Ramen Bars in Japan
There are over 10,000 ramen shops in Japan at this very moment, meaning that you can get ramen no matter where you are in the country. With that in mind, it’s important to note that there are quite a few differences in types of ramen restaurants available throughout the land. Some are catered to people who want to sit down and enjoy a meal without rushing, while others only offer less than a dozen chairs and expect you to leave as soon as you finish your meal without delay. The later of the two are commonly referred to as ramen bars.
What Are Ramen Bars?
Upon hearing the word ‘bar’, some people imagine sauntering up to a counter and ordering their food the same way they would an alcoholic beverage at any other bar. This is somewhat correct, as ramen bars are made for those trying to eat and go in a short amount of time. Many don’t even offer seats to customers, and as such you have to stand while you eat. By nixing the option to sit while you enjoy your meal, ramen bars can squeeze in another customer or two and have faster turnover from those who don’t want to stand around for too long while eating.
Ramen shops and restaurants are quite common in Japan, but it’s widely agreed upon that you’re more likely to stumble upon a ramen bar more often than its sit-down counterpart. One of the big reasons for this is that ramen bars are more compact and can be built into smaller spaces than shops and restaurants. They’re also more specialized in just serving ramen and ramen only. Shops and restaurants may offer side dishes like rice, gyoza, and other foods that pair well with the taste of ramen, but at the ramen bar the most you’ll get to do is add something to or customize your bowl or ramen.
Some people might be confused about how to identify if a shop is a bar or restaurant, but the signs are quite obvious. If there are less than two tables, it’s likely a bar. If there are no seats at all and there’s just a shelf in front of a chef, it’s definitely a bar. You can also often distinguish if a ramen shop is a bar or not by the fact that there will likely be a long line out the door for ramen bars since the turnover for patrons is so high. Don’t be discouraged if you see a long line for a ramen bar – they move faster than you’d expect.
Rules For Ramen Bars
As you might have been able to guess from its description alone, ramen bars are not the same as full-sized restaurants or shops. Ramen bars are small and compact because the goal is to serve as many bowls of delicious ramen to as many people as possible each day. If you’re looking to sit down and relax while enjoying authentic Japanese ramen, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Rule 1: Don’t eat slowly.
For one thing, ramen is actually a dish that is meant to be eaten quickly. Leaving the noodles in the broth for too long allows them to soak up the broth and lose their shape and elasticity. Even in traditional shops and restaurants, chefs expect patrons to quickly eat their ramen to taste the noodles as they were intended to be consumed. You can slurp or eat your noodles quietly, whichever you prefer, so long as you don’t splash your broth all over the place.
Rule 2: Don’t make a mess.
Ramen bars are quite small, and generally staffed by as few people as possible. Some of them only have one server and a chef working there at a time, and because they’re trying to serve as many people as possible they don’t have all the time in the world to do other things like clean up multiple large messes. Show respect to the establishment by keeping your space clean for the next customer.
Rule 3: Pay and be on your way.
Don’t sit there and talk with people, don’t try to socialize, and don’t try to ask the chef what his secret ingredients are. You’re there to eat ramen and go, not try and improve your small talk skills. For many patrons of restaurants, it’s common to talk throughout the meal, and possibly engage in conversation after everyone is finished eating. Most people understand that this is somewhat rude to do if the restaurant is busy – same rules apply for busy ramen bars. There’s only three things you should be doing at a ramen bar, in this order: eat, pay, exit.
Why Do People Like Ramen Bars?
With the above rules, it seems like ramen bars are not that great a place to go with friends or coworkers, and don’t exactly offer a friendly or exciting atmosphere. So why do people go there? The answer is quite simple: to eat. Ramen bars were made primarily to serve busy businessmen who needed a quick lunch. They didn’t have enough time during their break to make their way over to a restaurant, sit down, order, wait, eat, pay, leave; they just wanted to get food in their stomachs so they wouldn’t pass out at their desks, and taking too much time to do so during a break wouldn’t make the boss happy.
Along with businessmen, other people enjoy ramen bars as well. If you’re busy shopping, traveling, or just passing through an area, eating at a ramen bar is a fast, easy way to get a sense of that area’s local ramen taste. They’re the ideal place for a busy person to just get food and go. Sure, you could likely fill your stomach in the same manner with just as little time by visiting a convenience store or grocery store, but you won’t find an easier meal to eat hot and fresh than you would at a ramen bar. Besides, most people would prefer a delicious bowl of noodles to a rock-hard meal bar or cold sandwich.
Are Ramen Bars Better Than Restaurants?
The answer to this question lies entirely on what kind of experience you want to have when eating ramen. Are you going with a group of friends you want to talk to and hang out with? Then you probably won’t get as much talking time at a ramen bar as you would at a shop or restaurant. Are you heading into the city for just a few hours and don’t want to waste time finding a restaurant that isn’t packed? Then a ramen bar will suit your needs a lot better than a restaurant will.
Even if you’re with friends or traveling solo, experiencing a ramen bar is as interesting as it is delicious. Don’t think that just because the place doesn’t have a lot of room that their food isn’t good – there’s actually a ramen bar in Japan that’s received a Michelin star award for superb taste and flavor!
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