Sumire stands out for me because it specializes in miso-based ramen.
Real Japanese ramen—not the cup noodle kind—is the real reason why I ever came to Japan. Yes, it’s an expensive trip to take for ramen, but nothing in the world is as delicious, meaty, and satisfying as the steaming contents inside the ramen bowl. And outside St. Mark’s in Manhattan, it’s difficult to find in the States.
In Kyoto, the most convenient place to find ramen is on the 10th floor of JR Kyoto Station’s Isetan department store. They have nearly a dozen shops that serve ramen from all over Japan. While all the shops in the Ramen Alley are scrumptious, each specializing in different aspects of the ramen-composing process, Sumire stands out for me because it specializes in miso-based ramen.
It’s affordable, delicious, and convenient, since usually all tourist buses run through Kyoto Station, so it’s a good place to eat after a day of sightseeing before heading home. You simply stick 900 yen into a machine outside the restaurant, pick your ramen, take your ticket, hand it to the server outside, find a seat, and wait for your food. And if you’re traveling alone, you won’t feel awkward eating there, as mostly everyone there eats alone—whether they’re salarymen or fellow travelers getting a quick, private bite. It has become my safe place, my silky, miso-laden comfort food warming me from the inside-out.
Japan distinguishes 5 flavor categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami, which means “savory.” And soybean miso encompasses the umami flavor. I love savory foods, and Sumire, specializing in miso ramen, makes the savoriest of savoriest broths. No wonder I enjoyed their ramen best!
But there is more to ramen than just its broth. Ramen, a montage in which flavors superimpose upon each other—first the noodles, then the rich broth, then the dried seaweed, then the slices of toasted pork belly and the bamboo shoots, and then the chopped scallion, all topped with chili garlic paste—and blend into a delicious whole with one quick stir. A soup that can be picked apart with a pair chopsticks or imbibed as a whole with a wooden ladle, your choice.
And Sumire creates a beautiful montage that evokes a deep, murky flavor—sharp darkness— that makes you wish to constantly taste more of its primordial tonic in order to dissect its complexity.