The One about the Ramen Jiro Challenge

I have taken on various food challenges and have succeeded.   Last year, I was 1-1 with the “Go! Go! Curry Challenge” (which I failed) and the “Sushi Dai Challenge” (which I succeeded).

But I have been gearing up to try Ramen Jiro, one of the popular ramen restaurants around Tokyo and is known for several things.

  • Ramen Jiro is tonkotsu broth with shoyu.  Tonkotsu ramen is a dish that originated in Fukuoka and the soup broth is based upon pork bones (tonkotsu) and other ingredients.  But in the case of Ramen Jiro, according to RamenTokyo.com, it’s a thinner broth with abura (fat).  The noodles are thick and chewy and many Ramen Jiro make their own noodles.  The pork is from tenderloin and the vegetables consist of cabbage or moyashi (bean sprouts) plus chopped garlic (which they will ask you if you want it added or not).
  • There is typically a wait in line to eat at Ramen Jiro.  I believe my wait was around 30-40 minutes.
  • Ramen Jiro enthusiasts (primarily guys) look at Ramen Jiro as a Rites of Passage for true ramen fans!  I guess you can say if you finish a bowl, you have bragging rights.
  • If you ate ramen in Japan, think about the serving as x2 (thus many recommend telling the people you want half or small).

I have read that the Ramen Jiro technique is derived from Yamada-san, who founded the restaurant “Ramen Jiro Mita Hon Ten”.  And hearing so much about this restaurant, I decided that in December 2017, I was going to go for it.

So, I decided…let’s do this.  And try the Ramen Jiro in Ikebukuro!

The First Attempt

Google Maps failed me and what I thought I ate was Ramen Jiro was actually another ramen shop next door.  And the sad thing about it, I posted on my Facebook page celebrating that I conquered the Ramen Jiro challenge by eating one full bowl easily!  Not!

I knew there was something wrong when each time I tried to find Ramen Jiro as a location for Facebook, it would show a different name than the restaurant that Google Maps took me to.   Google Maps said the restaurant I was at was “Ramen Jiro” but the name in Japanese was different on Facebook.  So, I had to ask a patron, “Is this Ramen Jiro?” and he said, “No, Ramen Jiro is right there…the one with the long line”.

I couldn’t believe it.  I ate at the wrong ramen restaurant and I bragged about it on my Facebook page.

Innocent mistake, considering that this was not the first time Google Maps had given me the incorrect location but nevertheless, embarrassing!

The Second Attempt

I waited two days and I went back to Ramen Jiro during the early evening and the line was full.

I got in line, getting all ready for Ramen Jiro…as I had a few days left in my trip in Japan and I was all ready.

10 minutes have passed and then that noticeable urge came over me… “I really need to use the bathroom”.

And for those who have been to Japan know, unless you are near a park or station, the only place to use a bathroom is at a restaurant.  And how Japan has restaurant positions, it really requires one to purchase a meal at the restaurant and sitting your stuff down before using the bathroom.

And I can easily say that a few locations I ate at, was not because I planned or wanted to eat there, sometimes I needed to use the bathroom and eating at the location was the only way I can get access to one.

So, I went to a restaurant across the street in order to access the bathroom.  I ordered something small and used the bathroom.  Hoping I didn’t eat something that would make me too full to eat at Ramen Jiro.  I made sure what I ate was small but I have heard about Ramen Jiro of how the ramen is piled up and is almost like 2 or 2.5x the serving of what someone would eat at another ramen restaurant.

This is where I wish I did the research because others have wrote that their success from eating at Ramen Jiro was due to not eating beforehand.  And while I read it was huge, I was expecting a small, half-size instead of a full bowl.

Once you get through the door, you need to purchase your meal from the machine (like most ramen shops) and hold onto the ticket.  Once you get inside, to the opposite corner, grab your spoon, chopsticks and a cup of water.

I believe I waited for almost 30-40 minutes to get in and get seated.

Once seated and you put your ticket up, so they can refer to your order, about ten or so minutes later, you get your ramen.  A few minutes before, they show you if it’s enough garlic and if the noodles are fine.

I heard from radio hosts to articles online that you must tell them you want “half” because the serving is so huge.  While I asked for half, I noticed the girl repeat what I said and unfortunately, this employee didn’t understand “half”… and part of me wish I have said “nibunoichi” (1/2)?

Needless to say, I received my bowl and it’s a full serving.

My eyes opened wide.  Looking at this photo, it looks like a regular bowl of ramen, but when you look sideways, the bowl is quite deep and the ramen/sprouts were piled up high.

I watched as the men conquered their right of passage and ate their bowls with no fear.  The guy next to me brought his tea to drink and he was ready to conquer which he did.

Three ladies from a soccer team were there to try the Ramen Jiro challenge and 20 minutes, I was not even halfway done.  I saw them and they were laughing out loud because they were not even close to finishing.  And the line was longer and the cook was telling them to please not talk, and eat.

As for me, I took my drink out and tried to see if it would help me finish this bowl because if there is one thing I know that is not good, not eating your food completely in Japan.  But while it was delicious.  The meat was tender and tasty and I ate the noodles, the bean sprouts were piled so high that I was getting full quickly.

But the 25th minute since receiving my bowl of ramen, I couldn’t force feed myself.  I tried my best and I had to concede.  I said thank you and gave my bowl and hurried out in shame because I was not able to finish my bowl of Ramen Jiro.

This was the first time I have not ever finished a dish in all my times visiting Japan.

Not my bowl…but I believe this is the “half”.
Another person’s bowl…I’m not sure if this is half.

Was it the quick meal I had before?  Was it just too much?

I don’t know…but the sense of failing this challenge (similar to failing last year’s Go! Go! Curry Challenge) was tough.  Mainly because at least with last year, I finished 85% of it.  For Ramen Jiro, I finished 70% but the bowl looked as if it was still half full.

I applaud Ryan Broderick of BuzzFeed of achieving successNPR even did a feature on Ramen Jiro.

And even Ramen Tokyo has a guide of how one should prepare before going to Ramen Jiro.

But I failed.  I really want to try again…this shame of not being able to complete my ramen truly bums me out!

But after listening to the NPR interview and learning from others who failed eating at Ramen Jiro.  I’m inspired…I feel like Rocky, I want to try it again but this time with success!

Can I do it? I hope so!