May 18, 2018

Eating Ramen Jiro

While ramen is a well known dish, few foreign visitors have ever heard of Ramen Jiro. This monstrosity is nothing short of pure, greasy gluttony.

The front signage at the Mita Honten Ramen Jiro shop in Tokyo

Are you on a diet or trying to eat more healthy? Well then, let me be frank, and say that this post is DEFINITELY not for you! Instead, I’ll direct you to this one which details how I lost over 10 kg eating foods purchased only at Japanese convenience stores. For all the little piglets who are still here though, you’re in for a real treat. We’ll be investigating a crash course in overeating that is known as “Ramen Jiro” or just “Jiro” for short. These days, a few choice ramen shops have been lauded with the prestigious Michelin star yet today’s post topic is about as far on the opposite end of the spectrum as you can get. The English language media Tokyo Weekender eloquently describes this cacophony of grease, fat and carbs as:

Pure unadulterated junk food, the kind of thing that would be at home in an American carnival or flea market near the deep-fried Twinkies.

—Tokyo Weekender

In many ways, Ramen Jiro can be said to be the earthly incarnation of gluttony itself. This physical embodiment of one of the seven deadly sins has roots that date all the way back to the 1960’s. The noodle bingefest likely began as a means of providing overworked salarymen with the requisite caloric load required for day-long marathon sessions at the office. Part franchise, part religion, Ramen Jiro has since grown into a chain of over 30 shops throughout the country. Known for its strong taste and behemoth-sized portions, a visit to Ramen Jiro is simply a must for any ramen aficionado.

Getting to the Main Ramen Jiro Shop

Considering what a disaster a bowl of Ramen Jiro is to one’s health and well being, there’s an ungodly number of shops to choose from across the country (as can be seen in the above map). That said, I’m going to go ahead and recommend that you visit the headquarters in Tokyo’s Mita area. A trip to this location is something of a pilgrimage for ramen connoisseurs. Here, over fifty years ago, the cult of Jiro was established (of which adherents are known as “Jirorians” by the way). What’s more, the head priest of this unhallowed temple is the very-same old geezer who started it all. Even now, he continues to oversee his depraved creation to this day.

You can reach the Ramen Jiro Headquarters in a few minutes on foot from either the JR Tamachi Station or the Mita Station on the metro. You’ll find it located here, right next to the prestigious Keio University (which simply cannot be a coincidence). Every time I walk Ramen Jiro, I’m haunted by the image of poor college students cutting costs by eating an entire week’s worth of calories in a single go. The tales of North Americans subsiding solely on the likes of Nissin Top Ramen have nothing on a good bowl of Jiro after all!

Note that a visit to the Ramen Jiro Mita mother ship isn’t exactly what I’d call an luxurious gourmet experience. In fact, I am sure the disheveled hovel is in violation of every health code in existence (as can be seen this old Instagram shot from 2016). On the few occasions that I have eaten at this Ramen Jiro mecca, I’ve seen things that would horrify health inspectors back home in the States. Handing the pork or noodles with sweaty and bandaged hands? Check! Let’s just chalk it up to part of the experience and call it a day…

How to Order a Bowl of Ramen Jiro

The ticket vending machine at the Mita Honten Ramen Jiro shop

The first rule of Jiro is that you need to get there EARLY if you don’t want to wait. While thoughts of over a liter of noodles first thing in the morning might seem to be the very definition of “too much,” the alternative is not too attractive either. You see, Jirorians are known to queue up to an hour for the chance to stuff their faces with the greasy good stuff. Why the wait? Well, in addition to its popularity, many of the shops are nothing more than holes-in-the-wall that can only seat a few people at a time. In the case of the Mita Headquarters, you can easily count the number of other seated patrons on two hands.

This all said, one of the funniest things about waiting though is the look on the faces of the other guys in line — and let’s be honest, no self-respecting female is going to be caught within 10 kilometers of this place. While I never have, and never will, indulge in Japan’s ubiquitous sex industry, I imagine that the expressions of its clientele must be similar to that which I see in the Jiro line. Part shame, part exhilaration, it is a demeanor that is only possible when one knows what he is doing is fundamentally immoral.

Anyway, once you FINALLY get to the front of the queue, you’ll encounter the ticket vending machine pictured above. Here, you’ll need to pay in advance for whatever you wish to order. Simply put your cash into the device and a colored chip will pop out corresponding to your order. Word to the wise though, avoid any of the offerings on the second row! These chips represent the “large” sizes. Seeing as the normal portions are enough to make a grown man cry, you’d do well to leave these for Godzilla and the sumo wrestlers. I suggest going for yellow (pork ramen) or blue (double pork).

