In a city the size of Tokyo, in a country that takes its noodles so extremely seriously, what does a ramen counter need to do to stand out and stay the course? Having a memorable name helps, but the real reason behind the enduring popularity of Toripota Ramen Thank is that it boasts a great recipe for chicken soup, coupled with some brilliant, creative bowls.
These days, chicken-based paitan ramen is hugely popular. But that was not the case when Thank’s owner, Yuji Tanabe, first opened here some seven years ago. The original inspiration came to him when he was a student in New York, dreaming of opening a noodle business that would be inclusive to all, no matter their religious or cultural strictures.
For that reason, he didn’t want to use any pork or beef. Instead, he developed a rich broth that’s made with chicken simmered down with nine types of vegetables to create a soup that’s closer to a Western potage than a classic paitan white soup. Tanabe’s nickname for this is “toripota” (chicken potage.)
In place of the usual pork chāshū topping, he offers cuts of flavorful Daisen-dori, a breed of premium chicken raised in Tottori Prefecture. Thank also shuns all artificial taste enhancers. If you want to give your ramen more flavor, you’ll find jars on your table filled with pickled vegetables, sesame seeds, black pepper and curry powder. And for extra umami boost, you can even order a side of grated Parmesan to stir into your noodles.
The ordering process is complicated, with too many choices and combinations to consider. Thankfully there’s an English instruction sheet, and willing floor staff to help you navigate the ticket machine at the entrance. But the most straightforward and rewarding approach, especially at this time of year, is to ignore the standard bowls, and home in on the seasonal gentei (limited-edition) noodles.
For the duration of the summer, you’ll find an excellent chilled version of Thank’s standard tantanmen, noodles with ground chicken meat and a chili-rich sauce for which you can choose your optimal level of heat. Sadly, July’s special of chilled ramen with duck and summer vegetables is no longer available. At least we can look forward to the September special, Spicy Caribbean Noodles.
It’s quite a confection. The noodles are submerged in a chilled chicken potage blended with enough coconut milk to add a rich creamy sweetness. On top of this, you’ll find spice-rubbed jerk chicken; generous spoonfuls of blueberry sauce and whole-grain golden mustard; and, as a final accent, a wedge of pink grapefruit.
Amazingly, like just about all the experimental, limited-edition bowls at Thank, the combination works just fine. It’s refreshing, light and stimulating on the palate. In fact, just what you need in these lingering days of summer heat.
And if you can’t wait till next month to sample it, this same bowl is currently on limited release at Thank’s second location in the backstreets of Jinbocho (Kanda-Nishikicho 1-14-7, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; same hours except closed Sunday).
Ramen from ¥750; tsukemen dipping noodles from ¥800; special noodles from ¥900; English menu; some English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5