Photo： Yuya Tamai on Flickr
Sugakiya - Cheapest Ramen Chain in Japan
Jackson Lee August 6, 2016
If you have read my previous posts, you’d know that I’m a ramen maniac - discovering new shops, trying new ramen at any chance I get, writing and rating them. However, since I moved to Gifu a couple of years ago, I have been observing this chain everywhere: “Sugakiya”. This chain that exists only in the Chubuu and Kansai areas of Japan had me hesitated in trying it for two years because of one main reason: their ramen is only 300 yen! My assumption was that it wouldn’t be any good if they sell their bowl of ramen for less than half the price of a standard ramen, but curiosity finally brought me into the store one day. I walked into the shop around 4:00 pm on a peaceful afternoon. The atmosphere felt much more like a fast food place than a ramen restaurant. The one staff who was working both as a cashier at the register and the kitchen took my order of a regular ramen for 300 yen. There were more options such as getting more meat for an extra 80 yen or a soft-boiled egg for 50 yen, but I passed. I grabbed my glass of water from the self-service station, and my noodle was prepared after about 3 minutes. For the muddy but thin looking soup, the scent was surprisingly good. So I first gave the soup a taste using their signature spoon-fork. “Um…… it’s alright.” While it absolutely cannot live up to the standard level from ramen shops, it was also a step higher than the instant ramen you’d cook at home. The soup was a Japanese-tonkotsu (和風豚骨) soup base, and it was quite salty for my taste-buds. One of my friends who enjoys Sugakiya once described to me that it “tastes like chemicals but somewhat addictive”, and now I have a better understanding of what she meant. It isn’t a soup that you would find delicious, but it also isn’t repelling. On the other hand, the noodles surprised me from the first bite. They were firm and chewy. The noodles were like instant noodles you could buy from the super market but cooked professionally to reach its top potential. While it wasn’t jaw-dropping, there also wasn’t anything to complain about it. The toppings were pretty standard too: green onions, bamboo shoot and a slice of pork meat. Again, they were all around the fast-food level of expectations. But it wasn’t until after I was done with the whole bowl of ramen that I was hit with the realization once again: I just filled my stomach with a bowl of ramen for only 300 yen! Sure, they couldn’t possibly compare to the ramen shops I frequently visit, but for a quick meal, especially to those who aren’t as crazy about ramen as I am, this would be very satisfying for the price. Then I looked around the shop: a mother here with her son after going somewhere, two high-school students in uniform who were there to chat and a middle-aged woman who seemed to be taking a break after shopping. These aren’t the characters I would encounter in a typical ramen shop. My mindset was tilted from the beginning when I thought I was entering a ramen chain, when what I really visited was a fast-food chain. It was like entering McDonalds and expecting a gourmet level hamburger. With the perspective adjusted, the ramen really was good for what I paid for. I gave the menu another glance and saw that they had as many ice-cream options available as they had for ramen. However, just like having only one type of ramen soup, the only ice-cream available is vanilla. I didn’t try it, but it reaffirms my new understanding for Sugakiya. People aren’t here for ramen, or ice-cream, but a place for a quick meal to fill the stomach, aka a fast-food chain. And in that sense, Sugakiya does accomplish what it aims to perfectly.