For a great bowl of Hakata-style ramen in Roppongi, try Mengekijo Genei. It’s truly delicious and it’s MSG-free!
XO醤薫イベリコ豚の玄瑛流ラーメン XO sauce Iberico Genei-style ramen - image © Florentyna Leow
Most ramen in Japan contains a hefty whack of MSG. If you’re looking for MSG-free ramen in Tokyo then head to Roppongi’s Mengekijo Genei.
This is the ethos it lives by: making ramen with the best, all-natural ingredients possible, with an even more obsessive attention to detail than the average ramen joint. A case in point - the shoyu (soy sauce) used in this shop apparently costs close to USD200 per litre, and that’s before doctoring it up with additional dried seafood as part of the process of making their ramen tare (flavouring). Nevertheless, their ramen prices are still pretty competitive.
The unassuming entrance to Mengekijo Genei. - image © Florentyna Leow
Mengekijo Genei in Roppongi is the Tokyo outpost of the hallowed shop in Fukuoka. It's most famous in English-language media for its tonkotsu ramen, which was featured in Matt Goulding’s best-selling exploration of Japan's food culture Rice, Noodle, Fish. (Mengekijo Genei is actually just down the road from Bistro Shirube, another great eating spot.)
‘Mengekijo 麺劇場’ translates to ‘noodle theatre.’ This was the concept for the original store - the restaurant is designed to look a little like a Roman amphitheater, where diners sit on benches looking down on the kitchen space (much like a stage), where your ramen bowl is put together.
An odd place for a bowl of ramen. - image © Florentyna Leow
Space constraints and Tokyo rents mean that they weren’t able to bring this format to the big city. But the Roppongi interior is memorably eccentric nonetheless, at odds with what a ramen bar might usually look like. It’s all angles and white lines and glass counters, like the setting for a shady, cheesy stripper scene in an 80s gangster film. I look at it and wonder where all the men in suits and questionable sunglasses are. It’s oddly charming.
According to staff at the Roppongi branch, the broth is made with Iberico pork rather than pork bones. It’s lighter and less fatty overall, but the fat also tends to separate more easily and float to the top of the soup. Before serving, they actually plunge a hand blender into the pot and give it a few whirrs. This helps emulsify the fat back into the soup for a creamy mouthfeel.
The menu is only in Japanese. Choose between the Genei-style at the top, or the shoyu ramen. Add extra noodles for JPY210. - image © Florentyna Leow
All this means is that you need to slurp fast, before the fat separates from the liquid again. You’ll want to, in any case. I found their broth disconcerting at first, since I am used to heavy tonkotsu - their version is much lighter, creamier and more subtle overall. I think of it not as traditional tonkotsu - bone-based, heavy, exceedingly fatty - but tonkotsu-esque. Let me assure you that this is a good thing.
Torch that pork! - image © Florentyna Leow
There are several options on the lunch menu. I ordered the XO sauce Iberico Genei-style ramen, which is their tonkotsu broth with curly noodles, slices of Iberico pork, and a dollop of XO sauce at the bottom of the bowl. It adds a fabulous crustacean umami punch to a broth that might otherwise be oddly light. I love that he also blowtorches the slices of pork atop the bowl - a fantastic touch that adds another dimension of flavor to this ramen.
Zooming in on the ramen. - image © Florentyna Leow
They make the XO sauce in-house - it’s garlicky and heady with shrimp. In fact, as I finished up my bowl of noodles, the chef began measuring dried seafood and oil for a new batch. Unlike a Chinese-style XO sauce, it is notably heavier on the dried shrimp than scallops. “It’s less expensive that way,” he says.
I like Mengekijo Genei in Roppongi for the delicious ramen, but especially how at odds the bowl is with its premises. For JPY920 a bowl, the ramen is a bargain for Roppongi, and especially for such a labour of love. Go forth and slurp!
Mengekijo Genei Roppongi-ten
Name in Japanese:
麺劇場 玄瑛 六本木店
4-5-7 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
11:30～15:00 (it may close early if they run out of soup)
:: Read customer reviews of Mengekijo Genei on TripAdvisor
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