What is Ramen Jiro?
I bet many of you have heard of Ramen, and have already tried it in your country, other contries or perhaps in Japan. But what about Ramen “Jiro”?
Ramen Jiro (pronounced like ji-row) is a chain of Ramen shops with 41 stores (as of August 2020) mainly located in Greater Tokyo area.
Although Ramen Jiro has many shops, they are not in headquarter and beaches relationship like other franchise businesses. Each shop is run by independent owne. In Japanese this is called “Noren-wake” (暖簾分け). Noren is the traditional fabric curtain with slits like below, with logo or name of store on it, so nowadays it is considered as a brand.
And “wake” means dividing. So in sum it’s licensing of a brand, but licensee is usually limited to only trainees who worked at one of existing shops for a certain period of time and certified to run an independent shop with the brand.
Ramen Jiro is known as junk food, and popular for its massive portion, fanatical Jiro lovers called “Jirorian”, and particularly the unique way to customize your toppings called “call” (コール).
People often make fun of this “call”, calling it “jumon” (呪文) meaning a “spell” (yes, a magical spell like Harry Potter would cast). The most famous spell is “mashi mashi”(mashi means increased, so mashi mashi is double increased), that can turn a bowl of the noodle soup into a gigantic heap of vegetable as big as your face.
Some say “Jiro is not a ramen, but it is a food genre called Jiro”
Taste of Jiro
Taste of Jiro ramen is based on Tonkotsu (pork bone) broth with soy sauce based soup. Some shops serve very thick and creamy soup but it depends on the shop. The first shop I tried was Mita, the original shop run by the founder of Jiro himself. Their soup was what they called “sharp” meaning less broth and more flavor of soy sauce.
The noodles are very thick and feel even chewy, but that’s what many people enjoy. Because of the large size of Jiro ramen, noodles tend to sit longer in the soup. So the thick and rather dried noodles help to keep the noodles from getting swollen.
Many love to add garlic and pork’s back fat (背脂) and some like to add black pepper or red chili powder (一味唐辛子). All these are blended in the soup chaotically and eaten with the thick noodles.
Although many enjoy the junky-ness of Jiro ramen, I personally feel that Jiro’s soup has a lot of artificial seasoning. I usually feel thirsty for hours after having Jiro ramen, and I think it is due to the artificial seasoning they put in the soup. However after a certain age, I started feeling any ramen to be a bit heavy so it might be because my stomach has gotten less resistant.
The portion is huge as expected. Even though the menu says “small”, it means “regular” to them and their regular is often twice as big as other ramens. Someone said the regular ramen has about 1600kcal and you can get as much as 3000kcal if you make everything supersized. I once took a challenge to complete their large portion. and I managed to finish it but I could not eat anything for the next 24 hours. What was scary, after 24 hours I started getting hungry and craving for Jiro again, and some say a joke that Jiro’s soup has something addictive that makes you want to eat again.
I thought that was because I was craving the feeling of my stomach getting filled up and expanded with massive amount of food so quickly, but who knows, it might really have some artificial seasoning or fats that make you addictive to it.
Nowadays I don’t have it too often, but I still feel craving once in a while, like 6 months or so. If you enjoy junk food or local food culture in Japan, it’s definitely worth trying, but be careful some may not like it (especially those who take good care of their own health), and of course you have to like pork because everything here is full of pork (no vegetarian choices either) and has strong flavor of pork broth all over the place.
What does “Jiro” mean?
So Jiro serves junky and huge ramen, with some fun elements and fanatics. What does Jiro mean? Does it mean anything or is it a name of some place or someone?
Well, Jiro is a somewhat traditional name for males.
“Ji” (“二” or sometimes “次” in Kanji) means second or next, and “Ro” (郎) is a common suffix for boy. Nowadays, most of parents like to give their baby a well-thought and meaningful name with attributes they want their baby to earn, rather than just a prefix for the birth order and a suffix to indicate a boy or a girl, but that’s what Jiro means.
According to Wikipedia, there was a famous instant ramen called “Taro“, which means first boy, so the founder of Ramen Jiro made a parody of it.
Ramen Jiro Menu
Ramen Jiro is not franchise so each shop has its own discretion of the menu they offer. Some shops serve Tsukemen style (dipping noodle) and some have unique toppings like Parmesan cheese, spring onion, quail egg, Kimchi and so on.
However, most of shops have a very simple menu structure. Below is an example of Mita shop (as of Aug 2020).
- Ramen = 600 yen
- Ramen with Buta (extra pork topping) = 700 yen
- Ramen with Buta W (double extra pork topping) = 800 yen
- Large Ramen = 600 yen
- Large Ramen with Buta = 700 yen
- Large Ramen with Buta W = 800 yen
So basically, you choose only small or large and how much pork you want. They don’t have any additional toppings here.
Free Toppings of Jiro
What makes Jiro Jiro and fun is their free toppings. There are 4 kinds of toppings you can add, Yasai (vegetable), Nin-niku (shredded garlic) and Abura (pork fat), and Karame (saltiness meaning more sauce).
