An Introduction to Ramen: The Basics & The Best We Found in Japan!

What I love most about ramen is that it’s exactly whatever you want it to be. With so many diverse elements in one bowl, it really has something for anyone. Unless you’ve been living under an entire pile of rocks, ramen is now a full-on sensation here in Japan.

It’s elevated itself from humble origins as a drunken street food all the way up to a Michelin recognized cuisine. But not all ramen is create equal, & with over 10,000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone, it can be a challenge sorting out the hidden gems from the tourist traps.

Here’s my simple guide to Ramen across Japan.

Ramen Prep Check-List:

When I was traveling Japan this year I decided to take a master class in ramen. I watched countless videos, read at least 10 long-form blog posts and even went so far as to download some special apps made by actual ramen masters. Here are the top 3 ramen resources I felt helped me learn the most:

  1. YouTube Video: What Owning a Ramen Restaurant in Japan is Like

    A great introduction to the life of a Ramen owner. I felt this video gave me a great introduction to how seriously the Japanese take ramen (working over 11 hours per day!) and made me appreciate the bowl in front of me a bit more.

  2. App: Ramen Beast

    This app was totally crucial for my time traveling Tokyo. It works a lot like Yelp but the reviews are coming from ramen masters themselves. It provides a nifty map outlining all the best ramen in your area!

  3. Ramen Course: Free blog series

    If you manage to read the entire series you’ll pretty much be able to quit your job and start a shop of your own. Reading time is around 3-4 hours but totally worth it if you want to impress your friends!

Best Ramen Shop in Osaka: Tenchijin Ramen

Osaka was the first stop of my journey through Japan. At the time I was naive enough to think that walking into the first ramen shop I saw would be a great idea. Boy was I wrong. In my experience, there are really two kinds of ramen: the “fast food” kind designed for a quick bite or drunken snack and the “craft” kind where the owner truly cares about the ingredients/ process.

After hours of desperate searching for the craft quality ramen I’d heard of so much about back at home I finally stumbled upon Tenchijin while browsing Google Maps. Turns out the best ramen happened to be just steps from my Airbnb.

When I stepped inside I was glad to see I was the only tourist, always a great sign. Just 5 minutes after handing the owner my ticket I had a piping hot bowl of Tonkotsu ramen, tantalizing every sense:

Love at first sight: I was head over heals in love with what I’d call the best ramen in Osaka

Tonkotsu ramen is a traditional dish originating from Fukuoka, and is typically made by boiling pork bones for hours until they impart the essence of pork flavor to the broth. I’d had Tonkotsu before but never like this. The broth was sublime, perfectly seasoned just enough to showcase the core pork flavor while giving an added dimension by adding a complex black oil. Honestly, I still have no idea what the oil actually was but it gave the broth a slight sweet aftertaste that complimented the aggressive pork undertones.

Thanks to the elegant broth and wonderfully tender pork, I give Tenchijin Ramen a solid 8/10. I did knock a couple points as I did feel a bit exhausted by the end of the bowl, the heavy broth does get a bit repetitive by the end. I found I enjoyed it much more after adding the provided pickle ginger.

Tenchijin Ramen Score: 8/10

Best Ramen Shop in Kyoto: Kyoto Gogyo

After a great ramen experience in Osaka we hopped on a budget bus up to Kyoto, on the hunt for the next great bowl. I had marked at least 8 shops that I’d wanted to try during our week long stay in the city and, after lots of commitment (…and antacid pills) I managed to try every single one before we left. So trust me when I tell you, the absolute best ramen in all of Kyoto is Kyoto Gogyo.

Now, the shop does have a 4/5 on TripAdvisor which I consider to be a bit low but don’t let it put you off. Most poor reviews are regarding price but I felt the asking price (around $12USD per bowl) was more than fair for the absolutely mind-blowing flavor presented to me.

