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The Ramen Industry’s Finest – The Secrets of Ramenya Iida Shouten!

The Ramen Industry’s Finest – The Secrets of Ramenya Iida Shouten!

Date published: 15 May 2020
Last updated: 18 May 2020

In Yugawara, Kanagawa, there’s a shop that ramen lovers consider “The Holy Land of Ramen.” Opened in 2010, Ramenya Iida Shouten won the TRY Ramen Award (Kodansha), the highest in the industry, for two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018. In January 2018, it appeared on the Jonetsu Tairiku (“A Passionate Challenger”) (MBS / TBS network) show and became a sensation. We went to Iida Shouten to discover the secret of its popularity!

A visit to Yugawara’s Iida Shouten!

It takes less than 90 minutes to get from Tokyo Station to Yugawara Station on the JR Tokaido Line Rapid Acty. From Yugawara Station it’s about a 10-minute walk to Iida Shouten. Business hours are limited to four hours from 11:00 to 15:00 and there are always long lines, so numbered entry tickets are required.

In order for customers to avoid waiting at the store as much as possible, the numbered tickets are distributed five times before opening at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, and 10:30.

▲Located in a quiet residential area

We arrived at the shop just before 10:30 and despite visiting on a weekday, fifteen customers were already waiting for tickets. The customer base is slightly different from that of a typical ramen shop, and those lined up ranged from young to old, from parents with children and babies to groups of senior women all in eager anticipation of their upcoming ramen experience.

At the scheduled time, a staff member comes out of the shop to hand out the numbered tickets.

▲ The number of tickets distributed before 10:30 is posted outside the shop. That information can also be found on Iida Shouten's Twitter (@iidashouta) feed.
▲ One ticket allows entry for up to six people.

After getting our ticket, we strolled around Yugawara for about two hours and then returned to the shop at the time listed on the ticket. Customer numbers are called shortly after the listed time, and then they use the ticket vending machine in the shop to place their orders. Thanks to the numbered tickets, the actual time waiting in line is short, and it was our turn in no time!

▲ The ticket machine menu has clear recommendations. Soy sauce and tsukemen items have large red buttons, while salt and niboshi options have smaller buttons.

Depending on the number of tickets passed out on a given day, people without a ticket can still line up too. On the day we went, there were about thirty people waiting at 12:30. The following three days were holidays, and the number of reservations reached 250 by 10:30 so no further entry was allowed.

The Astonishing Flavor of Chicken Soup and Homemade Noodles!

We ordered the most popular “Soy Sauce Ramen with Wonton” (1,100 yen including tax) and “Tsukemen,” (1,000 yen including tax), recommended by the owner. After giving the ticket to the staff and waiting outside for about 5 more minutes, we finally sat down in the shop.

▲ Iida Shouten has a luxurious atmosphere similar to a sushi restaurant with ten counter seats and two tables for four at the back.
▲ A tabletop guide describes the ingredients used.

Tabletop cards list and describe the various ingredients used in your meal and just reading it will whet your appetite. While reading you’ll begin to catch the delicious smell of your ramen as it’s prepared!

▲ There are two types of pork, two kinds of wonton, and mitsuba (Japanese wild parsley) beautifully arranged!

And the first spoonful – wow! The aroma of the chicken oil broth will fill your nostrils and delight your taste buds with its rich, bold, yet refreshing, soy flavor.

▲ The chicken oil is plentiful, but not heavy.

Next, the noodles. They’re quite long, but smooth and easy to slurp up.

▲ Chicken-based soy broth combines exquisitely with the fine noodles, which have a smooth, firm texture.

The taste of the toppings will have you exclaiming “Amazing!” throughout your meal. The chashu pork loin is juicy and the thick, soft momoyaki pork is easy to eat, further satisfying your appetite.

▲ Chashu made from Sagami pork cooked at low-temperature (left), and momoyaki pork, a rare cut of Sagami pork called “shinkinbo” pickled in a special sauce and oven baked (right).

The two wonton dumplings are made with different types of meat (chicken and pork), and it’s a pleasure to compare the differing flavors. Both are full of meat and go well with the soup – you’re sure to be satisfied!

▲ The two types of wonton featuring Kinkaton pork and Sansui chicken have an enjoyable texture.

You can taste the dedication and skill put into each ingredient from the flavorful broth to the smooth noodles, and you’ll have a smile on your face as you eat!

