Think ramen’s all meat and fish? Think again. Whether you’re vegetarian or not, the vegetable noodle bowls at Soranoiro NIPPON in Tokyo Station’s Ramen Street are sure to steal your heart.
Special veggie soba with additional chicken. - image © Florentyna Leow
A friend recently asked if I still had the capacity to be surprised while eating out in Tokyo. I told him that the few things that could possibly do that are usually financially out of my reach. Think expensive, invitation-only restaurants or exclusive bars where the chefs serve 6 diners a day in the evenings. It is the result of having eaten and lived here long enough that very rarely does, say, a bowl of ramen move or surprise me these days.
I'm so happy when I'm proven wrong.
The entrance to Soranoiro NIPPON. - image © Florentyna Leow
Here’s what you do: head over to Tokyo Ramen Street in the bowels of Tokyo Station. Yes, I know, there are crowds of tourists and commuters and it’s gross. If you’re passing through the station, do it already. If you aren’t, this ain’t a bad reason to go. You’re going to slurp some ramen at Soranoiro NIPPON.
Wall mural outside the restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
The Tokyo Station shop is Soranoiro's third outpost. With four in Tokyo and one in Nagoya, each shop has a different menu. At Soranoiro NIPPON, the shoyu ramen here is reputedly excellent, and they have an Okinawan-style bowl with a goodly chunk of stewed pork belly. (Who doesn’t like stewed pork belly?) But one thing all of the Soranoiro shops have in common is using, to put it mildly, a fuckton of vegetables in their ramen bowls. Many of the options are vegetarian, even vegan, even gluten-free.
Welcome to Tokyo Ramen Street. - image © Florentyna Leow
A note to the uninitiated: vegetarian, vegan, or even gluten-free ramen is not at all common in Japan. When you do find it, it isn’t always good - many offerings tend to be underwhelming, under-flavored, and uninteresting. But not at Soranoiro. Vegetables aren't an afterthought here: it’s as though they sat down and decided to see what they could do with all the vegetables at their disposal, and the results are ramen concoctions that blow most meat and fish-based bowls out of the water.
The special veggie soba is the third button on the first row. Try the others, too. - image © Florentyna Leow
When faced with a multitude of choices, try the tokusei veggie bowl. (When in doubt, always go for the special.) If you like gilding the lily or just want extra protein, add some chicken - this will be slick, smooth cubes of chicken, very probably sous-vide. If you’re vegan, you will be catered for. If you can’t have gluten, there are brown rice noodles for you.
The soy milk sauce apparently represents the Hinomaru Japanese flag. We’re all allowed our little artistic liberties. - image © Florentyna Leow
What is ramen but a bowl of soup noodles with garnishings? Armed with this basic form, the sky’s the limit. Here we have a carrot broth drizzled with soy milk sauce, though this soup of carrot purée thinned out with water and stock is so velvety it calls to mind velouté or bisque. It’s shockingly sweet until you temper it with the spicy-salty red paste (yuzu and red peppers) smeared on the rim of the bowl or a few grinds of the pink Himalayan salt you’ll find tableside. It’s no traditional ramen, but that doesn’t matter.
Hair ties to keep your ‘do neat while you slurp. - image © Florentyna Leow
There’s so much happening in this bowl. Little pearls of barley tossed in pesto add bright, herbaceous notes to each mouthful. There are crunchy bits of cabbage and julienned carrots. You’ll want to eat the lotus root chips while they’re crispy and salty, or they become distressingly soggy. The sweet potatoes can wait. Heap spoons of fried garlic from the container next to you as you slurp. It’s easy to see why garlic is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures; it makes this bowl of ramen unbearably sexy.
Smoked paprika kneaded into the dough lends the wheat noodles their deep orange hue, though I think the soup steals the show. I’d try the brown rice noodles next time for a change of pace.
Soft serve topped with apple jelly and pumpkin seeds, served in the kind of light, sturdy metal bowl you see in Korean restaurants. - image © Florentyna Leow
Finish with their vegan soy milk soft serve. Because it lacks dairy fat, it’s icy rather than creamy, but that lightness seems appropriate to follow a vegetable ramen bowl. There was a maxim popular some years ago, when maximizing butter in every single dish was a little more popular than it is now: fat is flavour. It’s not untrue, but sometimes, removing the fat allows for cleaner, brighter flavours to shine through.
Tokyo Station may be commuter hell, but having Soranoiro NIPPON around makes it worth braving the basement-level crowds. Skip the longer queues at Rokurinsha for this; your mouth will thank you many times over.
The staircase leading downstairs near the Yaesu South Exit. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Head to Tokyo Station. From here, find Ramen Street. You’ll need to exit the ticket barriers from whichever line you’ve just emerged from, and find your way to Tokyo Station First Avenue on the basement floor. Wandering around will lead you to Ramen Street. (When in doubt, ask a station attendant. Everyone gets lost here. It’s okay.) An easy way to do this is to enter through the Yaesu South Exit of JR Tokyo Station. Take the staircase pictured above downstairs; Ramen Street is a few seconds away from the staircase.
Name in Japanese:
Tokyo Ramen Street, Tokyo Station First Avenue, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005
8:30am - 10:30pm
Within Tokyo Station on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku Lines, or Marunouchi Line on the Tokyo Metro Subway
:: Read customer reviews of Soranoiro NIPPON on TripAdvisor
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