Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramen Touristy Spots

Ironic as it may be, Ramen is so ubiquitous with Sapporo that there exist actual tourism in the food. Folks from all over will come to Sapporo just to taste something in town. This has lead to some interesting tourist traps that travelers may want to take note.

Two primarily come to mind: Ramen Yokocho, or Ramen Alley, and Ramen Kyowakoku, Ramen Republic. Both are small spaces where various ramen shops have assembled to sell their wares to the masses of tourist flocking to Sapporo for culinary reasons.

But, like many tourist traps, they tend to fall somewhat kind of flat to the true food connoisseur.

Ramen Yokocho, aka Ramen Alley, has existed for around 40 years in the downtown Susukino area, as a place where Ramen restaurants came together and set up shop side by side. It would be silly for me to go in extreme depth about this place, due to the sheer tourism factor it has. There's plenty of websites about Ramen Yokocho in English, with loads of information.

Around 12 shops to tickle your fancy. Unfortunately, they range from completely ordinary to fairly lovely. Some shops like "Shirakaba Sansou"(a miso specialist) and "Keraan" (a shop that has tomato ramen) are wonderful, written about even in guidebooks, and fairly well liked. However, other stores are images of something yearning to be better, but caught in a loop of mediocrity. It's essentially a gamble, but more importantly, it's at best a trap.

Ramen Republic is slightly different in that all of the shops located within are actually branches of already successful companies. They came together in a sort of "Republic", a representative of the main shop sent to a gathering of sorts, to sell ramen in one shared common space, somewhat like a food court. While this may seem desirable, (mutiple already popular ramen shops? sounds good) and indeed, Ramen Republic gets far more traffic than the Alley, some of the quality has to be reduced to fit the constraints of being located on the 9th floor of a multilevel shopping center near Sapporo Train Station.

As an example, Yusura is a well liked semi-chain of ramen shops in Sapporo known for their lovely smoked pork and rich soy sauce ramen. Unfortunately, in setting up shop at the Republic, certain characteristics such as the smoke, the house made stock, among others, had to be cut. The result is something that, while still delicious as Rule 1 says, is not comparable to the original.

Indeed, none of the shops in either of these locations fairs against some of the more legendary or original stops, which have the ability to more aptly deal with service and maintain higher levels of quality. This is not to say the food at either of these locations isn't good, but if one is planning on attempting to eat the best of Sapporo, one must certainly look beyond the tourist traps.

Foodies generally agree, there are very rarely any signs of high ratings for stores in either of these locations, and in the case of Ramen Republic, the original shops virtually always have higher ratings than their stripped down mall counterparts in the republic.

For the tourist that doesn't want any effort, these places will be suitable. Beyond that, it's best to avoid, even Sapporo dwellers don't go to these areas. And we want the best, right?

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