▲ Permanent grin
▲ The refreshing soup has a gentle flavor.

Enjoy Tsukemen Five Ways – Maybe for the First Time!

We were still enraptured by the ramen and wonton when the tsukemen arrived. The noodles, served in a yellow soup, have a different color and thickness than the ramen.

▲ In addition to noodles and broth, Yugawara citrus juice (the type of citrus used varies by season), nori (seaweed), salt, and wasabi are included.

First, add salt to the noodles and eat them according to the “How to Eat Delicious Tsukemen” instructions placed on the table.

Upon the first bite I thought “Hmm!?! Even though it hasn’t been dipped in the sauce, it tastes like tororo kombu!” Double-checking the menu confirmed that it was “Tsukemen (Thick Kelp Bonito Dashi),” meaning the cold yellow broth was made of kelp and bonito.

▲ Even without dipping the noodles in the sauce, you’ll be able to taste the kelp and bonito.

The aroma of the wheat noodles themselves is amazing too. To get a true sense of their flavor, it’s best to have them only with salt to begin with.

Next, quickly dip the noodles in the sauce. It’s clear from the color, body, and aroma that it has a higher soy content than that of the ramen’s soup. But combined with the noodle broth, the is taste is just right.

According to the eating instructions, the kelp bonito broth coats the noodles and prevents the soy dipping sauce from soaking into the noodles, allowing the individual flavors of the noodles, broth, and sauce to remain intact.

▲ In addition to Sagami momoyaki pork the sauce includes, chicken chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), and parsley.

After eating a few bites this way, it’s time to add the tangy citrus juice to the sauce for a change of taste and smell!

▲ Adding citrus juice provides a refreshing flavor, but be careful not to add too much or it will be too sour.

Often, as you continue eating, tsukemen dipping sauce may become thin or you might tire of the flavor, but that’s not the case with Iida Shouten’s tsukemen. Not only the citrus juice, but also the seaweed and wasabi will change the noodles’ flavor so your chopsticks won’t stop!

After finishing the noodles, there is one more culinary delight at the end – combining the soup and sauce and drinking it.

▲ The harmony of rich soy sauce, chicken oil, kelp, and bonito is the best!

Drink the last drop and you’re done. You can simply enjoy the noodles soaked in the kelp bonito broth, or sample different flavors one after another as you dip the them in the sauce and add other ingredients. This was first time we’ve had such delicious tsukemen!

▲ After the ramen, this was another excellent dish!

We were surprised to discover that many customers have two bowls of noodles, and two diners even had three. We were told later that the record is seven bowls!

Even if you didn’t buy multiple meal tickets, you can still place additional orders to satisfy your appetite. And since customers line up outside, once you enter the small shop you’ll be able to enjoy a peaceful meal.

Noodles and Soup Inspired by Masters

After a satisfying meal, we interviewed the owner, Shota Iida. Mr. Iida is from Manazuru, Kanagawa, and began working as a chef after graduating from college. However, at the age of 25 circumstances led him to return to his parents’ home and the family business. Next he became a franchise owner in a ramen shop chain operated by his uncle.

▲ Mr. Iida, the owner

“I was a little confused when I decided to open a ramen shop, because I had a degree and could do whatever I wanted, but thought it would be rewarding. I had to work hard and sleep little. Even just remembering it now, I get sleepy.”

Looking back on those days Iida says he learned “to value the customer” through his work.

“Because it was a chain shop, the taste and recipe were fixed. To attract customers, it was necessary to offer more, so I started befriending them. People like to be liked, and ramen made by your favorite guy is delicious (laughs).”

The phrase “customers don't come for the product” is affixed to a pillar visible from the kitchen. That’s a quote from the founder of the Ito-Yokado Group found in a book Iida read to learn about management.

After working for about eight years, Iida, who had always dreamed of a being a chef, decided to make his own ramen. While visiting other shops in search of the ideal taste, he was impressed by the ramen of the late ramen master, Minoru Sano.

The shop is very organized, including the kitchen. Iida, who says “the setting is also one of the tastes,” says he learned the basics of working as a chef at a Japanese restaurant.

“Up to that point, I’d thought of ramen as a soup dish, and didn’t think much about the taste of the noodles. But wheat noodles take on the flavor of the broth and I was amazed by ramen with such culinary character.”

