Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Ayu Ramen: Hole in the wall noodles topped with sweetfish

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

The noren half-curtain across the entrance, the compact seven-seat counter, the steam wafting up from the simmering vats — this is the DNA for thousands of hole-in-the-wall noodle joints across Japan. But Ayu Ramen stands out in one crucial respect. Every bowl here comes topped with a portion of its namesake fish, ayu.

When freshly caught, ayu have flesh so soft and perfumed they are known in English as “sweetfish.” Here, they are dried and grilled, giving them a richer flavor and a firm, almost confit-like texture. In combination with the delicate noodles and light, clear fish-stock broth, it works beautifully.

Ayu were once plentiful in the nearby Tama River, so it’s appropriate to find them bathing in your ramen here. In the evening, the simplest bowl (¥600) comes with just a small part of one, but order the top-of-the-line ayu goto ramen (¥1,000) and you get the whole fish, complete with head, fins and tail, garnished with a sprig of tade, a peppery water plant traditionally served with ayu.

It’s a classy touch. And so is the set lunch menu, especially in summer: A freshly grilled whole ayu is served on chilled noodles, with a thick dipping broth made from ayu stock, plus rice and aka-kabu (red turnip) pickles on the side. Definitely worth the detour.

Open daily 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 6 p.m.-1 a.m. (or until sold out); ramen from ¥600, lunch menu from ¥1,200; Japanese menu; English not spoken