We’ve always been big fans of ramen, but it wasn’t really until we returned to Japan that we truly started to appreciate ramen. When traveling to Kyoto, Japan, we tried to eat as many bowls of ramen as we could to put together this ramen guide to Kyoto. From Kyoto style to styles from other regions of Japan, the city has it all. In this guide, I share our tips on how to find the best ramen in Kyoto and general tips on how to choose a good ramen restaurant in Kyoto.
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What Is Japanese Ramen
Ramen is having a bit of a moment now. What was once a staple of Japanese cuisine has become an international phenomenon. For food and drink travelers ramen is a must-eat when in Japan.
Growing up in the US, I used to associate ramen with instant ramen noodles, like Cup Noodles. There is so much more that goes into it and both traditional and contemporary ramen is nothing like Cup Noodles. Instead, good, quality ramen is not cheap, fast food. It’s an artisan product and a lot goes into making a proper bowl. But, what is ramen in the first place?
Ramen is a noodle soup. It is different from udon or soba noodles in that the noodles are alkaline. Alkaline noodles include an additional ingredient, normally sodium carbonate, to keep them firm in broth. Whereas soba or udon noodles tend to soften in broth, ramen noodles will stay firmer longer. Ramen also can include a variety of soup broths, including pork, seafood, miso, and more.
Check out our Kyoto Food Blog – What To Eat In Kyoto
What Are The Types Of Ramen
There are dozens of different types of ramen, although some say there are more than a hundred types. Traditionalists say there are only four varieties and the rest are derivative.
When it comes to the types of ramen to eat in Japan, there are regional differences. For example, the Japanese ramen noodles and broth in Hokkaido, which includes Sapporo, will be different than the ones in the Kansai region, which includes Kyoto and Osaka.
Ramen In Kyoto
It’s hard to come up with a list of the “best” ramen in Kyoto, or really any city in Japan. First, there are so many ramen shops, seemingly one on every corner. But, it’s also based on each person’s tastes. Each ramen-ya, or ramen shop, serves different types of ramen. The broth can be meat-based or seafood based or even miso-based, meaning a base of soybean paste.
In Kyoto, the most common type of ramen is Tonkotsu, which is pork broth ramen. This is different from other regions where the broth is miso-based or soy-based (shoyu). Tonkotsu ramen has a milky white broth because it’s made with pork bones, marrow, and fat. Eric quickly determined that Tonkotsu was the best ramen broth, but that is no surprise. He’s a huge pork fan.
Because of the popularity of ramen, though, we ate varieties from all over the country while in Kyoto.
Learn more about Japanese food in our post about the Best Japanese Snacks To Try.
Eating Hakata style spicy ramen at Kyoto Ramen Alley
Why Eat Ramen In Kyoto
Japan, similar to countries like Italy and Spain, has a regional cuisine. This means that there are certain dishes that should be eaten in one region and not another. The same is true for some of the most commonly eaten Japanese dishes. They may be available all over the country, but regional differences make it worthwhile to try them in a particular place.
That’s why when it comes to Japanese ramen, you should try a bowl in each city you visit to compare the differences. In Kyoto, you can also try ramen styles from all over the country, which is another reason why it’s a great city for this iconic dish.
There are over 200 ramen restaurants in Kyoto. Sure, the city is known for temples, but for people who travel for food, it’s the ramen that makes the city so tasty. It’s one of the best things to eat in Kyoto as well.
We actually only ate a handful of bowls of ramen in Osaka so that we could save our ramen eating in Kyoto to put together this list. We also asked a few travel blogging friends for their recommendations too.
Eating At The Ramen Factory In Kyoto
The Ramen Factory In Kyoto
I heard that there was a ramen museum in Kyoto. In the end, it is really a place to learn how to make ramen – but it is still worth checking out. Ramen Factory is the only restaurant in Kyoto that allows hands-on cooking classes. You can even learn how to roll out the dough and cut the noodles, which is a great experience. Alyse from The Invisible Tourist shared her experience with Ramen Factory because we didn’t have time to visit.
Alyse is a firm believer that one of the best ways to learn more about local culture is through experiences, so she couldn’t turn down the chance to create her very own chicken ramen using authentic local ingredients at a cooking class in Kyoto. Ramen Factory is the only restaurant in the city where you can create your own ramen from scratch!
Even if you’re not great in the kitchen, the friendly staff at Ramen Factory were there to guide her through each step so you could prepare the dish from scratch in a traditional way. Her favorite part was customizing the broth. Naturally, she had to opt for the white miso paste flavor — a specialty exclusive to the Kyoto region.
Booking At Ramen Factory
Classes start at ¥7500 and you can find Ramen Factory at 814-18 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, a few moment’s walk from Tofukuji Station. This experience often sells out, so it is best to book ahead to reserve. Book your spots here on Viator. See reviews of the experience on TripAdvisor here. There are vegetarian, vegan, and halal versions available if you let them know in advance.
