A tiny Tokyo noodle spot—where bowls of the good stuff are priced as low as US $7—just became the first ramen place to ever get a coveted Michelin star.
Tsuta's shoyu ramen. Photo via Flickr user Guilhem Vellut
The Michelin Guide is the ne plus ultra of food rankings. Way back in 1926, the Guide began to award stars to fine dining establishments. A three-star ranking means a restaurant is "exceptional" and "worth a special journey"—a serious, world-class establishment where meals do not come cheap. But even one-star restaurants, which Michelin considers "very good in their categories," are typically pretty ritzy places where the chef aspires to heightened cuisine and the prices reflect that aspiration.
Not, in other words, your neighborhood ramen joint.
But a tiny Tokyo noodle spot—where bowls of the good stuff are priced as low as US $7—just became the first ramen place to ever get a coveted Michelin star. Yes, the Guide has been known to "recommend" ramen shops in the past, but never before has it included one in its starry rankings.
Tokyo happens to be the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, but never before has the Guide sprinkled its stardust on a place that just serves bowls of noodles. The newest Michelin Guide to Tokyo bestowed three stars on 13 restaurants, two stars on 51 restaurants and one star on 153 restaurants, including Tsuta. Sure, high-end sushi and tempura restaurants often get Michelin stars, but a ramen place? That would be the equivalent of a pizza-by-the-slice dive getting bestowed with the world's highest culinary honor.
Of course, Tsuta is not just serving any old bowls of noodles. Instead, we're talking, according to The Japan Times, about noodles made from flour ground by stone from four different kinds of wheat. These are soba noodles that are served ramen style, with extraordinary choices such as "rosemary-flavored barbecued pork and soy sauce ramen with a hint of porcini mushroom."
And there is no Kikkoman soy sauce in Tsuta. Instead, according to Ramen Adventures, the tare is made from a blend of three different soy sauces: one from Shodoshima, a small island in Japan's Seto Inland sea, the second from Ibaraki, and the third from Wakayam. We're talking raw and unpasteurized, of course.
According to one recent Yelp review, "The noodles are topped with home-prepped menma, Welsh onions, finely chopped scallion whites, chashu which comes with a small spoonful of truffles . . . . All the toppings play well with the shoyu. Hands down the best shoyu ramen I've ever had."
Insiders, of course, know this already. Tsuta has been awarded the numero uno spot by Tokyo Ramen of the Year.
The Bangkok Post reports that after hearing about the star, Takatoshi Itami, one of the restaurant's cooks, said, "The most important thing is that customers like our ramen. We have good reviews thanks to them—getting a star was not our priority."
Is Tsuta the cheapest way to indulge in a Michelin-starred meal? Perhaps, although a Hong Kong dim sum canteen has been called "the most affordable starred restaurant in the world." But Tsuta may now give it a run for the money.