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K-1 Building, 1st Floor
7-2-6 Nishi Shinjuku
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan
The main branch of this now eight-location chain of ramen shops is located in west Shinjuku, and is the only one I’ve ever visited.
Thinking back to the very first time I went there on a cold and rainy November day a few years back, I was shocked to see that there was a lineup that snaked out the door that must have been about fourty people long. As I stood there with two of my friends, I began to doubt how good this place could be, or was it just another case of hype getting the best of everyone, as I knew very well that Musashi Menya had in recent years been rated the number one ramen shop in all of Japan by the leading ramen fanatics magazine – and yes, they do exist in Japan! So very strong buildup to the experience, as I stood in line for well over an hour before I was finally inside. Only to find that once inside, the line continues before one actually gets a seat.
The space is very small, think of it as an L-shaped counter that seats about 12-15 people, with an open kitchen right in front where everything gets made. The action inside is intense, as the working crew of about eight people, all dressed in Musashi Menya’s red t-shirt and black slacks, work in tight unison and shout out various instructions and chants, almost like an army platoon. The place is decorated spartanly with some tributes to the great Japanese samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, for whom the place is named after apparently. Add in the steam that comes out, the various aromas and not to mention the afore mentioned continued lineup inside (where about another twenty of so people are literally standing right behind one part of the seating configuration, chomping at the bit to get their butt on a stool). The stadium-like atmosphere really does heighten the expectations for the first time visitor.
On my most recent visit just over a month ago, I looked forward to another steaming hot bowl of Musashi’s best and luckily the lineup wasn’t as bad as on previous trips, only about 10 people still outside. The ordering system is simple. There is a basic vending machine up the short flight of stairs once you get inside – I usually go with the base ramen plus a marinated and hard boiled egg as an extra topping. You get to choose how rich a soup you want, light or heavy. Again, I take the lighter variation, as I think that works better with the fish-based soup that is served at Musashi. Amid all the shoyu, tonkotsu, miso, shio soups out there that dominate the ramen scene, Musashi’s approach using Hokkaido kelp and dried sanma fish to create their stock (I think in English its called saury and/or mackerel pike) is unique and part of a new wave trend to more seafood-bases in ramen soups. The noodles are a straight variety, not crinkly (which is my personal favorite), with a good texture – you can have them do it more softer if you wish – with a slice of chashyu (pork), nori (dried seaweed), menma (bamboo shoots), and sliced negi (onions) to complete the package.
The impact of the fish-based stock is immediate and for those of you how have not tried such a broth, I’d recommend you give it a shot. I think initially it takes some geting used to, but once you do, I think you’ll enjoy it. But you’ll have to get in line, as there are thousands of others who are already strong devotees to the ramen offered here at Musashi…