Where To Eat Some Of The Best Ramen In Kyoto
If you have the extra time to explore the restaurants outside of Kyoto city center, definitely check out Ichijoji. This is a neighborhood in Kyoto’s north, about 30-40 minutes by train from Kyoto Station. There are dozens of Kyoto ramen shops in this one small neighborhood. It’s also where Tenkaippin originated. Although it’s now a nationwide chain, it all started in the Ichijoji neighborhood. Otherwise, if you are short on time, we have loads of great options for ramen closer to Kyoto’s city center.
Kyoto Ramen Street
When it comes to looking for great food to eat in Kyoto, there are loads of options in Kyoto Station. When it comes to what to eat in Kyoto Station, there is one answer for food travelers – ramen!
Kyoto Ramen Koji is known informally as Kyoto Ramen Street. Don’t let the name fool you. It should really be called Kyoto Station Ramen Street because it’s not a street at all. Instead, it’s a highly-condensed corridor of ramen shops located on the 10th floor of Kyoto Station.
It’s hard to say which (if any) of these ramen shops could be considered the best ramen in Kyoto Station (or within Kyoto in general), but it’s a fun experience to have. Not only do they offer Kyoto-style ramen, but there are also shops from around Japan, each offering different, regional takes on ramen.
How To Eat Ramen At Kyoto Station
To find Kyoto’s ramen street, go to the main hallway of the station. Facing the entrance to the Japan Rail station and track entrance look to the right. Go up the escalators and follow signs for “Restaurants.” Continue up a series of escalators to the 10th floor. Once on the 10th floor, Ramen Street is on the left.
Choose the ramen shop where you want to eat. Order from the ticket machine, and then wait in line. We ate at Ikkousha Ramen, which is known for its Hakata style, Tonkotsu ramen. They are an international chain, but it was still very good.
Ramen At Kyoto Station Pro Tip
It can be intimidating to choose a ramen shop on Kyoto Ramen Street. It’s a compact space with loads of lines, red ropes, and signs. Try to avoid the weekends if possible. If not, prepare to wait. If you have the time, choose the shop with the longest line. Or, use your visit to try a new type of ramen for you. There is a sign near the entrance with a map that lays out the names and locations of each ramen-ya along with what region of Japan the ramen is from.
Hataka Nagahama Miyoshi In Kyoto
Hataka Nagahama Miyoshi
This was the single bowl of ramen we ate in Kyoto that made Eric exclaim “f me that’s good.” Hataka Nagahama Miyoshi is just across the river from Gion and north of Pontocho Alley. It’s a great late-night spot for locals because they stay open until 5 am.
Be prepared to wait because they only have about seven seats. We visited during lunch with no wait and enjoyed a steaming bowl of Hakata-style Tonkotsu for only ¥700. The noodles were firm. The broth is creamy and rich. They placed ginger and other condiments on the counter. The ginger really offset the spiciness from the kimchi they added to mine. Overall, one of the best bowls of ramen we ate in the Kansai area.
Located just a few blocks from Karasuma Station, Wajouryoumen Sugari is definitely a unique ramen eating experience in Kyoto. We, unfortunately, visited on a Saturday morning during the busiest weekend of the year in Kyoto due to the fall colors. We got there just as they opened and waited more than an hour.
First, wait in line outside in the alley. Then, wait in a line inside to use the ticket machine. Then, we moved into an adorable little garden courtyard to wait for a coveted seat at the counter. They serve slightly more creative versions, including curry ramen, which Eric ordered. I ordered the more classic seafood-based broth. You can also choose the amount of noodles as well as if you want normal noodles or citron noodles. We both enjoyed the tsukemen version, where the noodles are served on the side.
Verdict: the experience was interesting and the ramen was good, but our expectations were pretty high considering the wait. Maybe our expectations were too high. I enjoyed our ramen at Hataka Nagahama Miyoshi more.
Muraji Ramen in Kyoto Gion
Muraji Ramen in Kyoto Gion
Martina from The Global Curious also offered a recommendation for some of the best ramen in the Gion neighborhood. Martina’s absolute favorite ramen was the one she tried at Ramen Muraji Kyoto Gion in Kyoto.
She ordered the white miso ramen at their Kyoto Gion branch. The chicken broth was tasty and rich, but not too salty, and the pork slices were nice and thick. Crunchy burdock root strips topped the dish together with chopped spring onion.
The setting of the restaurant is quite lovely as diners must go down the stairs to reach a little shop that can seat about 10-12 people at a time. The chef was a woman, which is not that common in Japan. Martina visited for lunch and considering the restaurant is located in the most touristy area of Kyoto, it was a nice surprise to have it all to themselves!
Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan offered a recommendation for ramen that we would not have found on our own – vegan ramen.
At first glance, TowZen seems like a very traditional Japanese ramen restaurant. Much of the seating is on tatami mats where you sit at low tables. What’s unusual about the ramen here, though, is that it’s 100% vegan.
