There’s a subtle difference, but does it still bring the flavor?

Since moving to Korea a year ago, our Japanese-language reporter Soon Pyon’s noticed a lot of snacks, restaurants, and more that remind him of things he had growing up in Japan. Recently, during a particularly intense craving for ramen, he noticed a restaurant that looked quite similar to a popular Japanese ramen chain called Ramen Jiro.

▼ The restaurant Soon Pyon’s found in Korea

▼ A Ramen Jiro branch in Japan

The restaurant in Korea said ラーメン次郎 on its sign, just like branches of the Japanese chain do on theirs. There was a very subtle difference, though: the Korean restaurant is called “Koi Ramen Jiro,” the name of the company being “Koi Ramen,” and it’s apparently a Korean-born chain restaurant. As of 2022, there are 29 Koi Ramen joints in South Korea. Slightly confusing, but Soon Pyon’s decided to go with it anyway.

Ramen Jiro-style ramen (called “Jiro-kei” in Japan) has a mixed soy sauce/tonkotsu (pork stock) soup base and thick noodles topped with a small mountain of beans sprouts, pork, and cabbage. Looking at Koi Ramen Jiro’s menu, Soon Pyon’s could see right away that the Korean restaurant offered something very similar.

But unlike Japan’s Ramen Jiro, Koi Ramen Jiro’s menu was a bit all over the place.

▼ The other dishes shown here aren’t so Jiro-kei-y.

Koi Ramen Jiro’s signature ramen uses a thick tonkotsu pork broth, without any of the soy sauce broth that authentic Japanese Jiro-kei ramen has. Koi Ramen Jiro also had other menu items like Taiwan-style Mazesoba (basically noodles that you mix up with a variety of toppings).

The interior reminded Soon Pyon’s of a ramen shop he’d see somewhere in, say, Europe; it was set up like a Japanese ramen joint with both counter and table seats, but the walls were plastered with all kinds of Japanese paraphernalia.

They even had manga lined up over the counter, but it looked more like it was for interior decoration than for actual reading. Worst was a good one, Soon Pyon’s reminisced.

Like many ramen restaurants in Japan, Koi Ramen Jiro had a ticket vending system, so he inserted his money into the machine and placed his order. Oddly enough, despite the restaurant’s name, the first ramen listed on Koi Ramen Jiro’s menu isn’t their take on Jiro-kei, but is instead Koi Ramen’s standard signature tonkotsu pork ramen, so Pyon Soon’s decided to order a bowl of that for 9,000 won [US$6.74]), plus a side of fried gyoza for 4,000 won. The prices were about the same as Japan, and you were even able to choose toppings and the firmness of your noodles.

After a few minutes, his ramen was served to him, and it looked just like Japanese tonkotsu ramen! It was topped with green onions, a soft-boiled egg, and chashu pork cutlets. Time for the broth’s taste test.

He thought it was great! It wasn’t as salty as he was accustomed to, but besides that, it was just as delicious and comforting as a bowl he’d find in Japan.

The noodle were slightly too soft for Soon Pyon’s taste, but he could also mark that down to personal preference. Otherwise, no complaints.

As for the chashu, it tasted like a ready-made cutlet rather than one prepared at the restaurant. It didn’t mean it wasn’t good, but it was worth noting for him.

And finally, the gyoza. He expected them to be Japanese-style gyoza as well, but they were basically Korean-style ones, or mandu. Not bad, but not what he expected.

Overall, he was pleased with his experience at Koi Ramen Jiro. After more research, he found out that only two Koi Ramen locations, including the one he visited, actually serve ramen with Jiro-kei-style toppings. The other branches are simply called “Koi Ramen” and are mainly known for their tonkotsu ramen.

Soon Pyon’s also thinks it’s worth noting that the same tonkotsu broth is also used for the restaurant’s Jiro-kei topping ramen. So if you’re looking for an authentic Jiro Ramen experience in Korea, you’d be better off searching elsewhere, but if you’re looking for Japanese-style tonkotsu despite the doctor’s orders? This is the place.

Ramen Jiro exterior photo: Wikipedia/カレンダーの可憐
All other photos ©SoraNews24
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