Sake Legends in Japan

Ep.3 Are You Sure You Can Drink Sake with Ramen?
Ramen5510 is Friendly for Both Drinkers and Ramen Fans

Written by Keita Okubo
Translated by Saki Kimura & Patrick Allan Co

Sake is an alcoholic drink that represents Japan. Ramen represents Japanese food too. However, Japanese people rarely enjoy these two at the same time, despite the fact that they can eat soba, which is in the same noodle category as sake (soba should be a part of a multi-course menu though).

For this article, I will introduce Ramen5510, a ramen bar with an amazing line-up of sake regarded as rare even in Japan. I felt a bit reluctant at first because its owner, Ryuji Otaki, contributes to
SakeTips!, but I want to write about it because what I had was awesome.
Here are articles written by Ryuji Otaki about the relationship between sake and ramen. 

I never had the idea of drinking alcohol at a ramen bar ever in my life. Ramen is what I have after drinking though: even if I should drink something, it would have been beer.

Ramen5510 has changed my mind.

Ramen5510


5-5-10 Ojima, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan 136-0072
About 5 min. from Ojima Station (Toei Shinjuku Line)
Twitter: @ramen5510

Looks Like A Local Ramen Restaurant, But the Sake Line-Up is Amazing!

I visited the restaurant at dinner time. It looks like an average, local ramen restaurant (In Japan, especially in Tokyo, ramen restaurants are everywhere: even a non-famous ramen restaurant can be a popular spot  for local people). And Ramen5510 seems like such a spot.

It has around ten counter seats. I heared some good conversations between the owner and regular customers, like, “What should I have today?” “Here’s today’s special.”

This is the owner Ryuji Otaki. From his aura, you can almost feel that he can make something delicious.

Customers around me just seem to be eating dinner, but I was wondering if I can drink sake first. And when I said “I’d like to try sake,” he showed me a secret sake list.

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What a lineup! You won’t see such a lineup except at local sake specialty stores: actually, some bottles are not even available at such stores. All sake are at a flat rate: one glass is 750 JPY and a half-glass is 350 JPY.

Why does he have such many kinds of sake at a ramen bar?

“I just like collecting sake. I had these bottles before I knew it,” Mr. Otaki said. He has a unique personality that makes customers comfortable.

Drinking “Takagi Brewery” at A Ramen Bar

For the first drink, I selected Asahitaka that the list says “Choose this if you can’t decide!” In fact, this is the sake that Takagi Brewery (@Yamagata Pref.) famous for a premium brand Juyondai makes for local. You can hardly find it.

I paired this sake with basic ramen toppings; char-siu pork, a boiled egg and seasoned bamboo shoots. 

Drinking the limited edition of the most popular sake brewery with bamboo shoots at a ramen bar – this immorality makes this pairing more tasty.

How about the taste of the dish? Of course, yummy. Moderate oiliness of bamboo shoots unexpectedly matches with Asahitaka’s richness.

Secondly, I picked out Gakki-Masamune, the local limited edition of Oki-Daikichi Honten (@Fukushima Pref.) famous as a brewery of Shizengo.
Hmm, I’ve heard that this sake is currently hardly available… Why does a ramen bar have such a rare sake?

The elegant aroma and abundant flavor go best with a boiled egg.

Can Sake Go Well With Ramen?

Mr. Otaki skillfully pours sake from  the counter past bottles and glasses (Honestly I was wondering whether he should move them…)

After drinking two glasses, I get down to the main topic: does sake go well with ramen?

And Mr. Otaki answered, “If you like sake, then it could be a good combination.” 

“Do you mean that sake is not the best drink for ramen?” I ask.

“Yes. But I can say that there is some sake suitable for ramen.” 

Oh my god, he doesn’t recommend pairing sake with ramen, even though he has such a large selection!

As I sat surprised at his response, the customer next to me slurping ramen said, “Old Parr, neat, please.” This bar also has whisky…

“Oh, I think that whisky can be paired with anything.”

Humming a tune, Mr. Otaki cooked ramen skillfully.

Mr. Otaki wears Ramen5510’s original T-shirt. You can select your favorite colors when you order one.

You can see an apron of Ibi by Sugihara Brewery (@Gifu Pref.) below the whisky bottles and above the refrigerator. The next customer slurps ramen and chases it with whisky. What the hell is this bar?

Tasty, but Never Cocky

To pull myself together, I ordered Aizumusume Muishin by Takahashi Shosaku Shuzoten (@Fukushima Pref.) as the next sake. This is a junmai sake made from Fukushima’s local rice and grown without chemical fertilizers and agricultural chemicals.

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It is aged two years. Yummy, super yummy.

Drinking sake leisurely, I suddenly realized that this bar is never cocky.

I mean most people working for restaurants and bars focusing on sake are more or less cocky. They often insist that “Sake should be xxx!” “See my suggestion!” “How’s my technique!?” Etc, etc.

Though I really like to see professional techniques, it can be too much if I interact with such people every time. I sometimes feel like having sake slowly in a relaxed atmosphere. Japanese sake enthusiasts might often forget such easygoingness.

Mr. Otaki at Ramen5510 never cocky. He can fend off questions and never shows off his amazing sake selection. It’s not easy for sake specialty bars to let customers enjoy premium brands freely and casually.

“Actually, I usually drink shochu highball,” Mr. Otaki said.

Finally, Pairing Sake With Ramen!

Ramen5510 has a wide variety of ramen  such ones made from seafood stock, chicken stock, and the special daily ramen. 
Which ramen is the best for sake? At my question, Mr. Otaki showed a pensive look for the first time. 

“Noodles are basically suitable for sake. I recommend seafood soup rather than chicken and pork because dashi goes well with sake. Also, you should select the sake that is neither fragrant nor boozy.”

He is more logical than I thought.

He served Muso by Taiyo Sake Brewery (@Niigata Pref.), which is not shown on the menu. I ordered Shirotamari, a seafood stock ramen (750 JPY).

They are a perfect combination!

The golden soup is flavorful, and tastes richer than I expected from its color. The sake’s acidity affects the lingering flavor of ramen in a good way. The umami of thin noodles made from wheat works well, too.

It’s yummy!


You can drink sake at a ramen bar.

It absolutely works. It doesn’t mean that you can drink sake the same way as you do at local sake specialty restaurants. It means that you can enjoy sake in a unique way that only a ramen bar can provide.

Nibbling chashu pork and seasoned bamboo shoots while slurping noodles, you can drink premium sake. Instead of feeling stiff at authentic sake restaurants, at a ramen bar, you can enjoy even premium sake however you like.
If you feel hesitant to visit sake specialty restaurants, I recommend that you visit Ramen5510 first.

Ramen5510 allows you to enjoy amazing sake and delicious ramen in a relaxed mood – what a precious sake place!  
(By the way, the next customer ordered Laphroaig for his second drink. I want to try it next time).

Mr. Otaki, gochisosama deshita (thank you for the wonderful dinner)!