Kiraku (喜楽); Oldest Ramen Restaurant in Shibuya, Shibuya
One of the oldest ramen shops in Tokyo is located in the heart of the red light district of Shibuya. While its not in the most ideal location, the restaurant itself is rather cozy and is a great place to soak in some Japanese culture while enjoying some delicious ramen. Shibuya itself is a great place to explore when venturing around Tokyo and if you’re looking for some great ramen in between your exploration of the city, this is the perfect shop for you. Kiraku is open Thursday to Tuesday from 11:30-20:30 so you can easily fit this in as a lunch, mid afternoon snack, or a dinner. If you’re lucky you might find some cool, friendly patrons there to small talk with as well so don’t let its location deter you.
Sometimes you might get lucky with a shop staff that speaks English, but if you don’t, here’s a translation of the menu. Starting with the left side are the Shoyu flavored ramen with a Chukamen, Moyashi Bean Sprout Ramen, Char Siu Ramen, Won Ton Ramen, Moyashi Bean Sprout and Won Ton Ramen, and a Char Siu Won Ton Ramen. Below that is the Won Ton, Moyashi Bean Sprout Won Ton, Char Siu Won Ton and Gomoku Extra Vegetables Won Ton varieties of the salt variety. Below that is the Fried Rice, Chuka Don (Chinese stir fry over rice), and Gyoza Pot Stickers and Rice. On the right is the Tanmen, Gomoku Men, and Gomoku Won Ton Men which are all Chinese Tanmen style ramen. Below that is the side menu items of Gyoza Pot Stickers, Roasted Char Siu, Beef with Leek stir fry, Beef and Moyashi Bean Sprout stir fry, Pi-tan (Century Egg), and finally Rice. I’m not entirely sure if they have an English menu, but the “point and order” method will surely work given its location in Shibuya with a lot of foreigners dining in the area. I opted for the Won Ton Ramen (Shoyu variety) as it is their most recommended item and left quite full for those wondering about portion sizes.
The ramen here is probably the most traditional, Chinese style Japanese ramen you can get in Tokyo. Important to note that this is a Chinese STYLE Japanese ramen. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but over the course of 60-70 years, Japan took what was originally a Chinese noodle dish (Chukamen) and turned it Japanese through the use of Japanese ingredients and flavors. What you see here is a culmination of those years and what has now colloquially been called Chukamen, or Chinese style noodles, here in Japan. The flavors for this ramen is nothing like any Chinese style noodle dish you’d get at a Chinese restaurant and is just the name of the particular style. Now that we have that covered, on to the ramen.
The flavor profile of the ramen, to put it simply, is a dense, salty, animal stock. While I couldn’t personally ask the chef what was used for the broth, from the taste, I would guess it’s primarily chicken and pork stock with a variety of vegetables added in to kill any bitterness and smell from the animal broth. The bowl has a distinct green onion and leek aroma so I would assume that is the primary vegetable used. The seasoning tare is soy sauce base as I ordered the Shoyu version of the ramen and is a lot saltier than what I’m used to. Of course, Chinese style Chukamen dictates the use of a sodium heavy soy sauce so its understandable, but on top of the saltiness, it was also quite fatty from the broth, making it taste a lot heavier than it looks. I wasn’t a huge fan given the fact that it was so salty I couldn’t finish the soup, but is perfect for those looking to recharge after a long day of work…which is probably the target audience as I was surrounded by tired looking salarymen at the restaurant.
The noodles are Chinese style, yellow noodles and you really need to eat the noodles quickly as it tends to soak up the soup quickly leading to a very mushy noodle at the end. Again, this does dictate the “Chinese Style” of the ramen as it is typically made with these soft noodles. Overall the noodles work well with this ramen as you need the starchiness to counteract the saltiness of the soup. The char siu is partially roasted around the edges giving a nice smoky aroma, but the meat itself is soaked in a soy sauce and star anise marinade so you’ll get the distinct Asian herb flavor profile as well. Since the soup is very soy sauce heavy, it doesn’t give off any Pho vibes, but the star anise is such a unique flavor that you do get hints of it as you eat the pork. In addition to the slice of roast pork, the ramen also comes adorned with steamed bean sprouts and a hard boiled egg. I kind of found it funny how recent trends tend to dictate ramen styles and its quite rare to find a ramen shop with an egg cooked until it gets to this rubbery texture, but Kiraku essentially ignores all of these trends and sticks to what works for them. Honestly the egg was so over cooked it felt like I was chewing rubber, but it surprisingly works for this ramen. The denseness of the egg works as another counterbalance to the salty soup and I couldn’t imagine having a runny soft boiled egg here. Similar to the noodles, the bean sprouts are a bit over cooked and can get soggy as it soaks up the soup, but because the sprouts are essentially flavorless, its nice to have it as a vessel for drinking more soup. The crunchiness that remains of the bean sprout makes for a nice texture change between the soft noodles and the rubbery egg that I quite enjoyed it.
The main attraction for me has got to be the distinctly Chinese style won tons. A lot of ramen shops have been incorporating won tons in their dish, but Kiraku has to be one of the front runners having been serving their won ton ramen for decades now. It’s nothing special, but yet the simplicity of it makes it unique. Instead of using high quality pork or fresh caught shrimp for the filling, its just a traditional ground pork that’s lightly seasoned and wrapped in their won ton wrappers. The reason is works is because the wrapper and the ground pork soaks up that soup which adds the perfect amount of salt to draw out the sweetness of the pork filling.
While the shop may not wow you with any fancy ingredients or shop interiors, Kiraku is an institution that has stood the test of time and flourished throughout countless ramen trends and changes. Not only have they remained a favorite for older ramen lovers, they still capture the hearts of younger ramen fans walking around the bustling Shibuya district of Tokyo. It’s honestly perfect if you’re already in the area as there are only a few ramen restaurants near Shibuya station that I consider worth visiting, and this is one of them. If you do end up going, let me know what you thought via my social media platforms whether it be twitter, facebook, instagram, or the comment section below. Would love to hear from you and see if my reviews helped at all!