Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto Kichijoji-ten (蒙古タンメン中本 吉祥寺店); The Spiciest Ramen in Tokyo, Kichijoji
For the more dedicated followers of my reviews, you may notice that I don’t write many reviews for chain and franchise ramen restaurants of Japan. To be honest, it isn’t that I’m a ramen snob, but more so that I was too busy rounding the more renown restaurants that I didn’t have the time or the stomach space to go around and visit some of the popular chain shops. On this particular day I just so happened to be in Kichijoji and had a craving for something spicy to knock my taste buds off. While googling for ramen around the area, Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto caught my eye and I figured this would be a great time to make a visit and introduce my readers to one of the more popular ramen chains that has gained a cult following here in Japan. So without further ado, let me acquaint you to the famous umakara, or spicy delicious, ramen that is Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto.
For those who are unfamiliar with Tanmen, let me give a brief introduction. Tanmen originated in the Kanto area and is comprised of a traditional Chinese style noodles in a light chicken broth. The distinctive feature of tanmen is the vegetable saute draped over the ramen consisting of bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions, wood ear mushroom, and pork slices in a thick soup. If you want to see a traditional tanmen shop, that has been operating since the 1960s, check out my review of the famous Hatsune in Nishiogikubo. Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto is chef Nakamoto’s interpretation of this classic ramen variety. His twist that has garnered millions of fans is the addition of chili peppers to the soup. What was once a small shop in Kami Itabashi is now a flourishing franchise with over 20 locations around the Kanto area serving up the spiciest ramen in Tokyo.
The Kichijoji location is just a short five minute walk from the station. Once you approach the restaurant you’ll see their most popular menu items on the banner out front. The top row is their traditonal ramen items starting on the left with the Miso Tanmen with a spice level of three, regular Mouko Tanmen at spice level 6, and Hokyoku Ramen at level 9. The second row is their rendition of the Tsukemen, which are all served chilled, and starts with the Hiyashi Gomoku Miso Tanmen at spice level 7, Hiyashi Gomoku Mouko Tanmen at 8 spice, and Hiyashi Miso Ramen, the spiciest item on the menu with a level 10 spiciness. On the third row is their rice set with a side of Mabo Tofu and the two non spicy items on the menu for those who might not be able to handle the heat.
Once you purchase your ticket at the machine (ask for an English menu if you need it), make your way towards the back of the shop and wait for one of the employees to take your ticket while waiting on the bench bar. Once a seat opens up, one of the staff members will direct you to your specific seat. At the table are cups for water, chopsticks, tissues, extra chili powder, vinegar, and pickled ginger for your convenience. While they do try to time your order so that your bowl arrives shortly after you take your seat, it does get busy and they make each vegetable saute to order so sit back and enjoy the show if it takes a bit of time for your order to arrive.
So I’m quite adept at spicy food and I used to frequent Mouko Tanmen quite a bit back when I was in college so I opted for the Gomoku Miso Tanmen, which is a level 8 spicy (980 yen). The gomoku tanmen is my favorite type of ramen at Nakamoto (in varying degrees of spiciness) as they pack your bowl with meats and veggies making me feel less guilty about my meal. It is a bit on the pricey side in relation to the rest of the menu, but it still comes in under 1000 yen and I think its worth the extra hundred-ish yen. Be warned however, anything above a level 6 is pretty spicy and has been known to cause ulcers among Nakamoto enthusiasts…I recommend ordering something in the 3-6 range if its your first time unless you’re absolutely confident you can handle the spice.
The ramen here is topped with a generous serving of sliced pork, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, green peppers, bean sprouts, and cabbage in a spicy saute. The veggies bring some sweetness to the bowl and is a nice compliment to the firey soup. Sliced hard boiled egg surround the rim with some scallions sprinkled on top to counterbalance some of the spice. The noodles are a traditional, medium thick Chinese noodle which is perfect for helping calm the spiciness while clinging the perfect amount of soup per slurp. I love the balance of the entire bowl with each component complimenting the spicy soup. The soup itself isn’t just spicy, there is a pretty deep chicken and pork stock flavor that shines through even with the chili spice making it both tasty and firey. The noodles are nice and chewy giving you a wonderful texture variety and a strong wheat flavor with every bite.
Now I know this bowl is not for everyone. Some of you may not be great with spicy food and to be honest, while they provide non-spicy menu items, you’ll be missing out on the key claim to fame of their shop by ordering one of those items. If you are confident with spicy foods and you were curious what all these Japanese people are lining up for, come have a bowl at Nakamoto. You’ll definitely enjoy their bowl, but I can’t make the same promise about your stomach in a couple hours time.