Kashiwagi (かしわぎ); Old School, New School, Higashi Nakano
Higashi Nakano is quite a minor station on the Chuo Sobu line, but is home to a few amazing ramen shops. One of these shops is Kashiwagi, located a short five minute walk from the station. Kashiwagi opened in June of 2017 (just narrowly missing out on my recent rookie ramen shops list) and have been popular ever since. One of the reasons for its popularity at first was how cheap the ramen is, which resulted in long lines of nearby office workers during lunch hours. However, the ramen began being noticed by enthusiasts and has now become a staple in every internet ramen ranking.
The store looks like a rebranded soba shop or sushi restaurant and has a traditional, Japanese retro vibe to it. However, the inside has been completely redone and is very modern and chic. There is a bench inside in the waiting area and the restaurant itself seats nine; five at the counter and a table of four in the back. When you first walk in, the ticket machine is immediately to the right. There are only a few things on the menu; Shoyu Ramen and Shio Ramen for 680 yen each, extra bowl of noodles for 100 yen, soft boiled egg for 100 yen, extra char siu for 250 yen, and a lunch special rice bowl for 150 yen.
Like always I started my meal with the rice bowl (only during lunch hours). For 150 yen, this is an amazing deal. From the reviews I read prior to my visit, nine times out of ten the lunch special is this pictured curry bowl. Worked out well for me as I’m a sucker for ramen shop curry and order it whenever I come across it. Most ramen restaurants use the broth from their ramen for the curry resulting in an incredibly flavorful curry and Kashiwagi is no exception. The curry is full of incredible flavors rooting from the ramen broth, and there is just enough curry seasoning mixed in to give a nice kick to the beginning of your meal. And for 150 yen, literally everyone else in the shop was ordering it with me. Really great bargain and definitely worth it if you trekked out here.
The main event here is the pictured Shio Ramen. I opted to pay the extra 100 yen for the soft boiled egg bringing my total for the meal to 930 yen. With these prices, I can understand now how they have so many repeat customers from the corporate offices nearby. Definitely the most cost effective ramen shop in Tokyo. Anyways, back to the ramen. The shio ramen here is nothing short of amazing. The base is a Torichintan soup, or a low simmer chicken broth. Infused with the torichintan is the niboshi broth, which is also drawn on a low simmer which ensures that this soup remains quite clear and clean. The shio tare works well with this broth blend as it brings out the delicate flavor of both the chicken and the fish without altering it too much. I’ve read that the Shoyu ramen is also quite good, but with this gentle soup, I think the shio tare works better. The noodles are made specifically for the shop and cooked al dente for a nice bite. A few slices of pork char siu, menma bamboo shoots, a sprinkle of green onions and my extra topping of the egg rounded out my bowl.
The soup here is fantastic. The light chicken broth is the focal point and the niboshi provides umami without adding any bitterness or overpowering fishy aftertaste. The thin round noodles pair perfectly with the bowl as it clings just enough soup to get a full flavor, but also allows you to taste the flavor of the noodle. The menma bamboo shoots are lightly blanched making it soft on the outside, but a nice crunch on the inside. The green onions have a refreshing crunch and provides a bit of bitterness to the dish. Pork char siu is perfectly cooked to a tender perfection. The smoky aroma from the char and sweet soy sauce marinade ties the dish together well. As you can see from the picture, the eggs are cooked precisely to what I believe is best for ramen. No hard yellow yolk, bright orange, but not runny to alter the soup.
Overall from start to finish, my experience at Kashiwagi really helped me understand how their popularity began. First, just surprised at how cheap my entire meal was. Rarely do I come to a ramen shop for these reviews and pay less than a 1000 yen, but I was able to add toppings and a rice bowl for that price. The lunch special curry is incredibly flavorful, but also gives a nice volume of food for hungry business workers nearby drawing in tons of customers. And the ramen itself was fantastic. Definitely changed my perception on how shio ramen can be made. The fact that they were able to draw so much flavors while only charging 680 gives me an appreciation of how skill and style can alter so much of a broth. If you want to see a true ramen artist at work, definitely come and check out Kashiwagi. You won’t be disappointed.