Yokahama? Yes, Yokahama. I didn’t know much about it either but when planning this trip I discovered that not only is it Japan’s second largest city, it is also only half an hour on the express train from Tokyo (I know, I find that crazy). It is also the home of the Cup Noodle Museum and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.
I had to go there.
A few things about Yokahama: it was the first part of Japan that was opened up as a port to the rest of the world, so it has been more heavily influenced by outside cultures than other areas. It was the first to have ice cream, 150 years ago, and has a whole range of fusion food which has spread throughout Japanese food culture. It also has Japan’s largest Chinatown (surprisingly one of only three), with 600 restaurants.
I started with the Cup Noodle Museum. I didn’t know what to expect but I was surprised to arrive at a building which was designed so beautifully that it could be a modern art gallery (by the director of Uniqlo, I believe).
The museum details the path to discovering instant noodles, starting with the Chikin (sic) Ramen in 1958 to now, many years and thousands of products later. Cup Noodle is a serious business in Japan, they are actually very delicious (Pot Noodle has given instant noodles in the UK a bad rep). Everyone eats them here and it is common to add lots of fresh bits and pieces like seafood, meat, egg etc to liven them up. I do this at home occasionally, it is (was) a guilty pleasure. Not so much now that I know I am in such fine company.
As part of the tour I made my own instant chicken ramen from scratch, the noodles, the seasoning, frying them to dry them etc. So much fun. We got to design our own package, mine is a disgrace, I think you will agree. I think I will recruit my 3 year old niece next time, she would do a much better job.
Moving on from there, and I was starving by now as I had been making food but not actually eating any, I went to the The Café at Hotel New Grand, the home of Spaghetti Napoletan, a fusion spaghetti born out of requests from western visitors for pasta with tomatoes. Originally it was made with udon and tomato puree, but now they use spaghetti. The spaghetti is not quite al dente as we would expect, as it is allowed to sit for a minimum of 6 hours after boiling to recreate that udon effect. It was actually a very good sauce, fresh & fruity. This dish is hugely popular in Japan.
I finished up at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum which is an illustration of dedication to a cause, obsession and deliciousness. Mr Iwaoka, who founded the museum, travelled Japan for 3 years and tasted over 1000 different ramens. He chose what he considered to be the best and invited them to be part of the Ramen Museum.
It is set out like a part of Tokyo in 1958 (the year Chikin (sic) Ramen was invented) and 9 shops serve their ramen. The shops change regularly although some are there for longer. The one I visited, and it was so hard to choose, was Komurasakai. It is so good and so well respected that it is there on a 20 year lease serving a sublime Tonkotsu style ramen called kamamoto, that is loaded with garlic chips. The broth is rich but not greasy, somehow seeming quite light. Char siu pork is served on top along with other bits and pieces.
All ramen shops at the museum serve small portions for 550 yen (about £4) as well as normal larger portions. At 300 yen to get in (just over £2), it is well worth the trip. If I had time, I would go back to try them all over a couple of days.
So Yokohama, well worth a trip from Tokyo. Do it.