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Is top rated ramen really better? Fu-Unji ramen restaurant review

One of the priorities during my trip to Japan was to eat at a top rated ramen shop.  There are thousands of ramen shops in Tokyo, so what makes one a top rated shop?  The Japanese who are obsessed with rankings and guides have annual guide books and TV stations frequently do stories on hot ramen shops.  I thought it was time to see for myself.

Fu- Unji ramen is in Shinjuku a short walk from where I am staying.  It was recently featured in a best in Tokyo ranking by TV Tokyo.  On a Saturday afternoon, I thought it would be relatively quiet since there isn’t the workday lunch rush to deal with.  I was wrong.  You can see in the pictures below there is still a line on weekends, at 2PM no less.  There were about thirty people waiting in line ahead of me.  You always hear the saying, “You know it’s good if there is a line”.  Well in Tokyo that is only partially true since many places in Tokyo have lines all day long.  In this case I knew it was really famous because the young Japanese ramen nerd in front of me in line had two ramen guidebooks.  One would have been no big deal, but this guy had two.  You can see the line into the shop as well as the counter and cooks in the photos below.

So on to the ramen.  The soup was unique for sure.  It was a thick broth, with a chicken and sardine flavor.  The fish flavor is evident from the first sip.  I personally don’t see the fuss over thick soup ramen.  To me it seems like a gimmick.  If you overwhelm your guest with an overpowering heavy soup, you can hide some of the more complex flavors found in a thin broth soup.  So aside from my dislike of the thick soup trend, the soup was tasty.  The shop is known for tsukemen, (ramen noodles kept separate from a dipping cup of concentrated soup broth.), and this makes sense as heavier soups make better dipping sauces than soups.  In order to stay consistent, I ordered the soup version.  Even though I’m not a fan of thick soups, I would say it was clear that this shop put a lot of time into preparing their soup.  There were a lot of flavors at work, and the soup flavor was more complex than your standard neighborhood ramen shop.

The noodles were on the thicker side of average, but nothing close to udon thickness.  They were cooked well, nice and tender.

The toppings while seeming basic were also clearly prepared with more time and customization than the average shop.  The menma, or soy flavored bamboo shoots, were braised slightly making them even tenderer.  The hanjuku egg was perfectly cooked and seasoned, although I never understood shops that just drop the whole egg into the bowl, as there are no knives used in ramen shops.  The chashu pork was average, decently fatty but not the center of attention here.

So is a top rated ramen shop really that good?  The answer is mostly no.  While I do think the ramen at Fu-Unji is better than the average shop, I don’t think it warrants the 45 minute wait in line, or higher costs.  But it is definitely a tasty bowl of ramen, and if you are in the area it’s worth a stop if you have the time.  I give Fu-Unji ramen 7.5 out of 10 for unique soup flavoring, and extra care in preparing their own toppings.  Famous ramen is good but this one wasn’t mind blowing.

Fu-Unji is a five minute walk from the Southern Terrace exit at Shinjuku Station.

http://www.fu-unji.com

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