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Experts Guide To The Tokyo Ramen Restaurant

We love ramen and we know next to nothing about ramen. After several trips to Japan we decided it was time to educate ourselves for our next visit, what we needed was an experts guide to the Tokyo ramen restaurant. Airbnb experiences is where I came across Frank and 5AM Ramen which is not say Frank doesn’t have his own web presence, if you pop over to 5AM Ramen or Tokyo Ramen Tours you’ll make your belly rumble and perhaps stir up a little envy.

Ramen to live and ramen for a living… there is two very different applications but I’m guessing Frank does quite a bit of both. The tragedy is that we will miss Frank on our next trip to Tokyo but he assures us he will be going full time when he returns from his travels, so until we can organise a personal experience, Frank was kind enough to give us an insight into his world via some invaluable pointers and a bunch of lovely photos. As an agnostic and a hypocrite I say amen to 5AM Ramen, a big thank you to Frank and read on for an experts guide to the Tokyo ramen restaurant.

Q&A – Frank. 5AM RAMEN

1.Many people coming to Japan would be like us – fascinated by all things Japan but have very little understanding of a whole lot of it. It seems that ramen is a huge part of Japanese culture, can you put it in perspective for us, what is ramen and what is it to the Japanese?
Ramen is a truly fascinating dish. In many ways, ramen is representative of a larger part of Japanese history and culture. The Japanese are known to borrow things from other countries – refining these things and even making them their own. Examples of this range from from Japanese whiskey to the lightning fast bullet trains.
When it comes to food, ramen is a prime example of this borrowing and refining. Ramen has Chinese origins but over time it’s evolved into a quintessential Japanese dish.
To me, ramen is the ultimate soul food. I believe many Japanese feel the same way.

2.So, Frank of 5am Ramen… what? Please explain?
As ramen becomes more and more popular outside of Japan, this might no longer be the case. But Tokyo is the only city in the world where you can eat quality ramen at 5 am. This was the idea behind the blog name “5 am Ramen”…and the name simply stuck!

3.You’re a long-time Tokyo local which adds some weight to your ramen-ness, in terms of ramen venues, do you explore much anymore or do you stick to favourites?
I’m Filpino-American but grew up in Tokyo and have been consuming ramen since I’ve been able to chew. I certainly have my favorite ramen venues that I’ll regularly go to. However, I also have a long list of venues I plan to visit. In this sense, I’m always exploring – for my personal enjoyment and also for research – whether for a tour or a blog post.

4.For a foreigner, the idea of entering a ramen restaurant is very daunting, especially those tiny ones without the robot out front or at the bottom of the stairs. Assuming that you are booked out or travelling around Europe😉… What is the best way for a keen but scared foreigner to indulge in ramen?
First of all, it helps to recognize the Japanese characters for ramen. Ramen in Japanese looks like “ラーメン” or “らーめん”. Some shops might even use the Chinese characters for ramen: “拉麺”.
If you see these characters, you’ll at least know you’re walking into a ramen restaurant. As to the daunting task of entering a ramen restaurant, I think you just need to take the plunge! You won’t regret it. Japanese are very friendly and helpful if you’re worried about navigating a menu or feeling out of place. I wouldn’t worry about this at all!

5.Can you touch on ramen etiquette for us?…to slurp or not to slurp etc…
To slurp! I do recommend slurping, if you’re able to. Ramen is piping hot – slurping helps you manage this hot temperature. Slurping also enhances the flavors, as you’re taking in more oxygen through your nose. But I think more than anything, don’t worry too much about rules or etiquette. Just fully enjoy the ramen!

6.Are there any red flags to look out for as far as quality ramen venues go… spotting a good one from a bad one?
This is not always the case but a ramen shop with a lot of photos outside can be a red flag. More specifically, if a ramen shop is making ten different types of ramen they’re likely not specializing in one type. That’s not a good thing.

7.What does a ramen tour with Frank involve?
I’m now offering a wider variety of ramen tours through this website tokyoramentours.
Each ramen tour is certainly about eating delicious ramen. On top of this, the tours are meant to be very informative – I want everyone to walk away knowing more about ramen, whether its history or preparation. I also like to make the tours interactive and customizable. For example, guests get to choose the ramen shop they visit on the Insider Ramen Tour.

8.We love staying in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, can you give us any tips on good venues in the area?
Shimokitzawa has some fantastic ramen revenues, including Ichiryu, Kuwajima, and Junteuchi men to mirai.

9. Are there times when you can’t look at another noodle?…Not sure that sounded right.
Haha that sounded perfectly right. When it comes to noodles, ramen is my true love.
But when I’m not eating ramen I like to enjoy other noodle dishes like laksa, pho, udon, soba, pancit, Italian pasta (from penne to gnocchi)…the list goes on.

10.Thanks so much for your insight Frank, any parting words?
Ramen is a tremendously diverse dish – whether in the form of a creamy pork bone broth or a light and subtle soy sauce broth. Ramen also continues to evolve. So the message is to eat as much ramen as you can! Do watch the belly though 🙂

Feel free to look me up if you’re in Tokyo – we’ll do a proper dive into the ramen world. Most importantly, bring your appetite!

*If you fancy the real thing pop over to tokyoramentours and book a tour with Frank. Which will of course mean you’ll be needing to read all about the Tokyo art museum scene in our post Tokyo – A Japanese Art Tour in 2 Days, or perhaps you need a hit of something more familiar try Tokyo Cafes – Coffee Near Me.

Getting around in Tokyo

We get Pasmo cards from ticket machines at any station. You charge it up whenever you like. It will get you on any train within the designated system and the buses. Don’t worry too much about going outside of the zones. Be sure to keep change on you so that when the dreaded “beep” goes off you can pay the attendant the difference (you can get a refund on the card at the airport).

Where to Stay in Tokyo

We use Airbnb whenever the opportunity pops up. We run our own place in Port Douglas so know the system pretty well and for us it’s the most user-friendly of the private holiday rental apps. It’s a bit tricky to find places under 3 nights but if you are planning a holiday for longer click here to set up an Airbnb account, you’ll get way more bang for your buck.


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