Broth that’s like pancake batter is only the start of the thickness.

Back in my English teaching days, I often discussed the difference between “broth” and “soup” with ramen-loving students. The cause for the confusion is that in Japanese, people say suupu, the corrupted pronunciation of “soup,” to mean the liquid portion alone. “In English, it’s a little more natural to use ‘soup’ for the mixture of solid and liquid foods, or at least a thicker liquid, so we usually call the liquid for ramen ‘broth,’” I’d explain, and they’d jot down “broth” in their notebooks.

But it turns out there’s a restaurant in Kyoto where the word “broth” doesn’t quite seem to do its ramen justice.

Gokkei is located in Kyoto’s Ichijoji neighborhood, which is a local ramen mecca for noodle-loving Kyotoites. Our Japanese-language reporter Great Muromachi had heard rumors of its extra-thick broth and decided to see what all the fuss was about, showing up just about when the restaurant was set to open, at 11:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, Muromachi wasn’t the only guy making a pre-noon ramen run that day, and by the time he arrived, there was already a line. As soon as the doors opened, every seat was instantly taken, but at least the staff was nice enough to give him a slip of paper with an approximate seating time, telling him to come back at 12:10 (they’d hold a seat for him until 12:20 before giving it to someone else).

When the promised time came, Muromachi was ushered inside. Like a lot of ramen joints, the first thing to do is buy a meal ticket out of a vending machine. Gokkei specializes in chicken broth ramen, and while some versions add in hot chili powder or other seasonings, Muromachi opted for the restaurant’s signature dish: the 800-yen (US$7.40) toridaku ramen.

▼ Toridaku ramen regular size / 鳥だく(並)

Muromachi handed his ticket to an employee, took a seat, and waited. Now remember, he’d made the trip here specifically to try Gokkei’s extra-thick broth, but when the waiter placed his bowl in front of him…

…he was still shocked by how thick it was!

Seriously, can we call this broth? It’s practically a half-solid state. “The density reminds you of uncooked pancake batter,” Muromachi reports. “More so than being made from chicken stock, it feels like the chef has melted down a piece of chicken.”

▼ Muromachi had to resist the urge to dip his fingers into the broth and eat it like poi.

But Gokkei’s commitment to thickness goes beyond the broth. The chashu pork? Thick-cut. Menma bamboo shoots? Thick.

The noodles themselves? You guessed it.


And really, that’s a smart choice on Gokkei’s part. With the broth being so thick, thinner toppings or noodles would get lost in the liquid. Every ingredient being thick lets them all keep their identity, making this now only a unique bowl of ramen, but an existentialist one as well.

In the taste department, Gokkei’s toridaku ramen is just as flavorful as you’d expect from its dynamic appearance, although finishing every last drop of the broth will be a test of stomach capacity not every diner is up to. Obviously, this isn’t light fare by any means, so if you’re on a temple-hopping trip to Kyoto, you might want to save this for your last meal of the day, but it’s a ramen experience like no other, and one you’re not likely to forget.

Restaurant information
Gokkei / 極鶏
Address: Kyoto-shi, Sakyo-ku, Ichijoji Nishitojikawaracho 29-7
住所 京都市左京区一乗寺西閉川原町29-7
Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (closes earlier is out of broth)
Closed Mondays

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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he can’t look at this ramen without hearing the Metal Slug announcer’s voice saying “Whoa-BIG!”

[ Read in Japanese ]