Just outside the labyrinthine Ueno station is this popular eatery serving truly excellent ramen. After a short wait in line (there almost always is a line), you are ushered to the classic meal-slip vending machine bank. There are just a few options, mostly to do with what extras you wish to include in your broth. Then on to your eating pod.
The experience is kind of surreal for a traveler. For those interested in a group meal, this is not the place. But to get the experience of being alone surrounded by millions, as many Tokyo residents are, this is unmissable. You are ushered by the hostess into a small room with a row of stools, each isolated like a voting booth. Dividers ensure you are not bothered by those around you and in front is a bamboo shutter to hide the kitchen. Water is provided through a personal tap.
A small slip of paper allows you to individualize your soup according to taste (more miso, type of noodles etc.). This is collected and within minutes your big steaming bowl is quietly passed through the bamboo in front of you. A respectful bow from the chef and you are left in peace to enjoy the truly excellent fare. It is exactly what Japanese ramen is meant to be: tasty, hot, hearty and cheap. The meat is fatty, the broth oily; Japanese fast food at its very best. Nobody speaks, the sounds of slurping envelopes you, and within 10 minutes you are back on the bustling streets of Tokyo.
This may not blow away locals or regular visitors, but for a traveler interested in an authentic slice of urban Japan, this place is just awesome. And as a bonus, it's about as cheap as food gets here.
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