Summer is here, finally, in all its hot, sticky, muggy-with-a-chance-of-rain glory. What better way to recover from a jammed morning train and get ready for the work day than with a nice . . . steaming bowl of ramen? That’s how a growing number of Tokyo office workers are starting their days, if Walker Plus is to be believed.
Asa-raa, Japanese shorthand for “morning ramen,” is something of a tradition in other parts of the country like Shizuoka and Fukushima. Now it’s making inroads into Tokyo Metro city limits, with an increasing number of shops in business areas offering morning-only deals. Mezamashi TV reported that there were only 20 or so ramen shops open in the morning 10 years ago. The Japanese website Ramen Database now lists 65 shops in Tokyo that are open either early or non-stop, with some ladling out noodles as early as six or seven.
A quick bowl of noodles in the wee hours is to many hungry Japanese drinkers what a late-night slice of pizza is to a New Yorker or a curry for a Londoner. In contrast to the heavy booze-sopping broth popular in the late-night incarnation, the breakfast version often features a lighter soup, fewer toppings and a smaller portion of noodles. Keika near Shinjuku Station opens at 6:30 am, and Hinomaru in Shinbashi opens at 6.
The appeal? Those interviewed on Mezamashi said the top draws were that it was cheap, quick and filling. The early bird specials are often ¥100 or so less than the rest of the day, with many at the magical ¥500 “one coin” price point. Some said that with a belly full of noodles, they were fortified enough to wait until after the noon lunch rush subsided to get lunch, while some said a bowl of asa-ra let them skip lunch all together.
Skipping lunch could make after-work drinks on an empty stomach a little rough. And thus the day might end as it began, with a nice… steaming bowl of ramen.
Have you tried ramen in the morning? Would you?
The link for Mezamashi TV is on its own down here because we wanted to warn you that it launches loud.
Ramen photo by mahiro1322.