Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Ginza Kagari Honten: The tori paitan classic is reborn

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Two words: “tori paitan.” The smooth, satisfying soup derived from simmering chicken bones and carcasses long and slow to create a thick, umami-rich broth. Served with ramen and a few choice toppings, it makes for one of the finest bowls of noodles you can find. Just ask anyone who ever supped at Kagari.

In the space of a couple of years, this tiny, eight-seat counter hidden down a Ginza back alley grew from a local word-of-mouth favorite to an international phenomenon, featured in guidebooks — including Michelin — and generating lines stretching around the block. And then, just like that, in November 2017, it vanished.

There were spin-off branches around the city, even one in Osaka. But it was the original location everyone pined for, especially after the second Ginza branch (in the nearby subway station) also closed last summer. With little information available in any language on when, or even if, either would reopen, fans were left in limbo.

Until last month. First came some online hints and encouragement; then an address; and, finally, a date was announced: Dec. 27, a late Christmas gift for the favored few who were still in town for the holidays with their ears to the ground and their eyes on Twitter.

The new location, now officially known as Ginza Kagari Honten (“Main Branch”), is beautifully put together, both inside and out, using so much raw timber that it could pass for a traditional teahouse. As before, it’s set discreetly out of sight down an easy-to-miss alley — but this time with much more room for the inevitable queues.

The menu is quite a lot longer now. Of course, the signature Tori Paitan Soba (“soba” is Kagari’s term for ramen) remains as magnificent as ever, though sadly roast beef is no longer an option as a topping. But Kagari has added some new bowls that are every bit as fine.

Firstly, there’s a shoyu version of the paitan, darker in color, richer in flavor but every bit as creamy, and also a deluxe variant imbued with white truffle. At the same time, the tsukemen (here called tsuke-soba) dipping noodles have been given extra heft with a nifty shoyu and porcini mushroom broth.

More radical yet, Kagari has also developed a lighter, clear-soup style of ramen. Simply called tori-soba, it is also made entirely from chicken broth but is less heavy on the stomach than the paitan. Perfect for when the hot weather returns.

But the biggest innovation of all is that it’s gone entirely cashless. You order and pay by card before you’re served — even outside in the line when it’s really busy — a procedure that shaves vital minutes off the waiting times.

This is Ginza Kagari as it should have been from the outset: Classy, polished and much better equipped for fame and the inevitable influx. Remarkably, though, word of its reopening has not spread far yet and lines are still short to nonexistent. There will never be a better time to visit.

Noodles from ¥980; rice from ¥150; major cards accepted (no cash); English menu; a little English spoken