Diners will be rewarded for their courage at this yokai-loving restaurant.
And yet, we’ll admit to recently being intimidated by a bowl of ramen.
We came across this spine-chilling ramen while in Kyoto. Specifically, we were in the city’s Ichijodori district, which is the setting for many tales of yokai, ghostly spirits and monstrous apparitions that often appear in Japanese folklore. As we walked along the street, we spotted a poster advertising something called, appropriately enough, yokai ramen.
The unusual dish is served by a casual restaurant called Inoue, the entrance to which is guarded by a kasa obake, a yokai that disguises itself as a folding paper umbrella in order to prey on travelers careless enough to pick it up on rainy nights.
Still, the kasa obake wasn’t too scary, so we bravely stepped inside and ordered a bowl of yokai ramen. Priced at 750 yen (US$6.50), the yokai ramen is pretty affordable…and also pretty terrifying.
Depending on the recipe used, ramen broth usually ranges in hue from light tan to an almost crimson deep brown. The broth of the yokai ramen, though, is pitch-black. It’s so dark as to make you feel a little nervous eating it, as though it’s somehow a reflection of your darkest, most hidden secret shames.
Also shocking: the purple noodles.
Still, this wasn’t our first time to try unusually colored ramen. As a matter of fact, we’ve enjoyed blue ramen on multiple occasions, so rather than dismiss the yokai ramen out of hand, we gave it a try, and were immediately glad we did.
In contrast to its frightening appearance, the yokai ramen is actually pretty mild in taste, with a clean, refreshing finish to is flavor profile. We asked the restaurant staff what gives the broth its dark shade, and they informed us that it comes from bamboo charcoal, the same ingredient used in Japan’s famous black hamburgers. The noodles, meanwhile, get their color from the use of gardenia flower extract, meaning there are no artificial food colorings used in the dish.
There’s also a generous dusting of paprika, but not so much as to overpower your tongue with spiciness after you stir it into the broth. As far as toppings go, there’s chashu pork (always a must with ramen), leeks, and, for an especially gourmet touch, shiitake mushroom slices.
While yokai were originally presented as bone-chilling specters, modern Japan admits that some of them actually look kind of silly, and this changing attitude has manifested in kid-friendly yokai franchises such as the GeGeGe no Kitrao and Yo-kai Watch anime series. So maybe it’s fitting that Inoue’s yokai ramen actually is a lot friendlier to the palate than it initially appears to be.
Inoue / お食事処 いのうえ
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Kamigyo-ku, Onmae Ichijo Nishi-iru, Tenjin Sujikaku
Open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
[ Read in Japanese ]