Ramen at Higashi Ikebukuro Taishouken (東池袋 大勝軒 本店)

Ramen at Higashi Ikebukuro Taishouken (東池袋 大勝軒 本店)

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Recommended bowl: Tsukemen legend

Higashi-Ikebukuro Taishōken is one of the most famous ramen shops in Japan, for the simple reason that the original master Yamagishi-san is widely regarded as the first ramen chef to put tsukemen (aka mori soba) on the menu. The story begins back in 1947, when five soba masters from Nagano Prefecture opened the shop Maruchō in the Tokyo suburb Ogikubo. Eventually four of these five masters went on to open other ramen shops; one of the four was master Sakaguchi-san, who established Taishōken in nearby Nakano in 1951. He wanted help running the shop though, so he asked for assistance from his cousin, Yamagishi-san. The two of them ran Taishōken in Nakano together until 1954, when Sakaguchi-san left to open a second Taishōken branch in Yoyogi-Uehara. At that time he handed the shop over to Yamagishi-san, who took over as sole master. As legend has it, during the first few years working at Maruchō it was quite common for the five original masters to eat a deconstructed version of ramen, kind of like a 'staff meal' during their break time. This deconstructed ramen was served with the soup and noodles separate; one would dip the noodles in the soup before slurping. Naturally, a few years later when Taishōken was up and running in Nakano, Sakaguchi and Yamagishi-san would do the same thing. Anyway, one day in 1955, shortly after Yamagishi-san took over as the sole master of Taishōken, a customer witnessed the event of him eating his ramen this way during his break period and exclaimed to him that he should add it to the regular menu. And so he did, calling it 'Mori Soba,' almost instantly becoming a hit and main seller. Soon after, Maruchō in Ogikubo, Taishōken in Yoyogi-Uehara and other ramen shops had all added it to their menus. Yamagishi-san ended up working at Taishōken in Nakano for 10 years total, until he opened his own new branch of Taishōken in Higashi-Ikebukuro in 1961. Over time the Higashi-Ikebukuro shop became known across Japan as the home to the so-called inventor of tsukemen, aka mori soba. The style at Taishōken is a Tokyo-esque old-school shoyu, consisting of a soup of chicken, pork and fish, served with house-made medium width straight noodles. Taishōken now has well over 30 branches in the Tokyo area, many of them directly connected to, or inspired by this shop. Yamagishi-san (R.I.P.) remains a pillar on the Mt. Rushmore of ramen legends.

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