Upon arriving in Japan, many guidebooks recommend eating ramen as an essential experience for tourists. However, this can often seem as pointless as telling someone to try curry when in India. The sheer volume of different varieties on display is baffling for outsiders, while just eating one ramen dish means you will never be able to appreciate just how diverse this national treasure is. Each region of Japan has (at least) one special ramen; from the Shoyu (soy sauce) based bowls of Tokyo to the Miso style of Sapporo and from the rich pork tonkotsu wonders of Wakayama to the Taiwanese-influenced delights of Nagoya.
Visitors to Tokyo will notice that many (but not all) styles are available here, but rarely in the same shop together. To sample all the regional specialities of Japan can therefore be a costly and near-impossible task. Thankfully, for ramen fans, help is at hand from the Machida Ramen Festival. Held every year in Kanagawa, West Tokyo, Machida is the best place to sample ramen from all over the country. As part of the larger ‘Daitsukemenhaku’ festival, Machida hosts the ‘Strongest Ramen Festival’ every year to see which shop, and which style, comes out on top. In 2016, fans were treated to four separate weekends of festivities held between March 31st and April 24th. Forty different ramen shops set up stalls over the duration of the event, competing around a different theme each time. Every weekend, festival-goers thus had their pick of ten stalls to choose from and the following themes; ‘Rich’, ‘Michelin-listed’, ‘Nationwide’ and ‘Future’.
The first weekend encompassed ‘Rich’ ramen dishes so customers could choose from a buckwheat-heavy Kanto dish and a secret-recipe passed down from 1963 from Okinawa, among many others to try from. With 21,000 ramen restaurants in Tokyo, the second weekend in April had a great deal to choose from. It was host to some of the most famous ramen shops in the city, the ‘Michelin Guide Tokyo listings’ and included arguably the most unique ramen dish of all. Produced by the ‘Due Italian’ ramen shop near Ichigaya Station, the ‘Ramen fromage’ is a blend of both Japanese and Italian cuisine, with a cream-cheese soup that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, let alone Japan. The penultimate dates in April held the ‘Nationwide’ contest of the ‘strongest stores across the country’. Featuring the likes of the Takemoto Shoten shop in Hokkaido which adds in tuna and the chicken-infused ‘Gold Flavour’ Ramen of Noodle Zong, this was a weekend to be savoured. The final weekend’s theme was that of ‘Future’; with the aim of using traditional ramen recipes but also trying to evolve them in some way. A very popular stall on display this weekend appeared to be the ‘white soy sauce’ limited edition dish cooked up by the ‘Ichiban’ staff. While another was produced by ‘JUNK STORY’, their ramen incorporated grilled chicken wings to make a never-before-seen meal.
Machida is an easy 35 minute ride from Shinjuku Station along the Odakyu line (370 Yen one-way) and from here, it is a gentle 5 minute walk to Machida Shibahiro – the community park where the Festival is traditionally held. To get yourself one of these famous bowls of ramen, simply buy a ticket from the machine and take it to your chosen stall. The festival may be over for 2016 but countless ramen shops are no doubt preparing themselves for next year’s event, so don’t miss out.
For mroe information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/course/machikama/index.html#map