Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum

"Raumen" Musuem: A Must for Ramen Lovers

Aside from Ramen lovers like myself, a standalone trip to Yokohama to visit the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum might be hard to justify. After all, there are countless shrines, temples, museums and other sites that have greater cultural and historic significance in greater Tokyo-Yokohama area. But one of the great pleasures of an extended stay in a country is to be able linger over a place of lesser historic significance, but which is a great cultural touchstone like the Raumen Museum.

What is Ramen?
When most Americans hear ramen they immediately think about their destitute college days and eating instant ramen purchased for about a $.25 and eaten in the dorm in lieu of pizza. And while instant ramen is, in fact, a Japanese creation and is covered in detail at the Shin Yokohama Raumen musuem, the instant ramen of your improvised early adulthood bears little resemblance to a proper bowl of ramen from a good ramen-ya (ramen shop) in Japan.  

Though gradually gaining steam over the last few years as a culinary delight in some cities in the US, such as New York and Washington, DC, ramen has been close to an obsession in Japan for the last few decades and started gaining in popularity in the 1950s when cheap wheat from the US became available in Japan and ramen noodles became more widely available.  And though the noodle itself originally comes from China, bowls of Ramen are so much a part of Japanese cuisine that most regions have their own specialties.  Kyushu in the south is particularly known for tonkotsu (pork bone) based broth while Hokkaido in the north is particularly known for miso flavored broth. 

Another aspect of ramen that considerably adds to it's appeal is the variety of toppings that accompany the noodles and the broth. Typical ramen toppings include sliced pork (chashu), green onions, nori (seaweed), and bean sprouts. Often kamaboko (fish cake) is added, and in most cases you have the option of adding corn, which is very typical in Hokkaido, or a soy marinated hard boiled egg.  It might seem like a lot, but for me it's about the best medley of savory-salty goodness that one can find anywhere.
Hokkaido Style Ramen from Shinagawa Ramen-ya

A Ramen"Museum"?

Well, if putting seven different ramen shops under one large roof and giving folks the option of buying smaller sizes so they could try multiple types of ramen in same afternoon needs further justification for you, then the appeal might very well be lost.  But the truth is, the museum is more of a food themed fun park than a museum.  And the ticket to the best rides can be found outside each of the ramen-yas where you purchase your ramen ride from the ticket vending machines and then proceed inside for your culinary excitement.  There are, in fact, some informational displays discussing ramen, but mostly the history absorbed by osmosis, chopsticks and ramen spoon.  In addition, on the afternoon we visited there was a clown performance to keep the children preoccupied while the adults soaked in the atmosphere from the recreated 1950s-Showa Era Tokyo neighborihood and pondered their next choice.  Maybe Shio, or perhaps Miso.  Nah,  Tonkatsu, no Shoyu.  

One bit of advice: make sure you go with plenty of time to spare and on an empty stomach.  

Showa Era Recreated  Tokyo Neighborhood from 1950s. 

Showa Era Storefront
One of the Ramen Shops at Museum with Ramen Ticket Vending Machine Outside
Fresh Ramen Noodles for Purchase at Raumen Museum

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