New “Dohiemon” vending machine introduces us to the future of ramen.

In Japan, anime character Doraemon, the beloved cat robot from the 22nd century, is a well-known household name. So when machinery manufacturer Sanden introduced a new line of vending machines with freezing capabilities to the market, they decided to play up its futuristic qualities with a play on the Doraemon name, calling the machine “Dohiemon”, with “hie” meaning “chill“.

Just the other day, we had our first encounter with one of these Dohiemon, outside a restaurant called Taiheiken, which specialises in tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen. Located a one-minute walk from Shinjuku’s Yotsuya Sanchome Station, Dohiemon serves up Taiheiken’s delicious noodles and gyoza at all times of the day and night, even outside of the restaurant’s usual trading hours, and there’s also a special ramen dish exclusive to the machine.

▼ The “Dohiemon-exclusive” item is an Old-fashioned Soy Sauce Ramen, priced at 700 yen (US$6.35)

A lot of ramen restaurants have ticket machines at the front of the store, which customers use to place, and pay for, their orders before entering. However, ramen vending machines at the front of restaurants are far more rare, so Dohiemon has a notice pasted on it that reads, “This is not a ticket vending machine for meal tickets“, to help prevent in-store diners from using it as a ticket machine by mistake.

Selecting a meal and paying for it here will result in the frozen meal plonking out into the tray beneath, which is not the system you want when dining inside a ramen restaurant. We, however, were keen to eat at home, so we fed Dohiemon a tasty 1,000-yen bill and moved on to the next step, which was selecting our meal.

As we wanted to try the Dohiemon-exclusive soy sauce ramen, we typed “01” on the digital keypad, which brought up this display. After hitting the big green “purchase” button, we heard a thud, and…

▼ …our noodles were delivered!

▼ Thank you, Dohiemon.

Keen to cook these up for lunch, we immediately opened up the pack as soon as we returned home. Inside, there was a set of cooking instructions, a pack of handmade noodles, and a pack of frozen broth, which contained char siu pork and menma (bamboo shoots).

The cooking process was incredibly simple, as it basically involved reheating, with the soup needing to be boiled, in the bag, in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Just before the soup was done, we loosened the noodles out of their bag and into another pot of boiling water, letting them boil for around two minutes.

▼ We then placed the noodles into a bowl and poured the broth over them…

▼ ..and they’re ready for tasting!

It’s also suggested that you top the dish with extra toppings like green onions and wakame seaweed, but we were happy to eat it as it was, because it was already delicious! The moist char siu collected all the tasty soy sauce flavour from the broth, as did the plump, hand-kneaded noodles, giving every mouthful a satisfying explosion of flavour.

It may not be on par with a freshly made bowl of ramen eaten at the restaurant, but for frozen ramen bought from a vending machine, these were far better than we expected them to be. It was a hearty, authentic soy sauce ramen that was above anything you’d buy at the supermarket, and one that we’d be happy to eat night after night.

Taiheiken says the reason they decided to add Dohiemon to their business was because they use thin noodles in their ramen dishes that don’t fare well with delivery services. When left in hot broth for a long period, the thin noodles can lose their firmness, so by offering the noodles as a frozen takeout option instead, customers will be able to enjoy much fresher noodles, and they have the option of adjusting the firmness to their preference by adjusting the cooking time at home.

This makes Dohiemon an ideal option for ramen restaurants, especially during the pandemic, when diners have been choosing to eat at home and the government has been asking restaurants to shorten their business hours.

It’s as if Dohiemon really has come from the future to save businesses and ramen lovers during these tough times, and there’s a good chance we might see more of these popping up around the country soon, maybe alongside some hot ramen vending machines.

Restaurant Information
Taiheiken / 大平軒
Address: Toyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Yotsuya 3-6
Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 6 p.m.-8 p.m. (weekdays);  11 a.m.-3 p.m. (Saturdays)
Closed Sundays
Vending machine open 24 hours a day every day

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