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The Ramen Museum, where I saw and ate the exhibits

Someone once asked me if I could only eat one kind of dish for the rest of my life, what would I choose?

My answer: Ramen.

The two things I greatly appreciate about the Japanese dish are the savory tastes of the noodles and the broth. Also, the number of toppings one can add to it are practically endless – corn, seaweed, hard boiled eggs, fish cake, bamboo shoots, green onions… I could go on and on.

So naturally, when I discovered that there’s an entire museum in Japan dedicated to telling the origin story of my favorite food and how it’s evolved over the past five centuries, I had to go.

For 310 yen (around $3), I was admitted into the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum located in Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo.

The building has a floor with a timeline display detailing the history of the popular noodle dish from the year 1488 all the way to the very present.

Then there’s the two base floors of the museum, which replicate a Japanese street-scape from 1958. The street reproduction features nine full-service ramen shops that have each made their mark on culinary history.

The museum asserts that “the father of ramen is Chinese noodle dishes, and the mother is Japanese food culture.”

After the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, Japan’s ports opened to foreign trade in 1859, allowing the entrance of foreigners and new cuisines. This included Chinese noodle dishes.

The addition of fats, oils, certain condiments and a special soup stock to the noodles is what morphed the dish into ramen.

Looking at the timeline display, I was fascinated by how well known events in Japan’s history impacted the food. How the many ramen chefs centralized in Tokyo moved to other areas of Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 devastated the then-Tokyo prefecture, causing the presence of ramen to spread further. How regulations during World War II caused the regression of ramen shops as the Japanese government promoted the scrimping and conserving of food.

Even the year instant ramen was invented (1958) is bookmarked. Its creator Momofuku Ando – also the founder of Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd. – conceived the idea after seeing a long line of customers waiting for ramen in the cold in Osaka, according to the museum. So he thought of ways to make the meal easily accessible for people.

The stairs leading to the two base floors of the museum give off a disheveled feel with designs that resemble stained tiles and aged bamboo.

The entrance to base floor 1 took me through a dark, narrow corridor. I could already see the makeshift storefronts with dim lighting peeking through curtained windowpanes and white dress shirts hanging from balconies. It felt a bit like entering the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, minus the rowboats, the treasure and (of course) the pirates and bums.

Base floor 1 carries three of the nine ramen shops in the museum, plus an ice cream and candy store.

Base floor 2 contains the other six in a courtyard space that parades dated billboards, string lights and paper lanterns among the gritty storefronts.

Each shop has a ticket vending machine where guests insert money, press the button for the type of meal they’d like to order and receive a little printed ticket. Guests then give the tickets to the waiters in the shop and their meal is served in the restaurant shortly after.

As much as I would have liked to try the ramen at all nine restaurants, I knew I could probably only stomach two bowls, maybe three if I was feeling extra ambitious.

I decided to eat my first bowl at Nidai-me Genkotsu-ya – a legendary restaurant that influenced may ramen shops, according to the museum.

The meal came with thick yellow noodles, half of a hard boiled egg, bamboo shoots, a strip of seaweed, a piece of pork and golden brown broth. I savored it.

My next stop was Komurasaki, the restaurant where Kumamoto tonkotsu based ramen originated.

The bowl came with more or less the same kinds of ingredients I often find in ramen. But what set it apart was the garlic and pepper flavor, something that was completely new to me.

I was disappointed in how full I felt after just two bowls. I never made it to three. On the bright side, that gives me a reason to come back to the museum again someday.

Before leaving, I passed by the timeline display on the first floor. The display concludes with one last slide: The Future of Ramen.

It reads: “We dream of a future where people all over the world are eating Ramen. Until the day Ramen is known throughout the world, we will continue to spread the word.”

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