From then on, Mr. Iida went to Sano's shop and worked on noodle research. He tried using the flour that Sano used, actually went to the wheat production area, and has since modeled his own noodles on Sano’s.

▲ A photograph of Mr. Sano, whom Iida respects, is displayed above the noodle-making room’s entrance.
▲ The specialty noodles are made daily in the noodle-making room.

Carefully selected domestic wheat is used to make dough and then pressure is applied with a larger than usual roller to create smooth-textured noodles.

“The noodles differ by type, composition, shape of the wheat, etc. depending on the menu item. For example, tsukemen uses a combination of two types of noodles – flat and square cut noodles. Flat noodles soak up the soup, and square cut noodles add texture.”

Clockwise from the front left, tsukemen, noodles for salt ramen, noodles for soy sauce ramen, and noodles for niboshi ramen. The length of the noodles is a bit longer than usual, to make them even more enjoyable.
▲ There’s a stone mill in the noodle-making room, and some of the wheat is ground on site!

“Freshly-ground wheat has a different scent. To accentuate the wheat flavor and aroma, we use 2% of our own ground flour when making salt ramen noodles. On the other hand, in the case of soy sauce noodles, we do not use millstone flour because we want to maintain the sharpness and aroma of the soy sauce.”

▲ “I just want to make the world's best noodles, more delicious than soba or pasta,” says Iida modestly.

In addition to Mr. Sano, Iida has been strongly influenced by another craftsman: Junichi Shimazaki, owner of “69'N'ROLL ONE” in Sagamihara, Kanagawa (now relocated to Amagasaki, Hyogo and known as “Rock'n Billy S1”), whose shop Iida also visited during his research stage.

“I thought the ramen at 69'N'ROLL ONE made with only chicken and water was amazing. When I went there only Mr. Shimazaki and two customers were in the shop. I ate two bowls of soy sauce ramen, we talked while I ate, and after the shop closed, I got an introduction to the soup. This was a groundbreaking change in my ramen life.”

▲ The broth is made from Hinaidori, Nagoya Cochin, and Sansui varieties of chicken, Nagoya Cochin bones, and water purified with a reverse osmosis membrane system.
▲ Chicken oil obtained during soup making

Six types of soy sauce from Hyogo, Gunma, Wakayama, and other prefectures are carefully selected and blended, including dark, light, Saishikomi (double fermented), and Tamari soy sauce.

“Each of the six types of soy sauce has a role. The Tamari is rich, the dark is sharp and full, and the light is fragrant.”

▲ Pouring the broth into a bowl with the chicken oil and soy sauce

Having perfected his own noodles and soup, Iida opened Ramenya Iida Shouten in March 2010 in Yugawara, where his family's warehouse was originally located.

Listening to the story of how the restaurant was opened and the development of the ramen itself, we were able to get a glimpse of Mr. Iida's passion for ramen.

▲ Iida puts the boiled noodles in a bowl. His white chef’s wear is reminiscent of a Japanese kappo restaurant

A Shop Worth the Trip to Yugawara

Mr. Iida, who has pursued his own taste, cherishes the insight received from ramen industry veterans. In relation to reaching the highest peak of the ramen world, he humbly says, “There's still a ways to go.”

“There is a saying, ‘Look for the place the old man seeks, not for the traces of the old man.’ Not only do you mimic your seniors, but it’s also important to understand why they did it that way. If you know why, you’ll value the ingredients and I think you can leave ramen in a good place.”

The name “Iida Shouten” is also the name of the former family business. “The industry is different, but I think my father, who has passed away, would be pleased with the succession of Iida Shouten,” says Mr. Iida.

▲ Mr. Iida was friendly and talkative throughout the interview

In addition to the ingredients and cooking methods, Mr. Iida's sincere attitude and approach to his work make it clear why customers from all over Japan come to visit his shop. Whether you like ramen, or don’t eat it often, be sure to visit Iida Shouten. In either case, your impression of ramen will be changed!

  • Ramenya Iida Shouten
    らぁ麺屋 飯田商店
    • Address 2-12-14 Doi, Yugawara, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa 259-0303
    • Phone Number 0465-62-4147
    • Hours: 11:00 - 15:00 (closes as soon as ingredients are exhausted); closed Mondays (but open on public holidays, closed on the following Tuesday)

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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