Yokohama’s original hometown noodles often get lost in the ramen shuffle, but not today!

Geographically speaking, Japan isn’t such a big country. Even so, different regions have their own cultural traditions, linguistic quirks, and, perhaps most importantly, their own delicious types of ramen.

Some of the best-known are Sapporo’s miso ramen and Fukuoka’s tonkotsu (pork stock) ramen. But one type that’s frequently overlooked is sanma-men, a representative regional ramen of Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south.

Seeking to fill this gap in his ramen resume, our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma hopped on the train for Yokohama, Kanagawa’s capital city. It’s only about 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo to Yokohama Station, so he was able to easily coordinate his arrival for just about the time his stomach started growling for lunch.

Masanuki had asked some Yokohama locals to recommend a samna-men restaurant, and one name that kept coming up was Ryumai. Located in the network of hallways that make up the sprawling underground shopping centers that connect to Yokohama Station, Ryumai has been loved for decades, and still retains a bit of an old-school, Showa-period (1926-1989) feel. It also has a cool name, as the kanji for Ryumai, 龍味, mean “dragon flavor.”

Speaking of Japanese vocabulary, you might be wondering if sanma-men is made with Pacific saury, since the fish is called sanma in Japanese. The name is just a coincidence, though, and sanma-men is fish-free. Instead, the star ingredient in sanma-men is the broth, which is made by adding starch to a soy broth base.

▼ Ryumai’s sanma-men

The toppings are special too. Japanese ramen is usually pretty sparse on non-noodle elements, but not only do you get strips of chashu pork, sanma-men also includes a generous serving of stir-fried vegetables such as bean sprouts, carrot, green onion, and shiitake or kikurage (clud ear) mushrooms, cooked to perfection so that they still retain a crisp texture even after being dropped into the broth.

▼ At just 500 yen (US$4.80), Ryumai’s sanma-men is an absolute bargain.

Sanma-men started rising in popularity in Yokohama’s Chinatown following the end of World War II, since it was a filling and nutritious meal that could be made without a lot of pricy ingredients. It’s remained popular, though, because of its taste, and from the first sip of the broth Masanuki could see why. With the starch giving it a thicker texture and helping to draw out the sweet notes in the soy base, it has a comforting, nostalgic deliciousness that doesn’t try to overload your taste receptors like some more modern ramen styles.

The crunch of the vegetables is immensely satisfying, and there’s just enough pork to give you a protein kick between mouthfuls of the thin noodles. As an added bonus, the thicker consistency of the starchy broth means it retains heat better than other types of ramen broth, so you can take your time and enjoy every bite without fear that your food is going to get cold and unappetizing before you finish.

In recent years, sanma-men has started being overshadowed by iekei ramen, a newer type of Yokohama ramen with a garlicky pork stock base. Because of that, it’s not always easy to find a sanma-men joint, even in Yokohama, but Ryumai is still hanging on, and definitely worth a visit.

Restaurant information
Ryumai / 龍味
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama-shi, Nishi-ku, Kitasaiwai 1-1-8, Ekinia Yokohama basement level 1
神奈川県横浜市西区北幸1丁目1-8 エキニア横浜B1
Open 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

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