Seiji may never need to go to a ramen restaurant again, so long as he can find a ramen vending machine.

Well, we made it to December, and 2021 is about to come to a close. We can’t say we’ll look back too fondly on this year, to be honest, but while it was another strange year, there’s one good thing we can say we’re happy that 2021 produced: ramen vending machines.

Though they might not have first appeared in 2021, this year we saw lots of new vending machines selling frozen, restaurant-quality ramen popping up around Tokyo and the surrounding area. In fact, one was just placed inside a Tokyo subway station for the first time! Some even sell gyoza together with the ramen, so you can get a complete meal on your way home from work.

Sadly, our Japanese-language correspondent Seiji Nakazawa had yet to even hear of a ramen vending machine, never mind try one out, at least until the other day when he was dithering outside of Kiyose Station, just on the edge of the Saitama border in western Tokyo. The name of this particular machine is “Ramen Collect“, and it boasted a huge collection of quality ramen from famous restaurants all across the country.

…But a closer look revealed that it sold ramen from just three different restaurants. At first sight, it looked like there were five different restaurants represented, but in fact, the bottom two offerings were curry and gyoza, and the curry was from the same restaurant as one of the types of ramen.

Putting aside his disgruntlement about the false advertisement, Seiji browsed the ramen. The three types on offer were “Yume no Ramen (Dream Ramen)” by Ore no Ikiru Michi (1,100 yen [US$9.69]), “Miso Ramen with Back Fat” from Mensho Maruha BEYOND (1,200 yen), and Shio Ramen (Salt-Broth Ramen) from Raamen-moto HAJIME (1,000 yen).

The names of each of the restaurants and dishes alone revealed that they were all special in some way, but according to the information boards, each of these restaurants is represented by this vending machine for a reason. Ore no Ikiru Michi has ramen inspired by the highly popular Ramen Jiro, which is famous for its super salty broth. Mensho Maruha BEYOND is a highly rated restaurant, even recognized by the Michelin Guide, and Raamen-moto HAJIME is a regular winner of the Ramen of the Year award in the salt broth category.

So it seemed that this vending machine’s selection of ramen was small because a select few were given the honor.

Having never tried a ramen vending machine before, Seiji didn’t know what to expect from either the machine or the ramen, but he did know that he likes Ramen Jiro-style ramen, so he decided on the Yume no Ramen from Ore no Ikiru Michi. But he had no idea how it would come out. Would the machine spit out a hot steaming bowl of ramen?

As it turns out, no. No, it would not. Out came a frozen pack that seemed to include the noodles and the soup. But Seiji had one concern: one of the appeals of Ramen Jiro-style ramen is the huge chunk of meat that comes with the ramen, but would this frozen pack include any meat? Ramen and soup were all well and good, but if you have to make the toppings yourself, then Seiji didn’t see the appeal.

To his pleasure, however, the package contained not only meat but the trademark huge chunk of meat that this style of ramen is famous for!

Plus, the noodles were nice and thick and textured, just how he likes ’em!

That was a lot of pork back fat!!

Once it was properly warmed up, Seiji found that this bowl of ramen, which had come frozen out of a vending machine, was just about as good as ordering it fresh from a restaurant. The process to warm it up was pretty easy, but it took quite a bit longer and a bit more effort than your standard instant ramen. You need two pots: one to warm the broth and one to warm the noodles. The directions say to boil the soup (in its pouch) for about 10 minutes, but Seiji recommends you purposefully leave it in a bit longer.

That’s because the soup pouch includes that huge chunk of meat, so if you don’t give it long enough, the meat might not fully defrost or heat up. Seiji was too excited to eat it and didn’t even give it the full 10 minutes; he took it out at nine minutes, and the center of the meat was still cold.

But other than that, the directions are pretty spot-on, and the resulting ramen was immensely satisfying. It was like eating ramen in a restaurant. The fact that you can buy such high-quality ramen out of a vending machine was enough to move Seiji almost to tears. Who needs to go to a ramen restaurant anymore if you have this?!

If you find yourself in Kiyose, don’t hesitate to buy a frozen ramen pack from Ramen Collect on your way home. If you’re further away and have a hankering for meaty ramen, then you might want to try this ramen recipe hack, made entirely with convenience store ingredients!

Vending Machine Information
Ramen Collect / 麺コレ
Outside the South Exit of Seibu Ikebukuro Line Kiyose Station, in front of the toilets
Tokyo-to Kiyose-shi Matsuyama 1-2-4

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