Shrimp Noodles – Ebisoba at Ichigen Ramen
Here is a type of ramen you may not have heard of: Ebisoba.
"Ebi" is shrimp in Japanese, and while "soba" usually refers to the buckwheat noodles, they are sometimes used to refer to ramen as well (for example, abura soba, mazesoba, and here we have ebisoba).
With that said, the term ebisoba is still vague and is very much a niche ramen soup type. A shop may use a shoyu based broth while another cooks up an extremely rich soup, and they are both called ebisoba. There is not yet a definition to the term, but the umami of the shrimp is profound in every one of them.
If you do a quick search of ebisoba, you would most likely be led to Ichigen ramen, the most famous ebisoba shop that originated from Hokkaido. In fact, they own the ebisoba.com domain. The well-known shop has a few branches including a couple in Tokyo and shops overseas in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well. To visit the main shop where it all started, however, you will want to make a trip to Sapporo and undoubtedly expect a line.
When I visited, the wait was about half an hour. Bring a jacket even during spring and summer, as it is Hokkaido after all. The shop only sits 16 people and they are all counter seats.
Entering the shop, I was immediately surrounded by the aroma of the shrimp essence. Before seeing the noodles, the promise of a great meal was already made. The shop itself was also very clean, and the open kitchen right in the center with all the customers sitting around it was very novel too.
Choosing what to order was the tough decision. Not only are you given the choice of shrimp plus miso (miso soup base), shrimp plus shoyu (soy sauce soup base) or shrimp plus shio (salt soup base), you also get to choose to have the shrimp soup “straight”, “balanced”, or “rich”. The latter decision dictates how thick your soup is, and it is done by mixing the shrimp soup with a delicious tonkotsu broth. There is a total of 9 combinations, so it will definitely take a while to try everything in this shop.
Luckily, I went with my girlfriend so we could try two different flavours. My straight (no tonkotsu added) shrimp miso ramen did not shy of presenting me with the delicious shrimp flavour. My girlfriend’s hodohodo (balanced) ebishoyu was visibly greasier, and while it was more savory in contrast, I found the bowl to be milder than its strong visual presentation and delicious with every single slurp.
The noodles were straight and smooth, and it went down really well with the slight sweetness of the shrimp soup. I also appreciated how hot the noodles were, which seems like a must when you are eating ramen in Hokkaido. We both finished the soup down to its last drop and left very satisfied. The only problem I had was that I immediately wanted to re-enter the shop to try another ratio of the soup!
Find an Ebisoba in Tokyo or Hokkaido here.