Miso is a kind of paste made from fermented soybeans, rice, and salt. It’s full of deep fermentation flavors and can be made in a number of styles. From light, sweet white miso to richer red miso, chefs can mix and match different miso pastes to achieve the flavors they want. Most people know miso from simple bowls of miso soup, a staple at Japanese tables. Miso soup is often served with breakfast and after dinner, bookending the day’s meals. Miso is also used in Japanese stir fry dishes, as a topping for tofu, and can even be used to give a heartiness to sweets and desserts.
Miso ramen is, as expected, made with miso. It is, however, much more than just a bowl of miso soup with noodles. Miso is blended to create a tare seasoning and paired with thicker broth. The goal of the chef is to match the salt from the miso with the body of the bone broth. Thick, curly noodles are the noodle of choice at many shops. The texture and shape hold a bit more soup than the thin, straight noodles used in most shoyu and shio ramen. Because of miso’s robust flavor, it pairs well with hot spice. Spicy miso ramen is a hit overseas, with shops using red chilis, jalapenos, and even habaneros to create bowls of ramen that are often more of a challenge than a meal. Though miso ramen’s origin is in Hokkaido in the north of Japan, miso is produced around the country, meaning a good bowl of miso ramen is easy to find.
One of Tokyo’s best miso ramen shops hails directly from the source in Sapporo. Oshima (大島) is on the border of Tokyo and Chiba in Funabori. Their noren shop curtain mentions Sumire, meaning they are a shop in the family of one of Hokkaido’s top shops. The recipe also descends from Sumire. It’s a rougher style with a nice punch from the freshly grated ginger. In typical Hokkaido fashion, they also offer shoyu and shio ramen on the menu, but it is their miso that the customers line up for.
Tokyo has its share of original ramen shops like Misokko Hook (味噌っ子 ふっく) in Ogikubo. The broth is made with a lot of collagen-rich chicken feet for a thicker soup. The miso is mainly white miso from Japan’s Shinshu region blended with other misos to round out the taste. This shop’s spicy miso is particularly popular.