We all know Jiro is a super junky food, but the vegetable topping may help you feel less guilty. Vegetable is usually beanspout and cabbage, and more than 90% is beansprout. Beansprout may look not so helpful, but it is low-calorie, great source of vitamins and fiber, and moreover it goes well with Jiro’s thick soup!
Nin-niku (shredded garlic)
Having garlic food a day before important meeting or dating may not be a good choice. But many people enjoy garlicky foods a night before holiday, like Korean BBQ (Yakiniku), Gyoza (Chinese dumplings) and Jiro.
Garlic topping goes really well with the thick soup and vegetable. You can request no garlic and some really like it that way, I personally wait until the right time like many others do.
Abura (pork fat)
You might wonder why the heck we aadd extra fat on the ramen that’s already with thick broth. The fat is a large part of the back of a pig, and it’s slowly cooked to melt like cream. The fat adds sweetness and richness, accelerating satisfaction, and goes really well with vegetable and garlic. Vetegatle, garlic and fat together create synergy to each other. That said, amount of fat to add is up to preference and perhaps age (in general younger people can handle more oily foods) . I personally feel default volume is already enough.
You can request extra sauce on top of soup. This could become helpful when you get extra large portion of vegetable topping. However, many people feel the Jiro’s soup is already thick and salty enough. Also, in many Jiro shops the same sauce is available on the counter. So many people just skip this option and adjust taste in the middle of the “fight”.
Learning the “call”
As we just saw, what makes Jiro Jiro is the add-on toppings.
Just before your ramen is ready, staff asks you “want some garlic?” By that, they are actually asking which of the above toppings you want.
Of course you can respond with yes or no, and I do it sometimes when I want to pretend to be first time Jiro customer. In that case, the staff will assume reasonable defaults, but many Jirorians like to respond with the spell.
|Yasai (vegetable)||Nashi||Sukuname||–||Mashi||Mashi Mashi|
|Nin-niku (garlic)||Nashi||Sukuname||–||Mashi||Mashi Mashi|
|Abura (port fat)||–||–||–||Mashi||Mashi Mashi|
|Karame (more sauce)||–||–||–||–||–|
There is an exception on Abura and Karame. If you want less of these, you have to request when you hand the voucher to staff. You can also request to decrease noodle to a half amount (but no discount).
Also, the sauce is usually found on the table so you can add it as you eat.
The easiest way is to go down row by row, and for each row you tell how much you want. A tricky one is, you can omit the amount call if you want normal amount.
However, if you don’t need to change anything, you could just say “futsu de” (普通で) meaning normal is fine.
If you want everything large, you can call “zenbu mashi” (zenbu means all).
But be careful with these calls even if it’s for free, because the portion is really huge. Just to give you an idea how heavy it is, it is said that default Jiro serving is already 1600kcal, which is almost like calorie a human needs a day. If this is your first time eating Jiro, I suggest to leave everything as normal.
Some shops stopped giving extra large options, because too many people ordered extra large to take a photo for Instagram and didn’t finish even half of it.
While there are 41 “authentic” Jiro shops (as of August 2020), there are many more shops serving Jiro style ramen.
They are called “Jiro Inspire” or “Jiro Kei” (系 means like system or lineage)
Ramen Jiro is usually identified by the simple sign on yellow board like below:
so Inspires usually follow the same color scheme for people to invoke Ramen Jiro. Many inspires compete with different ideas so it does not necessarily mean that Inspire is not as good as authentic ones.
- Mita – Minato, Tokyo
- Meguro – Tokyo
- Senkawa – Chofu, Tokyo
- Shinjuku Kabukicho – Tokyo
- Shinagawa, Tokyo (Shinagawa station)
- Shinjuku Kotakibashi Dori – Shinjuku, Tokyo
- Kan-nana Shin Daita – Setagaya, Tokyo
- Hachoji Yaen Kaido – Hachoji, Tokyo
- Ikebukuro Higashi – Ikebukuro, Tokyo
- Kameido – Koto, Tokyo
- Kawasaki – Kanagawa
- Fuchu – Tokyo
- Matsudo – Chiba
- Mejiro Dai – Hachioji, Tokyo
- Ogikubo – Suginami, Tokyo
- Kaminoge – Setagaya, Tokyo
- Keisei Okubo – Chiba
- Kan-nana Ichinoe – Edogawa, Tokyo
- Sagami Ono – Kanagawa
- Kannai – Yokohama, Kanagawa
- Kanda Jinbo-cho – Chiyoda, Tokyo
- Koiwa – Edogawa, Tokyo
- Hibarigaoka – Nishi-Tokyo, Tokyo
- Sakuradai – Nerima, Tokyo
- Tochigi Kaido – Tochigi
- Tachikawa – Tachikawa, Tokyo
- Senju-Ohashi – Adachi, Tokyo
- Ibaraki Moriya – Moriya, Ibaraki
- Shonan Fujisawa – Fujisawa, Kanagawa
- Nishidai – Nerima, Tokyo
- Nakayama – Yokohama, Kanagawa
- Sendai – Sendai
- Sapporo – Hokkaido
- Aizu-Wakamatsu – Fukushima
- Niigata – Niigata
- Maebashi Chiyoda-cho, Gunma
- Omiya Koen Mae – Saitama