I really thought I knew a lot about ramen before I visited Japan. After all, I had already established a lifelong love for my two favorite ramen brands which are in fact American affiliates of the Japanese ramen giants. Boil water, add noodles, cook for three minutes, remove from heat, stir in seasoning, and eat, right? My wife is Japanese and she not only disagrees with me – and refuses to eat the American packaged ramen – she goes out of her way to teach me what quality Japanese ramen really is.
Most of my learning is now taking place at the newly opened seventh location of the Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou ramen restaurant chain. Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou opened its first restaurant in Naha in 2002 and has started to expand its business northward across Okinawa in the last few years. My wife tells me this is a very famous ramen shop that many locals will travel down to Naha just for the opportunity to eat it.
Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou is famous not only for the taste of its ramen but also for offering dishes that are specifically intended for men (otoko) or women (onna). Its Otoko-aji ramen has a milky-colored soup base made from pork bones which are boiled in excess of 18 hours to extract the essence of the bone and to emulsify the fat; the ramen and soup is covered in chasu, kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and green onions. The onna-aji ramen has a soup base blended from chicken and pork broth, dried bonito broth and vegetable broth with salt; it is topped with chasu, kelp, welch onions, seaweed and green onions. These selections may seem gimmicky but I have had each and both are delicious just for the soup.
My favorite meal at Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou is shoyu ramen. I like the soy taste which is just salty enough for me and compliments the fresh ramen noodles. The shoyu ramen is topped with pork, mushrooms, kelp and green onions. I also opted for an additional serving of ramen that Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou offers for just 100 yen. If trying this be sure to leave some soup in your bowl as they will not serve the extra ramen without it. I also like the delicous gyoza.
Gyoza, unlike ramen, is a food which I will rarely attempt to make at home. Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou’s gyoza is made with very thin wrappers, is heavily laden with garlic, and is a bit smaller than dumplings found at other noodle shops. Nevertheless I keep coming back for these smaller gyoza because it is without a doubt my favorite gyoza on Okinawa.
Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou’s menu is primarily in Japanese but the pictures and English descriptions of the signature otoko-aji and onna-aji dishes will give non-Japansese fluent visitors confidence to order without worry. Ramen is priced between 500 to just below 1,000 yen. Gyoza is about 300 yen. Sodas and Orion beer are available. All purchases are paid for beforehand via the ticket machine. Simply feed the machine with yen and press the selections desired. Once seated the waitress will take your tickets and offer wheat tea while you wait for your ramen. Ryukyu Shinmen Tondou is definitely a young restaurant chain but its food is very flavorful and memorable.