Rōmen: The Ramen of Ina!?
Ina City, Nagano Prefecture — Food connoisseurs from all around the world come to Japan to taste its most famous noodle dish, ramen. Upon arriving however, most often come to the revelation that there are so many other noodle dishes which Japan is home to as well. Though these dishes are often so-called ‘soul foods’ originating from certain prefectures or local towns, they are oftentimes just as delicious as their more famous counterpart, ramen. One particular noodle dish you may find interesting is ‘rōmen’. You may find yourself asking “Come again?” or “You mean ramen, right?”, but you read right! A soul food or local food from Nagano Prefecture’s Ina City is called ‘rōmen’!
What is Rōmen?
And, now that you’ve heard of this dish, you might be wondering “What exactly is rōmen?” Well for starters, as mentioned above, rōmen is the soul food or local food from Nagano Prefecture’s Ina City. It was created in 1955 by a man named Waichi Itō (1931 – 2007). He studied cooking in Tokyo and Yokohama and upon returning to his hometown of Ina City, he opened a small Chinese restaurant. At that time, he struggled to preserve the restaurant's noodles.
And, while devising a plan to create a longer shelf life for his ingredients, he started steaming his noodles. He then started experimenting with new ingredients. After some trial and error, Itō had created what is now known as rōmen. The ingredients added to the noodles were mutton and cabbage. The lamb was salted for a longer shelf life, and was quite a common commodity due to the active breeding for wool at the time. The cabbage was also locally grown and cultivated in Ina, making it another great addition to the ingredients used in this dish. At that time and even to this day, rōmen is enjoyed with a bit of sake or Japanese rice wine. And, a great place to try it is at a restaurant called Ushio.
Ushio is a restaurant that’s famous for its rōmen! Though a bit small with a homely atmosphere, Ushio is a great place to experience eating rōmen. As its opening date is recorded as 1956, it’s one of the oldest rōmen restaurants around to this day! With around 45 seats and a take-out option, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone!
Once you’ve decided on Ushio as your destination for rōmen, you may want to take a look at the menu! Though there isn’t too much diversity on the menu for this particular local dish, you’re able to choose which size you’d like. Small (並盛, nami-mori) at 600 yen, Large (大盛, ō-mori) at 700 yen, Extra Large (超, chō) at 800 yen, Extremely Large (超々, chō-chō) at 1000 yen, and Unreasonably Large (無茶盛, mucha-mori) at 1950 yen. There’s a note saying that if there’s more than 2 people sharing the ‘Unreasonably Large’ dish then you would need to order a drink.
At the bottom though, you may also notice in the red that you’re able to get toppings. And, just like ramen, you have your fried egg and "onsen egg." An onsen egg is basically an egg poached within its shell. The yolk has a creamy texture due to it being cooked for a long time at a low temperature. And, last but not least there’s kimchi. The kimchi here is definitely not to be compared to Korea’s kimchi, however it does add a nice bit of extra flavor to your noodles!
Further information: Ushio is open from 11:30am – 1:30pm, and again at 5:00pm – 9:30pm with the last order being at 9:00pm. It isn’t open on Fridays, and doesn’t have a fixed holiday schedule.
How to get there: Ushio is located quite close to Inashi Station. And, by taking a right at the Inashiekimae traffic light and heading down 146, then turning left at the Tōrimachi traffic light and heading straight, you should see it at the y-junction!
Japanese Address: 長野県 伊那市 荒井 3460-1