Ramen Eiji (ラーメン 英二); Best Jiro Style Ramen in Tokyo, Kita-Fuchu
In 1968, a ramen store named Ramen Jiro opened up in Mita Station near Keio University and immediately became a favorite among poor, college students. Jiro, as it is now colloquially known, became famous for its enormous portion sizes and incredibly fatty soup. Since then, Jiro has opened numerous franchises around Japan and spawned a cult following of fans known as Jirorians. Because of its massive popularity and longevity, a number of Jiro inspired restaurants have opened and are known as Jiro-kei, or Jiro style ramen. I have been to many Jiro and Jiro style restaurants, but I have to say, Ramen Eiji is one of the best of the bunch.
If you have ever been to a Jiro before, when you approach Eiji, you’ll see Jiro’s influence and similarity. The iconic black, yellow and red color decorate both the interior and exterior as well as the famous font for the restaurant banner. The line starts behind the vending machine, but no outside drinks can be brought in so if you buy a drink during your wait, be sure to finish it before you come in. Rules are a huge part of Jiro and Jiro style ramen restaurants so I will try and explain them here to make your visit as enjoyable as possible. These rules apply to all Jiro and a majority of Jiro style restaurants so keep a note of them in case you visit any of them!
When you enter the restaurant you will need to buy a ticket at the machine. ミニラーメン is the mini, small ramen which comes with one slice of pork char siu. ラーメン with the number 1 indicates a regular ramen with one slice of pork char siu and the one with the number 2 indicates two slices. 大ラーメン is the large portion, but Eiji as well as most Jiro and Jiro style restaurants do not allow non-regulars to order the large portion. If you do order, they may tell you that you won’t be served or be told that there is a punishment if you fail to finish (typically being banned from the restaurant). Be warned, the portion for the large at any of the shops are incredibly large. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, and it requires a huge appetite to finish. If you have a small appetite I recommend ordering the mini. If not, the regular should be just fine. Each store has a different topping specialty, and Eiji is no different. You can order a maze soba, or no soup, for an extra 130 yen with the regular ramen ticket, two extra slices of pork for 200 yen, and raw egg so you can enjoy the bowl sukiyaki style for 50 yen. After you purchase your ticket, wait in line inside and take your seat at the counter once the chef instructs you to do so. Before you sit, grab water at the machine and a spoon next to it. Once you find your seat, give your ticket to the chef and wait for your food.
Jiro and Jiro style restaurants all have free toppings that you will have to “call” for when your bowl is ready. The chef will ask you for your topping once your bowl is ready. Don’t try and call out your toppings before the chef prompts you to. The toppings are Yasai (ヤサイ, vegetables), Ninniku (ニンニク,garlic), Abura (アブラ, fat), and Karame (カラメ, sauce). Call out the toppings you want (example: if you want veggies and garlic say “Yasai, Ninniku”). If you’d like all of them, call out “ZenMashi”. Tissues and toothpicks are provided at the counter, but be sure to gather your garbage after you finish and throw them out in the trash can located by the entrance.
Once you have received your bowl, congratulations, you can now finally enjoy your meal. As mentioned earlier, and as you can see from the photos, Jiro and Jiro style has enormous portions and the soup is incredibly fatty. The photos above are the mini ramen, so if you do in fact order the regular or large portion, be prepared for double and triple the size. The vegetable topping is a mix of blanched cabbage and bean sprouts. Glossy, marinated fat slices top the vegetables and a scoop of garlic is placed on the side of the bowl. Karame, or seasoning sauce is poured over the top. The broth at Jiro is probably unlike any you’ve had before. The broth is made by boiling down various pork bones, pork fat, and pork meat as well as various vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and garlic on high heat to emulsify all of them together in to one broth. What results is this creamy, fat-filled broth brimming with incredible pork flavor. The flavor of the soup is a combination of salty, creamy, fatty, and sweet that is ridiculously overpowering. In order to counterbalance the dense and strong flavor of the soup, the Karame seasoning sauce is recommended. The karame is a sweet soy sauce that helps counterbalance the saltiness of the soup and mellows it out to a more enjoyable broth. The vegetables are also a great touch to the bowl as it helps soak up the soup and dampens the flavor. If you feel like you need more flavor, the marinated fat pieces really pairs well with the vegetables, acting sort of like a dressing to the vegetables.
My favorite part of Jiro though has got to be the pairing of the soup and the noodles. The noodles are incredibly thick, chewy and has a nice bite to it. It doesn’t lose out to the strong soup, and has great flavor for noodles. The noodles are made using a Japanese, hard flour with Kansui (sodium carbonate) and salt mixed in. The water content is quite low and the dough is kneaded heavily to produce this chewy texture. At Eiji, as well as other Jiro restaurants, the noodles are kneaded before cooking to give this curly consistency. The curliness of the soup helps cling the fatty soup, sweet seasoning sauce, and soft marinated fat slices to allow the customer to get the full flavor of the bowl. With the crunchy, blanched bean sprouts and cabbage, you can enjoy a variety of texture with each bite as well. Not only are the noodles nice and thick, its also quite voluminous. There are a ton of noodles making sure you leave completely satisfied with your meal.
There is a debate among ramen enthusiasts as Jiro really divides the community. Due to its high fat content and rich flavor, there are people who absolutely love the ramen and those who despise it. Jirorians claim that everyone hates it on their first time since the portions are huge and flavors are rich, but you become addicted with each additional visit. For me, I was hooked since day 1. While I can’t say for sure if you’ll like it or not, I think a visit to Jiro and Jiro style ramen restaurant is a rite of passage that every ramen enthusiast should try one. If you’re brave enough, come have a visit. At the very least you’ll leave full and proud that you finished a bowl at an infamous restaurant.