Afuri’s chicken-based yuzushio ramen might be light on the fat, but it sure is heavy on the flavor! It’s one of the best bowls of ramen in Harajuku.
Afuri's best-selling yuzu salt chicken ramen with charcoal-grilled chashu. - image © Florentyna Leow
When I was younger and had a faster metabolism, my favorite ramen style was tonkotsu - the rich, milky-white, ultra-fatty pork-based broth that’s become almost synonymous with the ramen boom in North America. These days, I can’t eat tonkotsu as often as I used to, and find that a full bowl leaves me feeling uncomfortably bloated. Instead, I’ve begun to crave lighter, more easily digestible styles of ramen. Chicken-based ones, for instance, go down much better than pork-based soups. Additionally, many of my acquaintances are used to the lighter Chinese ‘clear-soup’ style of noodle bowl, where, unlike ramen, the accompanying broth contains no added fat. One of my knee-jerk recommendations for when they visit Tokyo looking for a lighter style of ramen is Afuri in Harajuku.
It looks more like a retail outlet than a ramen bar. - image © Florentyna Leow
The original Afuri opened in Ebisu in 2004, and they’ve since expanded to several outlets around Tokyo, including Harajuku. Their ramen broth uses water from Mount Afuri in Kanagawa, and it’s from this mountain that the shop name comes from. I used to frequent the Harajuku branch back in 2013 when I was a university student here, so a return visit was long overdue. It was a well-loved ramen shop back then, and the queues of locals at lunchtime these days attest to its continuing popularity in 2017.
The TV seems a little incongruous here, but perhaps that’s just me. - image © Florentyna Leow
With its clean, sleek, minimalist decor, counter-only seating, and J-pop playing in the background, Afuri was early 2000s proof that ramen bars could exude as much cool as the next French fusion restaurant. The Harajuku branch can be busy at lunch, but on a Tuesday evening at half-six, it’s pretty easy to snag a seat.
A ramen vending machine entirely in English - how rare! - image © Florentyna Leow
Ordering here has become much more English-friendly than it was several years ago. The vending machine buttons are clearly labelled in English now, and they have a few explanation cards in front of you at the counter. Afuri are particularly famous for their yuzushio (yuzu salt) ramen bowl, which is what I ordered on my last visit. I also ordered a side of kakuni (braised belly pork). Fortuitously for those on plant-based diets, Afuri now has a vegan ramen bowl. I haven’t tried this, but if Afuri’s attention to detail is anything to go by, you probably won’t find their vegan ramen lacking. Your vegan friends traveling with you won’t be left out of the ramen party!
Left to right - toothpicks, sansho pepper, shichimi pepper, and white vinegar. Season your ramen at will. - image © Florentyna Leow
When you bring your tickets to the counter, the staff will ask you how much ‘chi-yu’ you’d like on your ramen. ‘Chi-yu’ here refers to chicken oil blended with dashi, and you can choose between ‘tanrei’ or ‘maroaji’ – simply put, less or more. I personally prefer the ‘maroaji’ option, where they add a little more chicken oil to the soup. This gave the broth a more voluptuous mouthfeel, but the overall effect is still much lighter than most other ramen bowls I’ve had - perfect for a cold, rainy evening. You can also choose your meat toppings. The standard ramen topping is chashu (grilled sliced pork), but they offer sous vide chicken breast for those who’d prefer something lighter.
The yolk is just a tad overcooked for my liking. - image © Florentyna Leow
I was glad to find that after all these years, I still wanted to drink every last drop of their broth. There it was - the familiar, comforting, deeply chicken-y broth, infused with all the umami of kelp and vegetables, with a clean salt flavor shining through. That uplifting yuzu fragrance took me right back to my student days, and I enjoyed the soup very much. Afuri’s standard noodles are wire-thin, rather like those served in Hakata tonkotsu ramen. I prefer thin noodles like these to be on the hard side of al dente - what Hakata folks refer to as ‘bari-katai’ or ‘super hard’ - and I thought these became soggy too quickly. If you don’t want them to become soggy, make sure you slurp fast!
The chashu here is still excellent - look at that beautiful brown crust! - image © Florentyna Leow
Ramen bowls don’t tend to get every single topping perfect, and Afuri is no exception. Perhaps they had an off-day when I visited - ramen eggs can be tricky to cook - but I found the yolk of their soy-flavored egg on this occasion a little overcooked, and overall quite unremarkable. (Compared to most ramen shops in North America, however, it is excellent.) The egg comes straight from the fridge (or a very cold part of the kitchen), so you’ll also want to let it sit in the ramen broth a little longer to let it warm up. The bamboo shoots are forgettable, as are the mizuna greens and toasted seaweed. But the chashu! Give me chashu, rice, and some of their soup and I’m a happy camper. They grill the chashu slices over charcoal before serving, which gives it an addictive smoky sweetness.
An undistinguished looking side of pork belly - don’t let these homely-looking slices fool you though - image © Florentyna Leow
I ordered a side of braised pork belly, which has - in their own words - been cooked in a sweet, fruity sauce. There’s nothing fancy or overwrought about this. It’s simple, flavorful and layered with melting fat, and I liked it a lot. I have a difficult time choosing between chashu or kakuni, so my recommendation to you is to live large and eat both. How many times are you going to come back to Harajuku? So many meals - so little time!
I like to think of Afuri’s ramen as ramen for people who don’t like ramen. If you’re looking for a light, flavorful chicken ramen that won’t make you feel like you should be fasting for the next month, try this.
Name in Japanese:
1F Grande Foresta, 3-63-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
10am - 3am
:: Read customer reviews of Afuri on TripAdvisor
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