The Ramen Diaries: Hayashi Ramen

POP ETC frontman Chris Chu just returned from a trip to Japan, eating epic bowls of ramen daily. We asked him to keep a tonkotsu-splashed diary of all the action (insert slurping sound). POP ETC releases their debut album June 12 on Rough Trade. For more Ramen Diaries, read the first and third entries.

The next stop on my ramen crawl is Hayashi Ramen, in Shibuya. Hayashi is located about six minutes by foot from the Shibuya main crossing. Tokyo is a particularly tough city to navigate, and while Hayashi isn't especially hard to find, it's tucked away on a side street. Luckily, I spot the line of salarymen outside and know I've come to the right place.

Hayashi is consistently ranked as one of the best ramen shops in Tokyo, and as a result it can be pretty crowded. It's also very small, seating around nine people. I arrive at 12:45 p.m., towards the end of the lunch rush, and still have to wait for 20 minutes. Given that there are a dozen people in line ahead of me, this isn't a long time at all — a testament to how fast some of these guys eat!

The first thing you notice when walking into Hayashi is how quiet it is. It's completely silent and the only audible noises are running water from the dish washers, and people slurping. There's no music or talking. I'm not sure why the owners decided to keep the shop this way, but perhaps they are so completely dedicated to their craft that they want as few distractions as possible.

From watching the kitchen staff work, you can tell there is a deep level of concentration going on here. The broth is assembled very precisely, and the toppings laid out meticulously. It's a beautiful thing to watch.

There are only three choices on Hayashi's menu: the standard bowl, one with an egg and one with extra pork (yakibuta, which is pork loin). I go with the standard bowl, as it seems to be what everyone is getting.

The best way to describe Hayashi's ramen is balanced. It's a perfect representation of the kind of Shoyu (soy sauce) ramen that is quite common in Tokyo since the popularization of the tonkotsu style. It mixes the classic pork and seafood broth, which is also cut a bit with chicken broth. So it is not as heavy. A bit of soy sauce adds another color to the broth.

All the flavors are present, but none of the flavors overpowers the other. It is still characteristically porky, but not overwhelmingly so. The amount of oil in the broth is also quite conservative. Overall, it's a very elegant bowl of ramen. I can understand why businessmen would choose Hayashi's ramen as their daily choice.

The toppings are beautifully arranged, and well suited to the broth. These are the standard toppings for a bowl of ramen in Tokyo—scallions, bamboo shoots, a sheet of nori (dried seaweed), chashu (sliced pork) and one little bit of yuzu. The pork is quite lean but still tasty. It compliments the broth well, flavorful but not heavy.

The noodles are standard size for a bowl of ramen in Tokyo and much thinner than the noodles I ate the previous day with my tsukemen.

Overall, the noodles are probably the low point for this bowl of ramen. Not as firm as I would prefer, and as the noodles cook slightly over the course of eating a hot bowl of ramen, by the end they are a bit mushy for my taste. Don't get me wrong though, they are still good! In fact, I would kill for these noodles in America!

Hayashi Ramen

東京都渋谷区道玄坂 1-14-9

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka

Open 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Closed Sundays and holidays