We’re searching for the best non-ramen items on ramen restaurant menus.

In order to speed up the ordering and payment process, a lot of ramen joints in Japan have a vending machine at the entrance that you buy a meal ticket from. For example, if you stop by a branch of ramen restaurant Oreryu Shio, you’ll see this.

Obviously, the biggest buttons, up at the top, are usually going to be for various types of ramen. But when our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa looks over the options, he can’t help thinking about the things that are off in the corner of the machine, or on the back pages of printed menu books.

That’s where you’ll find the non-ramen items that ramen restaurants offer. Most of the time you’ll at least find gyoza (pot stickers), but what really stirs Seiji’s imagination is when a ramen restaurant offers rice bowls. You have to figure that the restaurant expects most of its customers to be coming in for noodles, so if they’re still putting rice bowls on their menu, they must be really confident in them, right?

So Seiji’s made it his mission to seek out these non-ramen stars of ramen restaurant menus, and today that quest brought him into Oreryu Shio in downtown Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood to try something they call “Ketchup Rice with Egg on Top.”

It was especially intriguing that Oreryu Shio didn’t just call it omrice, as rice omelets with ketchup are usually called in Japan. The different name implied that this was a different dish, some sort of Oreryu Shio original, and so Seiji ordered a bowl for 680 yen (US$4.50).

Looking at the photo on the vending machine, Seiji had been unsure how big the Ketchup Rice with Egg on Top would be. It turned out to be a little smaller than you’d ordinarily expect compared to, say, a beef bowl from Yoshinoya. This isn’t a negative, though, since it’s still big enough to fill up someone who isn’t a particularly big eater, yet small enough that you could enjoy it as a side dish to a bowl of ramen if you’re feeling pretty hungry.

Unlike omrice, where the rice wrapped up inside the egg, the Ketchup Rice with Egg on Top has a layer of fluffy egg at the top, with the rice underneath.

The rice itself is different from omrice, too. Instead of being thoroughly mixed with ketchup until the grains are a bright orange color, the rice here is closer to Chinese-style fried rice. There are even pieces of chashu pork mixed in, which was a nice surprise considering that Oreryu Shio doesn’t mention it at all in the Ketchup Rice with Egg on Top name.

This makes for a heartier, meatier flavor than omrice, too. If you’re after an even more robust taste, you can add in some of the condiments that are supplied at the table, such as chili oil garlic paste and nori seaweed.

The Ketchup Rice with Egg on Top is so good that it almost seems like a shame to shove it down all the way to the bottom of vending machine order options, though it’s understandable what with Oreryu Shio being first and foremost a ramen chain. Still, Seiji is glad he found it, and his non-ramen ramen restaurant star quest is off to a very good start.

Restaurant information
Oreryu Shio Rame (Shinjuku Tonanguchi branch) / 俺流塩らーめん(新宿東南口店)
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-36-18
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

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