Mayor of second-place city expresses regret at not capturing the title of Japan’s biggest ramen-spenders.

Ramen is popular all across Japan, but which city loves it the most? Tokyo, Sapporo, and Fukuoka might all seem like strong contenders for the crown, but in terms of household ramen spending, none of those cities is number one, or even number two, according to a study by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Instead, it’s Yamagata City, the capital of Yamagata Prefecture, that topped the nation in per-family ramen expenditures in 2022. This isn’t the first time for Yamagata to find itself on the ramen throne either, as the city also had the highest per-household ramen spending eight years in a row from 2013 to 2020, and even when it lost the title in 2021, it only slipped down one spot, to second place nationwide.

▼ A group of Yamagata ramen restaurant owners at the moment the results were announced.

According to the ministry’s annual household expenditures study, in 2022 Yamagata City spent 13,196 yen (US$102) on ramen per household (a household, for the survey, being defined as a home with two or more people). That pushed Yamagata past the 12,573 yen per household in second-place Niigata City, which captured first place in 2021. In third place for 2022, separated from Niigata by the width of a ramen noodle at 12,480 yen, is Sendai.

So why does Yamagata out ramen-spend any other city in Japan? Foodies and analysts have a number of theories. The city’s inland location in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region means it gets awfully cold in the winter, making a bowl of piping hot noodles a tasty respite from the chill. And in the summer? The people of Yamagata enjoy hiyashi ramen, cold ramen with the broth extra-chilled by ice cubes, making ramen something that’s eaten non-stop all year round.

▼ Yamagata hiyashi ramen

But unlike some other parts of Japan, which have a single representative ramen, Yamagata has several. In addition to hiyashi ramen, in Yamagata you can find akayu karamiso ramen (served with a scoop of spicy red miso paste atop the miso broth), Sakata ramen (made from a mixed pork, chicken, and sardine stock), and tori chuka (ramen noodles served in soba broth with chicken and tempura flakes).

▼ Akayu karamiso ramen

▼ Tori chuka

Having so many different kinds of ramen to choose from makes it less likely that you’ll get tired of eating ramen in general. Speaking of wanting a change of pace, another theory behind Yamagata City’s love of ramen is that the local food culture includes a lot of home-cooking with soba noodles. Since Yamagata residents are likely to have recently eaten soba at home, the logic goes, they’ll be craving some other type of noodle when they go out.

A lot of those traits apply to Niigata as well. Niigata Prefecture grows a lot of rice, making it even more of a staple of home cooking than elsewhere in Japan, so ramen is a nice alternative when eating out (Yamagata and Niigata prefectures, by the way, have the most, and second most, number of ramen restaurants in Japan per 100,000 residents). Likewise, Niigata boasts multiple unique ramen styles, such as Tsubame seabura ramen (pork back fat broth with dried sardines) and Nagaoka ginger ramen.

▼ Tsubame seabura ramen

Ultimately, though, Niigata City was unable to hold on to the top spot for a second year in a row. Following the announcement of the survey’s results, Niigata Mayor Yaichi Nakahara addressed reporters, saying “Honestly, this is disappointing…In the future, I hope we will continue to have a good rivalry with Yamagata and contribute to the excitement of ramen.”

▼ Nakahara speaks to the press

A public official expressing regret that his constituency isn’t eating more ramen might seem surreal, but food-based tourism is a very big deal in Japan, and earning a reputation for excellence with a particular dish can be a huge boost not just for restauranteurs, but also hospitality providers and other local businesses.

The good news, though, is that there’s room enough in people’s hearts for both Yamagata and Niigata to become known as ramen meccas, just like there’s always room in our stomachs for tasty noodles.

Source: FNN Prime Online via Otakomu, Yahoo! Japan News
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