What to Expect from a Bowl of Ramen Jiro

A massive bowl of Ramen Jiro at the Mita Honten Ramen Jiro shop

After sitting down, place your chip on the counter ledge in front of you. One of the staff will confirm your order and start assembling your fatty delight. Soon thereafter, you’ll be given a tiny glass of water to help counteract the week’s worth of sodium you’re about to inhale. As any seasoned Jiro veteran knows, it’s a good idea to bring you own beverage, ideally something like Pu’er tea that is known to suppress fat absorption. At the Mita Headquarters, you can purchase a drink while waiting in line at one of the two vending machines located outside.

Prior to being served your food, one of the staff will ask you nonchalantly in Japanese “Ninniku irimasuka?” (Do you want garlic?). Depending on how brave/stupid you’re feeling, you can request for just a little (sukuname), regular (futsu), a lot (mashi), or a whole truckload (mashi mashi). Though unstated, at this time you can also further customize your order with things like extra oil (abura), more cabbage and bean sprouts (yasai), or soy sauce (karame). A typical order therefore might be something along the lines of “Ninniku futsu, yasai mashi” meaning regular garlic, extra veggies.

If you’re in a bit of a foolhardy mood, simply answer “zen-mashi” which is essentially translates to the whole kitchen sink. The resulting tower of toppings is usually so massive that the oily broth will be oozing over the side of the bowl. Good luck picking that greasy sucker up! Luckily, there’s always a couple of wet towels nearby on the countertop to mop up any mess. Every man for himself when it comes to getting it off your hands though…

One unstated rule of Ramen Jiro is that you should eat as quickly as possible. While the never-ending line outside is a key factor, there’s also a practical component for this guideline. You see, the longer the noodles sit in the broth, the more of it they soak up. For this reason, a bowl of Jiro is much like a vampire insomuch as the bastard will just refuse to die. The best course of action is to simply soldier on as fast as you possibly can and use your glass of water as a battering ram to force the food down.

Word to the wise. Unless you want to admit defeat, whatever you do, do not stop part way through! Much like running a marathon or any other distance sport, taking a quick breather is paramount to having your body lock up and surrender on you. You need to get the contents of your bowl into your stomach before the hormone ghrelin starts signaling your brain that you’re full. Failure to do so will result in pain. You know how they say that it takes up to 15–20 minutes before your body knows that it’s full? Consider that the countdown to your otherwise unsightly demise…

Oh, and before you ask, calorically speaking, Jiro has about… Ah, fuck it. Let’s be honest, if you are eating at Ramen Jiro you’re already damned and have accepted your fate as a glutton. Best to dig in and enjoy because there will be hell to pay for you and your bowels later! After all, that greasy bowl of goodness isn’t going to eat itself and it’s a HUGE faux pas among Jirorians to not finish your noodles! Time to ante up fat boy!

Post Ramen Jiro Damage Control

Holy Festivus! Ramen Jiro is surely more than a match for many potential patrons. Hell it’s enough food to put even competitive eaters down for the count. That said, there are a couple of biohacks that you can use to prevent the noodles and lard from taking up residence on your hips. Many of these binging techniques are taken straight from Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Body and I’ve put them to the test during my weekly “dieters-gone-wild” cheat day. Though the following tips may seem far-fetched, they most certainly all work.

  • Begin by having a small meal of around 200–300 calories that is high in both protein and fiber. This will help to blunt any insulin spikes resulting from Ramen Jiro later but it unfortunately means you’ll need to pass on having noodles-for-breakfast as previously suggested.
  • A few hours before Ramen Jiro, consume coffee and a glass of grapefruit juice. Caffeine boosts resting metabolic rate slightly while also helping to ensure that food passes through your system quickly. Grapefruit juice, on the other hand, helps to control insulin spikes while also doubling the half-life of caffeine.
  • Lastly, just before (and ideally two hours after), do 90 seconds of air squats and wall presses. This primes your muscles to store as much of the carbs as possible as glycogen and not as fat. It sounds silly, but it works.

For more information on the long lost art of overeating, refer to the above video where the human guinea pig himself goes over his weekly “Faturday” binge routine.

Lastly, before ending, I have a few final suggestions on how to have the best Ramen Jiro experience. For starters, bring some hand wipes with you, preferably those having alcohol. By now, this may be obvious, but Jiro is EXTREMELY greasy. What’s more, there are no tissues available as is often the case with ramen. Additionally, as mentioned before, you’d do well to bring your own drink. The measly cup of water you get simply isn’t enough to make it all go down.

Finally, and this should be pretty self-evident, do not schedule anything too physically intense for the remainder of the day. Few things are as torturous as having to walk everywhere with a bursting belly!