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Michelin Star Ramen in Tokyo
What makes this ramen worth a Michelin Star? Let's find out.
I'm at Chukasoba Ginza Hachigou in Ginza, Tokyo sitting at a 6-seat counter watching the owner-chef, Yasushi Matsumara lash water out of the noodles in the cylinder strainers he's holding in each hand. My bowl of ramen was next. It was 12:30 p.m. and everyone at this point had waited in line since 10 a.m. to eat.
Entering the dimly lit oak room, a tight space but efficient, sitting down at the counter and immediately served a hot towel to clean up before eating — it was a zen-like atmosphere. Only 8 people were in the room. Me, five other patrons, the sous chef and chef. All were fully absorbed with what was in front of them. Sounds felt muted. Other than the faint noises of eating, light cooking and Kankyou ongaku (Japanese ambient music), I don't hear anything else. I glance to the entrance door on my right that is mostly shoji (paper screens). The windows are covered too.
There are no distractions. It never occurred to me that ramen could be a calm and sophisticated experience.
You're reading this because you want to know what makes this bowl of ramen worthy of a Michelin star.
Michelin star requirements per restaurant can vary but the essentials come down to: culinary excellence, chef’s expertise, consistency, value and dining experience.
There are only three restaurants in the world that hold a Michelin star today. All three are in Tokyo.
The experience alone at Ginza Hachigou was one of the reasons it was awarded one Michelin star consecutively in 2022 and 2023. Ginza Hachigou is the latest ramen restaurant to receive the distinguishment, an event that only started with Tsuta (also in Tokyo) in 2015.
Foreigners and Japanese people look forward to dining here. In Tokyo alone, there are over 150,000 restaurants and Ginza Hachigou entered Tabelog’s Top 100 restaurants four years in a row (Tabelog is Japan’s site for restaurants ratings and reviews).
My bowl of chukasoba ramen was placed directly in front of me from over the counter.
Chukasoba is a specific type of ramen. Ramen comes in many regional varieties. Chukasoba is associated with Yokohama nearby Tokyo. It's a light soy-based broth with thin yet firm egg noodles and topped with fresh green onions, bamboo shoots, slices of pork and a soft-boiled egg.
In Japan, it's tradition to give thanks to the food you are about to eat. Grabbing my chopsticks, I started thinking about how long this bowl of ramen took to make.
Chef Matsumara didn't take any shortcuts. He didn't use any sauces to create this soup. It is pure ingredients like duck, Nagoya Cochin Chicken, cured ham, kombu, dried shiitake, dried tomatoes that make the base of the savory, 100% umami golden broth. It is simple and memorable with depth of flavor.
The clarity of the broth is like consommé, a trace of Chef Matsumara's background in French cuisine. He has other popular ramen shops in Tokyo opened since 2015, but before that his distinguished past spans across 30 years of fine Japanese dining.
All of which has led to revelatory moments for me as I enthusiastically slurped my noodles. Ramen can be a sophisticated, consistent, counter-serve experience. Ramen can be elevated to a higher standard of culinary excellence with fine techniques and ingredients. Ramen can be celebrated and appreciated at an entirely new level.
In tradition with ramen, the bowl is exceptional value for a meal at the final price of 1400 yen (~$10.50). It was a (positive) sticker shock for me coming from California where I haven't found a bowl under $15.
Is this bowl of ramen worth a Michelin Star?
When you think of the essentials that earn restaurants a Michelin Star - culinary excellence, chef’s expertise, consistency, value and dining experience - yes. The ramen at Ginza Hachigou surpassed expectations in all categories and is a very inspiring bowl.
The other customers sitting at the counter finished their bowl and thanked the chef before leaving, saying something like "gochisousama-deshita," which translates to "thank you for the meal; it was a feast."
As best as I could, I said my thanks in Japanese and English, and stepped back into the bright day. There was a park nearby of business men and women enjoying their lunch break. I wonder if they knew what was around the corner.
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