Ya see, Kyoto Gogyo is no average ramen shop, they intentionally burn the miso added to their ramen. This gives the ramen an endlessly complex flavor profile the likes of which I’d never seen before. Seriously, every single bite felt like a new experience hinting at a larger story just waiting to be told. And just look at how damn sexy this bowl looks with the charred miso forming black swirls throughout:

Black swirls of pure heaven from Gogyo Ramen in Kyoto

On top of the nearly flawless broth they tacked on a tasty egg and perfectly chewy noodles. The only thing I wasn’t super hyped about was the pork which was a tad dry/chewy for my taste. For this reason, I’m giving Gogyo Ramen an 8.5/10 because yes, the broth is just that good.

Kyoto Gogyo Score: 8.5/10

Best Ramen Shop in Tokyo: Fuunji

This is it. The best ramen we had on our whole trip. But there’s a plot twist! The best ramen of our whole trip wasn’t ramen at all…it was a special type of “dipping ramen” or Tsukemen as it’s formally called. The main difference is, rather than giving you a pre-made bowl of noodles/meat/broth etc. Tsukemen is basically a massive plate of thick ‘spaghetti style’ noodles meant for dipping into a small bowl of concentrated broth.

This thing isn’t just a flavor bomb, it’s a flavor atom bomb. I can’t even put to words how rich, dynamic, meaty, oily, complex & just pure FLAVOR-PACKED the broth is at Fuunji. Truly, no picture will ever do it justice, but here’s Tamara posing with the golden god-broth:

Forget the noodles, the best ramen in Tokyo is all about the broth

The situation we had at Fuunji was unique. I’d heard of the place through the Ramen Beast app linked above. They’d given it a good rating of 4.5/5 which I’d only seen a few times before so my expectations were high. I got the “standard ramen” while Tamara decided to take a chance on the Tsukemen, a bit tired of so much ramen as any sane person would be.

I took my first bite of the standard ramen and was…unimpressed. Pretty ‘meh’, decently well made but nothing special. After a few more bites I notice Tamara looking at me. She finally says “Dude, you’re going to want this one. Trust me.”

Before this experience I’d always thought of Tsukemen as an afterthought. We trade bowls and I take a quick bite. Instantly, my pupils dilate, my pulse quickens, and I’m taken on a bullet train to another dimension. One where flavor has no boundaries but the limits of our imagination. Ok, aside from the hyperbole, it was absolutely elegant. Each bite was a new experience, an adventure in taste.

For me, a good ramen is one that unfolds like a story in front of you. One that can be endlessly explored, that can be something different with each bite. This Tsukemen nailed it for me and exposed me to just how dynamic a broth really can be when done right. Plus, the atmosphere of the shop doesn’t hurt. Wooden walls, cramped seating and an effortlessly friendly shop owner seal the deal making Fuunji my favorite ramen shop in Tokyo.

A truly authentic atmosphere in Fuunji, Tokyo

I later found out that Fuunji is indeed famous for their Tsukemen, so Tamara gets some bonus points on this one. Without her happenstance decision I would have written this place off entirely. Because of the other-worldly Tsukemen and authentic atmosphere, Fuunji gets a 9/10 from me.

Fuunji Score: 9/10

Runner-Up Best Ramen Shop in Tokyo: Kikanbo

Kikanbo is an up-and-coming shop in a fairly empty neighborhood of Tokyo. I’d actually heard of it before arriving to Tokyo from the YouTube video linked above. So imagine my excitement when I realized the very shop I’d seen on YouTube just days before happened to be right next to my hotel! So excited in fact, I literally power-walked to Kikanbo top speed right after arriving to Tokyo, desperate to experience it’s famously spicy ramen before they closed for the evening.

Luckily my abnormally long legs got me there just in time, one of the last people to order before closing time. Let’s talk atmosphere: stepping into Kikanbo is an immediate transportation. Black walls covered with demonic wood-carved masks. Aggressive, endless primal drum beats fill the room, creating a deep unease as though something huge were chasing after me in the distance (I later found out this type of music is called Taiko. Check it out. Now). The atmosphere alone gives this place a 8/10.

