You'll find ramen stadiums in the most random places. The idea is to bring together some top ramen restaurants from around the country, and have them open shops in a central location. So you can have a bowl of authentic Kyushu tonkotsu ramen, or some miso ramen from Hokkaido. You can even get ramen from a famous shop in Tokyo, in a ramen stadium in Tokyo... for some reason. Ramen stadiums always have the obligatory shot of the ramen masters looking all bad ass with their arms folded.
You wanna step up to me? Bring it on. You're about to get served! Yes, sir, served some authentic ramen. Please forgive me for speaking so rudely.
What's with the blurry picture? The excuse is that I only had my telephoto lens with me. The truth is that this ramen was so poor, it was impossible to take a good photo of it.
There was no research here. I just picked a random tonkotsu ramen, cause I'd been eating Tokyo style and miso for a while. I needed a change. Let me break it down.
- First, observe the whole bowl. I just paid 980 yen for a bowl of ramen that is half the size of any other place I'd been lately. I like big bowls... of ramen.
- The next step is to admire the noodles and eat some. The noodles were blazing hot. Normally this isn't a problem, it's actually a good thing. But read on. Strike one.
- Sip some soup by itself. This soup was cold. The contrast of noodles and soup was unpleasant. Strike two.
- Step three is to tap a piece of pork against the side of the bowl... just to drain it a little. Well, the pork was ok. Actually, all the toppings were good, especially the eggs.
- Lastly, go to town. The soup didn't have much flavor, so I mixed in 2 massive spoonfuls of the shop's garlic hot sauce. Now it was tasting good. But that's like when I cover my greasy breakfast in Tabasco, I'm enjoying the Tabasco, not the food itself. Strike three.
Is this a reflection of the ramen shop? Or a reflection of the Odaiba ramen stadium? Or a reflection of ramen stadiums in general?
I won't mention the shop name, out of respect. If I went to the original shop in Kyushu and it was bad, I'd drop the name.
Part of what I like about ramen in Japan is the journey. Read reviews online or in magazines. Search out an address, which is not an easy task in Japan. You usually have to ask a couple people on the street. Or maybe you just stumble on a shop randomly. Wait in the line. Wait some more. Ask the staff what they recommend. See the other people on the same journey as you.
Just a word of warning when you see a gimmicky food attraction in Japan, cause you will see plenty. Osaka has a fried food stadium I think, Hiroshima has an okonomiyaki stadium, Tokyo has at least 3 ramen stadiums that I know of. Tokyo also has a gyoza park and some sort of "sweets forest" where you walk around with cute bunnies and eat cake. Well that last one might be good.
After I finish my list of ramen shops to eat at, I'll make a list of places to go in Tokyo to sample the different ramen flavors of Japan... without resorting to any sort of stadium.
One last ramen note. I was teaching a class at my adult English conversation school and we started talking about ramen. I whipped out my ramen map and showed my student some places to go. She mentioned one that sounded familiar, and when I did a search on google for "Aoba Ramen" my review was the number one result. Good feeling there.