When we told our friend, CD, that we were heading to Japan, he commented “I understand it’s all about the ramen.” As a wine sommelier and aficionado of fine food, he nailed it. Perhaps he remembered the very first Japanese spaghetti western, Tampopo, where the hero helps a widow owner of a noodle stand make the perfect soup.
Indeed, it is all about the ramen, and tales of the perfect noodle soup abound. One man spent 200 hours and 40 pounds of bones trying to figure out how to make tonkotsu ramen broth. A Japanese-American has a blog solely devoted to his personal ramen quest. A New Yorker living in Osaka has been reviewing ramen shops for us English-speaking types since 2011 and claims to have catalogued and reviewed more than 500 places. For those who read Japanese, there’s the Ramen Database, RamenDB (like IMDB except for ramen places).
Osaka is THE foodie destination in Japan, and is known for having created original Japanese dishes. Not to mention, it’s a quick train ride away to Kobe, home of famous wagyu beef. As we walk or bike about the city, it seems like there’s at least one ramen-ya (shop) on every block and usually more. Following that New Yorker’s advice, we discovered Maru Joe’s.
It’s a little difficult to find, and even when you do, you’ll probably have to wait in line outside. It’s down this tiny alley that doesn’t look at all promising from either side, and yet, there are several restaurants in the alley. There are a couple of benches in the alley for waiting at Maru Joe, but only one of them is covered for rainy days. The actual address in Japanese is 〒542-0075 大阪府大阪市中央区難波千日前6-16 but google maps will get you there if you use “6-16 Nanbasennichimae, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu, Japan”.
The restaurant is nothing more than a lunch counter with maybe 10 chairs. Behind the counter, Joe cooks up the broth for customers and boils the noodles to order. Unlike many restaurants in Japan, smoking is not allowed in Maru Joe which is a big plus for us.
The specialty of the house is called, of course, Maru Joe. It’s a tonkotsu (pork based) broth, decorated with a few thick slices of delicious roast pork and a pile of shaved green onions. The broth is nothing short of amazing. It’s creamy and smooth with a full flavor, a wonderful mouth feel and a delicious lingering taste. The noodles are perfectly cooked with just a little resistance to the teeth.
We also tried the soy based soup one day because by the time we arrived for lunch, the Maru Joe soup was already sold out. It was good, with a peppery tang, and filling with the noodles and softly boiled egg (which, we heard, is only offered on rainy days), but not quite the same as the specialty of the house.
Next time you’re in Osaka, try Maru Joe’s ramen-ya. You’ll be glad you did. Maru Joe is only open for lunch and for dinner, not in between; and closed on Wednesday. In case you have trouble finding it, it’s right next to the Cafe Panic Rabbit 84. We just put that in because it was a great picture.