Now there’s the presentation. This just has to be the best looking bowl of ramen I’ve ever seen. Rather than droll on about it here’s a shot I got immediately after it landed:

Can a bowl of red liquid and meat get more sexy? I think not.

So, I’m sitting on a small stool squeezed between two local Japanese men, Taiko drums blaring all around me, black walls compressing my senses into the bowl of lava-broth in front of me. I reach for the spoon covered in badass Japanese scripture, bring the broth to my lips and sip…

aaaaaand… I’m… underwhelmed. I can hear your confusion from here, so let me elaborate. The broth was just…boring. It was a standard tonkotsu style pork broth with a hint of miso & seafood stock. Done well but, ultimately, totally forgettable. Based on the rich color of this thing I was expecting something more dynamic, something as thrilling as the atmosphere surrounding me. But it was a miss, tasting nearly identical to countless other ramen shops I’d been in before, only spicier.

So, I’m a bit understandably sad by this point. I keep sipping a bit, chew a few overly-stiff noodles and finally reach for a piece of pork. That’s when everything comes together. The pork in this bowl of ramen is perhaps the best piece of meat I’ve ever had. It instantly melts in my mouth spreading a charred umami around my tongue. It’s love.

I continue to plow through the pork until it’s gone and am left with the un-broth. I try to make it through the whole thing, it was $13 after all, but I just can’t. The broth is so rich & filled with fat, you’d have to be literally starving to eat it all without getting some kind of indigestion.

So, at the end of it all, this was the first and only ramen I did not finish in my time in Japan. But for the transformative atmosphere and life-affirming pork, I give Kikanbo an 8/10.

Kikanbo Score: 8/10

Alright, I think this ought to cover it. I tried at least 20 different ramen shops throughout my 4 weeks in Japan and the above are the 4 that stayed with me on the plane ride back home. If you have any questions or totally disagree with me, let me know in the comments below!

On Flight Anxiety: What I've Learned After 250+ Flights

On Flight Anxiety: What I've Learned After 250+ Flights

I’ve flown over 50 times this year, at times taking as many as 6 flights in 24 hours. You would think, after 50 check-ins, security queues, liftoffs, and landings, that I would be at least somewhat accustomed to it all. But when I tell people that I still can’t help but experience existential dread before and during each flight, they look at me puzzled.

My Heart In the Dirty Hands of Essaouira Hospital

My Heart In the Dirty Hands of Essaouira Hospital

A sudden emergency had us rushing to the Hospital of Essaouira - and then driving in the back of an ambulance to Marrakech. A quite interesting and nerve wrecking experience that reminded us that we were, after all, in Africa where apparently it IS possible to not have a single type of tissue/paper in a whole hospital.

My Unexpected Date with a North Korean Waitress

My Unexpected Date with a North Korean Waitress

A once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself to us as we share a dinner with a North Korean woman in Cambodia. She tells us of her passions and shows us a human side to the otherwise secretive country.  

What Keeps Me on the Road

Leaving home is an arduous process. It’s a system of complex thought that starts with a hunch and spiderwebs out into a conclusion that leaving is better than staying. That doing away with the world as you know is the only solution, the only future worth living for. 


It doesn’t happen right away, at least it didn't for me. I had known since childhood that I wanted to leave. Growing up sheltered in the suburbs of Somewhere, Ohio had destroyed my perception of the 'world at large'. By age 10 I was convinced that the folds of manicured lawns and white vinyl sided duplexes literally had no end nor beginning. I had dreams where I would run top speed through my neighbors back yards only to find myself trapped in a complex maze of suburbia with no end. This city was my world and I was trapped. 

I really had no other option but to plan my escape. 

This warped worldview made the smallest things interesting to me. A trip to the grocery store was akin to a road trip through India as far as I was concerned at the time. 

