Q: What kind of restaurants in Japan should you never take a girl to?
A: Ramen shop.
That is a very common advice many Japanese people have given me: A ramen shop is hot, tiny and humid. It’s hard to maintain your manners with ramen as you would be slurping the noodles and making a lot of impolite sounds. The pace of the shop is too quick and noisy. The food is greasy and has no vegetables. You can’t really share the food with each other romantically. Only guys go there. The heat will fog your glasses up. The soup might splash onto the clothes…… and the reasons of never to bring a girl to a ramen shop go on, mostly coming back to the point that ramen shops are never romantic enough for dates.
However, throughout my years of ad-ramen-ventures, I have come across one that is a legitimately good ramen shop to go on a date at. Dan-Ramen in Gifu-city is an exception from the stereotypical ramen shops. The motto of the shop is “a ramen shop where a lady going by herself can easily enter and have a great time”. Perhaps this is due to the owner being a ramen-loving-lady herself. This is my favourite shop in the city and for very good reasons that you cannot find in other shops.
First, you don’t just walk into the shop and sit down as most ramen shops do. Take a seat at the waiting area until you are served to enter. The dim lighting, decorations and furniture make the shop feel more like a café than a ramen shop, but you are in fact at the right place. The staff would even bring you a basket to put your belongings into.
English love ballads play in the store, and the spacious shop never gets so loud that you and your significant other cannot hear each other, so you can have a nice conversation as you take your time to enjoy the meal.
Rather than water, they will serve you glass of iced licorice tea and place a whole pot of it on the table before you even place your order. This plant has many benefits for the digestive system, perfect for the greasy meal. After you have ordered, you will also be served a little jar of kimchi-moyashi (spicy beansprout) as an appetizer.
The signature noodles of this shop is the Dan-Dan-men, which is Tan-tan-men, a type of spicy noodles that uses chilli oil, sesame paste to make the soup and topped with spicy minced meat. The soup is thick and rich, spicy and flavourful. It is not written on the menu, but you can request for less spicy or extra spicy at no extra charge (wow!) based on your preference.
While the minced meat is a staple topping to have, Dan-ramen takes some creative freedom with the other toppings. Rather than the usual green onion, beansprout and bok choy, this ramen is topped with bamboo shoots, chilli pepper, uncooked lettuce, and Kikuragi (Jew’s ear fungi). The last two were unseen of for me as toppings for ramen, but they match the rich soup perfectly.
The thin noodles have a texture that feels close to spaghetti in a unique and positive way. Remember the spicy beansprouts earlier? Feel free to dip them into the noodle’s soup for some warm spicy beansprouts. Also, try having a spoonful of noodle and soup and add a few drops of the vinegar on the table for a pleasant surprise that switches the taste up.
Besides the spicy noodles, the tsuke-men (dipping noodles) is another popular choice at the shop. The soup is not as salty as most other ramen establishments, and the cha-siu is outstanding in flavour.
The shop also has all the other common noodles on the menu: miso ramen, salt ramen, shoyu ramen, chuuka-soba. They might not be the house-special, but I have confidence in their items too based on how much I like this shop.
Let’s talk about the deals of the shop for a bit too. One very notable thing about this shop is their cash coupon system. If you visit on Fridays, you will receive half of your bill back in cash coupons. For instance, if you ate for 1000 yen, you will then be given 500 yen back in coupons which you can spend next time on non-Fridays with up to 200 yen per person.
Friday also has a few side-dish items on half price, such as gyoza, karaage fried chicken, beer and salad (which is almost impossible to find in ramen shops and necessary to some people’s meals).
The last thing to mention is that if you follow them on twitter, you can get extra-large for your noodles PLUS receive a hand-made annin-tofu dessert for free! Just show your twitter page to them on your phone and they will do the rest.
All in all, I love this shop for the dinning environment, the food, the service, and the deals. The ramen is amazing, and it is truly one of the few rare noodle shops that I wouldn’t hesitate bringing my girlfriend to. In fact, my girlfriend who is not much of a ramen-eater enjoys this shop a lot too and it is the only ramen shop we would go together. Dan-ramen opened my eyes to shops like these that break away from the stereotypical ramen shop image, and I hope you can find a shop similar to have a great date—ramen-nights at too!
The restaurant is also on Twitter!