Two types of broth are offered, both of which have strong umami flavors despite the absence of animal products. The first is musashi, made with nori and mushrooms, and the second is tan tan, made with soy meat and typical tan tan seasonings. Both are made using a creamy soy milk base.
TowZen is located in the north of Kyoto, a bit outside the city center, but it’s absolutely worth the trip. Their musashi ramen is the best ramen Wendy ever tasted in her life. It’s a pleasant walk along the river to get there and can be combined with a visit to the Shimogamo-jinja shrine. Both meat-eaters and vegans visiting Japan are sure to love this place. A gluten-free option with rice noodles is also available on request.
How Do You Eat Ramen In Kyoto
Eating in Japan can be intimidating for travelers. There seem to be so many unwritten rules and traditions. I never want to offend. We always end up standing at a doorway to a restaurant watching for a moment or two to try to understand what’s what. When it comes to ramen, here are a few tips to make the most of the experience.
First, comes ordering. Many ramen shops have ticket machines outside for ordering. This serves a few purposes. First, it is more efficient. Second, it keeps people who are preparing food from handling money. And, most important for food travelers, it makes it a lot easier to order. There are picture menus and English descriptions.
Expect to spend at least ¥1000 on a good bowl of ramen. It’s possible to find some that are a little less or a little more. This depends on the shop, its location, and the ingredients. Pick which ramen you want from the picture menu and then place enough money into the machine. Press the button for the bowl you want. The machine provides change and a small ticket. Bring your ticket inside and give it to the server. That’s all. Most shops are cash only.
Condiments And Toppings
When choosing your bowl, you can add additional items. The most common is a cooked egg or extra meat. Sometimes you can order extra noodles, but be prepared. A regular bowl is enough to leave even the hungriest traveler in a ramen-induced coma.
Some ramen shops will have chili pepper, black pepper, and other Japanese spices on the counter. Other shops might have pickled ginger, fresh garlic, or other toppings that can be added. I generally like to trust the chef to flavor the ramen as he or she suggests. That said, I can’t say no to some cool ginger in the hot broth. If you do want to add something to the bowl, taste the broth first before making any adjustments. You just might think it’s perfect already.
Lining Up For Ramen
My number one rule for eating the best ramen noodles is to not wait until you are starving to arrive. Many of the best shops have lines in front. The lines move quickly, but it’s something to prepare for. If there is a ticket machine and a line, order from the machine before getting in line. If you are traveling in a group, there is a golden rule that everyone should be in line together. Saving is not cool. Also, it’s possible that a large group might not be able to sit together in a small shop.
Because most ramen shops rely on high volume, it’s assumed that each person will order one bowl. Don’t look to share because it means you are taking up prime real estate, particularly for the folks waiting outside.
Kyoto Ramen Shops – Where Slurping Is Totally Okay
I remember my mom yelling at me when I was a kid if I tried to slurp my soup. When it comes to eating at a ramen-ya, slurping is totally okay. If you don’t slurp your soup, it’s not considered rude. But, if you want to slurp your ramen, then slurp away. Some say that slurping helps cool the noodles, but I have yet to find a slurp at the start of a bowl that doesn’t involve practically burning my lips.
Eat And Move On
As much as ramen is not considered fast food, it is expected that you will eat it and move on. This is particularly true when there is a line outside. A ramen-ya is not the place to chat and catch up with friends, or research on your phone what to do next. Enjoy the food and leave the space for the next hungry ramen eater.
When exiting, give a slight bow to the ramen chef and say “gochi-sō-sama-deshita” or thank you for the meal. If you don’t feel comfortable with this phrase a simple arigato will get the message across.
FAQs – EATING JAPANESE RAMEN IN KYOTO
Ramen is a soup made from a soup stock along with alkaline noodles. The soup stock can be pork-based, miso-based, or soy-based. It is possible to find vegetarian ramen now as well. In addition to the broth and noodles, there are often other ingredients in the soup, including vegetables, tempura, mushrooms, or pieces of meat. Many of the items depending on the region in Japan where it is eaten.
In the US and Canada, there might be a misconception that ramen should be equated to the instant noodles we grew up with or ate for cheap in college. Ramen is not fast food and it is not cheap. A good bowl of ramen will often cost around ¥1000-1500. This is because it takes a long time to create quality ramen, particularly with top-notch ingredients.
First, it’s okay to slurp your noodles, which helps the noodles to cool down. Second, ramen is often eaten quickly, even if it is not considered fast food. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to enjoy a bowl of ramen. Particularly in a busy ramen restaurants in cities like Kyoto, it is polite to eat and leave to make room for other hungry eaters.
In more traditional Japanese ramen restaurants, it will be difficult to find gluten-free ramen. Dishes are made to exacting standards, leaving very little room for diners with special diets. It’s best to do your research for restaurants that offer gluten-free or other specialty menus.