Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen (アイバンラーメン) sits out in a quiet neighborhood at the northwest corner of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. While its physical address has it in Minamikarasuyama 3-chome, in typical Tokyo fashion everyone, including Ivan Orkin himself, refers to its location as “in Roka-kōen”, meaning the immediate vicinity of Roka-kōen Station on the Keiō Line. Originally, I just planned to come for the noodles and a much needed break. I hadn’t thought ahead about how I could integrate this into a transit oriented development narrative. After covering several kilometers of shōtengai in Shinagawa in the morning and afternoon, I hadn’t even considered that I might come across yet one more. It’s reassuring that even with hyper-accurate mapping and GPS equipped smartphones, exploring a new place on foot still holds the potential for pleasant surprises.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Being just off a station on a major commuter line means Ivan Ramen is easy to get to from many locations on the west side of Tokyo.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

As you walk north into the neighborhood, the first thing you encounter is a small shopping district on either side of the street.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Rounding the corner and turning west brings you the rest of the way.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan’s shop is one of the two anchor tenants flanking the main entrance to Marumi Store (丸美ストアー), a short covered shōtengai.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

I didn’t realize how long I had stood dithering over what to get until the staff came out to ask if I was having trouble with the ticket machine. Machine was fine, the user had issues.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan was tending his other shop in nearby Kyodo that day, but the capable and affable Shinoda-san had everything under control at the helm. We talked a little about my project. He thought three days was much too short for a visit to Tokyo. Most of the people I met during my trip were in agreement on this.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

This was supposed to be an afternoon snack, so just a bowl of ramen, but the roasted pork with garlic and onion rice bowl looked too good to pass up.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

Writers with far more experienced ramen eating palates have gone in depth on both the soup and the man behind it (Ramen Adventures, Rameniac). While I won’t duplicate their great work, I think I can add my own angle to the story. I don’t know that there are too many people who have had both Ivan Ramen at one of the Tokyo shops and at the special one night (with a second follow-up) event in New York, where Ivan previewed some prototypes of potential menu items at his planned new location in the Lower East Side. Comparing the two versions of the shio, while both clearly originate from the same parent, where the New York version was more refined in terms of flavor and appearance, the original was gritty and earthy. At the honten, you get fattier, roughly cut slabs of juicy chashu and a swirling cloud of katsuobushi in the broth. Neither is better than the other, just different.

Ivan Ramen in Rokakoen

I’ve not met Ivan face to face, but I’ve always gotten prompt and cheerful replies on Twitter. The people I know who have met him tend to recount similar stories: It doesn’t take much to get Ivan to talk about what he loves about his work and the thought process that goes into it. All you have to do is ask. Any downtown or neighborhood shopping district would be lucky to have a business owner as dedicated to providing a quality experience as Ivan. We’ll all be waiting stateside for the beginning of his next adventure.

This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.