This was where my desire to see was born. It became a part of my personality and consumed me more and more each day of development into adulthood. 

It started when I was 11. I got my first bike for my birthday from my grandparents. A small black two wheeler with flame stickers on the sides. It was my first taste of freedom up to that point. My young mind finally grasping the concept that this gift could show me the answer. It could reveal what lies behind the green if I only pedal hard enough. So I did. 

Mom restricted how far I could bike from home, which naturally only made me want to leave even more, so I lied. Tell her I was going to Joey’s house next door or Kevin’s for supper. The second I was out the door I was gone, desperately seeking new exciting monuments in any form possible. My favorite was a middle school nearby called Maple school. It was a public school with a few jungle gyms and swing sets. At the time it was like exploring the jungle. Being in any foreign environment on my own made me feel independant for the very first time. A feeling I found to be totally enthralling, consuming and most of all...addictive. 

As I aged I searched for this feeling in new forms. Like any addiction I found I was building a tolerance after each 'high'. Suddenly my bike rides weren't enough to keep my satiated. 

By 16 I was feeling it again. The slog of suburban life slithering through the floorboards of my childhood bedroom and draining me entirely. I had no option but to run again. To escape the cycle I watched everyone around me dive into head first. I would drive my car to nowhere and get out. Lay in the grass of some field and prove to myself I wasn't trapped in that room. I could leave anytime and go anywhere I wanted it was just a matter of doing it in the first place. The best places in the world were the small corners. The unseen spaces scattered in forgotten locals decomposing out of sight and mind from all but me. 

College came and with it a certain ounce of freedom I could hold onto for a bit. Having my own space, my own house with things I could call mine. It was just enough adventure to keep me happy. But it only lasted so long. Suddenly I found myself back in the same cycle of hopping on my bike and riding for miles until a hidden corner presented itself for me to claim as my one. 


I got heavily interested in Urban Exploration. Through my random walks and cycling I managed to find so many amazing things: 

  • An entire abandoned processing plant with two massive warehouses
  • An abandoned bachelor's pad from the 80's with an amazing rooftop where I would take girlfriend to watch the stars
  • Empty water tower where I would hitch up my hammock to read and sketch
  • Abandoned mansion where we would throw parties
  • Mike Tyson's $2 million abandoned mansion (with indoor pool)
  • An empty tuberculosis ward from the 70's
  • Multiple abandoned churches and military complexes 
  • An underground tunnel system 
  • More rooftops than I can count

And it all kept me satisfied. Kept me feeling like my mental map of the world was expanding each month that passed. This constant perception growth gave me purpose, it made the world feel like it had meaning like there was something to strive for. And my addiction grew. 

Until I'm 22. I'm embracing what could be called adult life, or at least tempting the idea to embrace it. I rent a house with some friends in a city and tell myself it's time to end the addiction. I contort my limbs into unfamiliar shapes to fit into the box I'd bought myself. It worked for a bit but, slowly, the limbs grew stiff. I was an addict and the withdrawal came quickly. 

So I hit the 'purchase' button on an Air Berlin confirmation page. $1,100 is deducted from my bank account and I inject the needle to vein. I get the exact same rush a bike ride through the neighborhood once provided many years ago. But this time the rush doesn't leave. This time, I'm floating in a constant state of adventure, an endless bliss of satisfaction.

I'm lost and found all at once. 

For two months I walk streets I never knew existed. I hear languages I don't understand and they're spoken to me and I smile and nod all the while. I drink wine on the street with a friend I just met as he tells me stories of his childhood and personal details of his work life. I jump into a canal in the dead of night with a man that let me sleep on his floor for no reason other than kindness and karma. I count stars with a Danish girl I found myself falling in love with by first word. And the days, each day, has infinite meaning. Each step adds 1,000 pages to my life story as I find my pen depleting of ink. 

