The shinkansen isn’t the only thing connecting Okayama to Osaka these days. You can add shio (salt) ramen to that list. I had my first bowl of Shiogensui ramen in Soja, Okayama Prefecture. It’s also where I had my second bowl, on another occasion, before I finally made my way to the source, the original Shiogensui store, not far from Shin Osaka Station.
In the evolving world of ramen, shio ramen is considered the forerunner. Where most other ramen broths are cloudy and impenetrable, there is more “clarity” with shio ramen; likewise with the taste. As in most ramen outlets, the original Shiogensui reflects its neighborhood: It’s unimposing and workmanlike and squeezed between two apartment blocks; it’s also one of those shops where the staff, en masse, welcome and thank customers by roaring at them. The salutations are incessant but after a while you hardly notice them.
With shio ramen, it’s best to think of the salt as both the composer and conductor of a gourmet symphony. And there is plenty going on in this symphony — thin noodles, chāshū (braised pork), crunchy menma (bamboo shoots) and spring onions, all topped with a radiant green leaf of shungiku (edible chrysanthemum). If you drain the bowl, there’s also a message waiting for you at the bottom of the dish. With 15 shops now open, Shiogensui is going places.
3-6-24 Kikawa Higashi, Yodogawa-ku; 06-6886-3331; shiogensui.com; nearest stations Shin-Osaka, Juso, Nishinakajima-Minamikita; open daily 11 a.m-midnight; lunch set around ¥1,000; No smoking; Japanese menu.
J.J. O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.
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