and features high-impact dark soy sauce soup.

Ramen first came to Kyoto when a ramen stall popped up in front of Kyoto Station in 1938, selling a noodle dish that the people of Kyoto had never seen before. The stall was operated by a man named 'Jo Eitei'(徐永俤) who was originally from China's Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai. He later went on to open the restaurant 'Shinpuku Saikan' (新福菜館), the birthplace of what is now called 'Kyoto Ramen.' The rich soy sauce-infused soup piled with thin slices of meat soon became incredibly popular, and to this day is the basis for Kyoto ramen.
Shinpuku Saikan's 'Chuka Soba' ¥700
'Shinpuku Saikan's original rich soy sauce ramen spawned other types of ramen, including a chicken-based soy sauce-flavored ramen with added pork fat. This style of ramen in turn evolved into a super-thick chicken ramen served by a ramen shop called 'Tenka Ippin.' This ramen is boiled until gelatin comes out of the bones and cloudy emulsion forms, giving the soup a creamy, milk-like texture. The ramen of 'Tenka Ippin' was extremely popular, and soon spread throughout the country!
Tenka Ippin's 'Kotteri' ramen, ¥700
But just why did such thick, rich ramen become the standard in Kyoto, where most food is light and delicate?
According to one theory, 'Jo Eitei,' the creator of the dish supposedly had friends in Tokyo who introduced the recipe for strong soy sauce soup to him. Additionally, as opposed to soup made from pork bones, soup made from chicken bones is more prone to becoming thick as it is boiled. The ammount of universities in Kyoto might also have something to do with the ramen's popularity, as many students from around the country came to study in Kyoto. The cheap yet rich flavor of the ramen was a popular meal for hungry students.

Many factors played a role, and the result is some rich and delicious ramen that is quite special. Luckily, 'Shinpuku Saikan,' the birthplace of the original Kyoto ramen is still open today. Check it out when you're in Kyoto!
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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