Then it ends. And somehow the world expects me to quit cold turkey, just like that. I really had no other option but to plan my escape. 

Our Stats After 365 Days on the road

Our Stats After 365 Days on the road

A full year has already gone by - and so much has happened. For one, we have now officially spent 24/7/365 together, and we love each other even more than when we left. I think that is quite an accomplishment! But here are some fun stats from our year on the road.

A guide to the best cities in Southern Mexico

A guide to the best cities in Southern Mexico

We had an amazing time in Southern Mexico - this is the one place on earth we've ever felt that true vacation feel all the way to our cores. After spending two months staying in all the major cities, we're now giving you the know-how on each of them. Get ready to explore the very best of Mexico!

The ultimate itineraries for Southern Mexico

The ultimate itineraries for Southern Mexico

The Southern tip of Mexico, including the states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo, is the closest you get to a paradise on earth. Offering anything you could dream of as a vacationer and beach-lover as well as the thrills and cultural riches that most backpackers seek, it doesn't get much better than this. But what is the best way to see all of it?

Fantastic Maps Apps for Getting Around When Traveling

Fantastic Maps Apps for Getting Around When Traveling

The ultimate app tool-kit for getting anywhere - whether you want navigation to the closest ATM or find the cheapest way to cross the globe, your smart phone knows how to get you there. We'll help you navigate through the overwhelming amount of navigation apps and get the ones any traveller should carry with them when globetrotting!

Weird Foods Found in a Thai 7-Eleven

Weird Foods Found in a Thai 7-Eleven

You walk into a 7-eleven in Thailand and find a world of mysteries! I ventured into the secret world of unfathomable Thai candy and here's what I learned. I might've electricuted by tastebuds more than once but it was worth it!

Fun Facts about Buenos Aires

Fun Facts about Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires; a huge city with some interesting quirks! Here are some unique and funny features of this city, where you can expect to do illegal trades and avoid dog poops whenever you exit your house...

5 Must-have Compact Travel Items for Ladies

5 Must-have Compact Travel Items for Ladies

Fitting everything into one carry-on small backpack can be a challenge! Especially when you're a girl and are used to a million different tools and beauty items. Here are a few compact travel items that will save you space and optimize the utilization of space in your backpack!

The Soundtrack of Alex and Tamara

The Soundtrack of Alex and Tamara

We all have those songs that somehow become strongly tied to certain memories.
In the rearview mirror it seems that Alex's and my entire story can be told through music. Some of the songs are good, some less so, but these tracks have become the soundtrack of our story.

How to make Danish braided Christmas heart decorations

How to make Danish braided Christmas heart decorations

The braided heart is a traditional Danish christmas decoration. Not only are they pretty, they can also be opened and filled with treats as well as hung on the christmas tree. They're surprisingly easy to make. Here's a quick guide so you can make your own 'christmas heart' step by step. 

24 Danish Christmas Traditions

24 Danish Christmas Traditions

Danes seriously know how to do christmas. We're lucky enough to spend christmas in christmas country and here's a run down of some of the awesome and crazy traditions that are to this day being honored in this capital of christmas.

Extremely funny Danish words pt. 2

Extremely funny Danish words pt. 2

Here's another one for you guys - A small collection of Danish words that will surely make you die from laughing (Well not literally die - it's just a Danish expression). Seriously. I am not taking pee on you (Translation: I'm not joking)...

The very best Turkish food

The very best Turkish food

Here are the most famous, weird, interesting and delicious must-try dishes from Turkey!
We've collected the best local food experiences while living with locals in Istanbul.
Don't miss out on these amazing dishes if you're gong to Turkey.

Our futures in a Turkish coffee ground reading

Our futures in a Turkish coffee ground reading

It seems we wont always be so lucky... Our futures look like they're on shaky ground, at least according to our coffee grounds. Our friend Ozlem picked up our mugs after we finished our Turkish coffee and gave us a proper fortunetelling session. Here are the juicy results.