For a ramen fan living in Bangkok, there are many choices for an excellent bowl of noodles. I have a handful of favorite ramen joints, yet unlike burger joints, I’ve rarely written about them. That’s because I feel like there are hundreds of these places spread across the Bangkok dining landscape, and there are so many that are excellent the result is that they rarely stand out apart from the other players.
But Menya Itto (official Facebook page) is a clear standout from their ramen competition and absolutely worth writing about. They are also the only ramen joint that I’ve ever seen my gal scrape the bottom of her empty ramen bowl with the soup spoon (Fun Fact: this spoon is called a “chirirenge“).
A quick word about a word.
To date, I have published 116 articles about food and travel for this blog. In all of that writing, I have only used the word “umami” once (to describe a vegetarian burger patty of all things). I understand the word and I get its purpose in describing food and flavors. But when I began this blog in 2017 it seemed like a word that was both overused in food writing and a bit pretentious.
I write as I speak and umami is rarely pulled from my vocabulary. But now writing about Menya Itto there’s just no way I can capture the flavors of their ramen or how they bring those flavors to each bowl without using this word. Please don’t imagine I’ve got my literary pinky finger stuck out while I’m typing the word…
On with the show!
Every time my gal and I have visited Menya Itto, we’ve always left talking about when we’re going to return for more. Simply put it was love at first slurp but it was also addictive. This article includes information from a couple of our visits, but mostly from our last visit in which we spent 4 hours with the proprietor, an all-access pass to the kitchen, and a tasting tour of their ramen menu.
It was a huge amount of information and an amazing feast which fortunately gave me a lot of material to share. If you’re a fan of ramen, you’re going to want to know about Menya Itto and what makes their ramen genuinely incredible (and addictive).
Dip and slurp!
Menya Itto’s signature ramen, and most popular menu item, is their Chashu Itto Tsukemen (350 baht). Tsukemen was invented in 1961 by Kazuo Yamagishi, who owned the famous ramen restaurant in Tokyo, Taishoken. Its invention was the result of Yamagishi-san listening to his customer’s complain about the hot summer weather. The results of his experiments yielded Tsukemen or “dipping ramen”, in which the ramen noodles are served separately and chilled with a hot, intensely flavorful, thick broth with an egg yolk-like consistency that sticks to the noodles when they are dipped in.
Menya Itto’s Tsukemen soup broth is made from local organic chicken raised from small farms in Khao Yai, and a variety of dried, Japanese seafood from Kyoto, and shellfish. Heavier than Yamagishi-san’s original recipe, the thick sauce is rich in collagen and packs a punch that’s both intensely flavorful and satisfying.
The broth is served with 2 large minced meatballs made with minced chicken breast, the cartilage from the breast, and minced pork, as well as savory marinated Japanese bamboo shoots which are much thicker and more tender than their Thai thin, crunchy counterparts.
The egg noodles, made fresh daily, are thick, and served chilled. Topping the noodles is a meat eater’s delight: thick slices of pork belly, smoked pork collar, and tender chicken breast. For a lighter appetite, you can order the Itto Tsukemen (270 baht) which is served with a slice of smoked pork collar only.
Pro Tip: This ramen is served with ‘Karami’, a spicy condiment made of Sakura Ebi and chili. Wait until you’re about halfway through with the ramen, then add it for a new flavor experience!
Chashu Shio Ramen
For an authentic Tokyo style ramen, try the Chashu Shio Ramen (280 baht). The chicken-based broth is rich with collagen and delicately seasoned with dry seafood, and two kinds of special Japanese sea salts (from the islands of Seto and Awaji), and finished with a splash of scallop oil.
This soup’s noodles are thinner than the tsukemen noodles and without egg. The dish is finally topped with diced green onion, marinated Japanese bamboo shoots, and two slices each of organic chicken breast and smoked pork collar, a small thin sheet of dried seaweed. For a lighter appetite, you can order the Shio Ramen (230 baht) which halves the chicken breast and smoked pork collar to one slice each.
Pro Tip: This ramen is served with a small portion of homemade Chinese style XO sauce (a savory sauce made with dried scallops, onion, and garlic). Similar to the tsukemen ramen, it’s recommended that you add it to the bowl to waken your palate after you’ve finished off about half of the noodles.
Unique ramen dishes…
The Tsukemen and Shio ramens are Tokyo style dishes that are prepared to the exact specifications of the still operating flagship Menya Itto restaurant in Tokyo. But in Bangkok, the Menya Itto restaurant offers special limited serving ramens that are absolutely amazing.
A great example is their Clam Shoyu Ramen (290 baht). This is one of the most savory ramens I have ever enjoyed. The thin noodles are served in a clarified clear soup made from Asari and Shijimi clams, with aromatic shellfish oil infused with porcini mushrooms. Building upon this umami bomb base, the broth is further seasoned with 4-year-old barrel-aged saishikomi shoyu (the highest umami level soy sauce available) that is blended with Imperial Household Tamari sauce.
Topping the soup is a thick slice of lightly smoked pork collar topped with a dollop of homemade truffle paste (made with truffle, button, and porcini mushrooms), chopped green onion, and marinated thick-cut Japanese bamboo shoots. This unique ramen is only available at Menya Itto which once had, pretty much guarantees your return visit.
Inside Scoop: This special ramen has become so popular with customers that it will soon become a permanent menu item.
My favorite special!
This is the soup that spurred this article. After eating the Sengyo Fish Ramen (250 baht) on our second visit, I was convinced that Menya Itto was something I needed to learn more and write about. It’s just a shame this particular ramen is available irregularly and in such small quantities (ranging from 20-50 bowls).
To think, I was apprehensive at first to try this. The words “Fish Ramen” had me concerned. I can handle fish, but strong fishy flavors put me off, and in my mind, that’s what I was thinking this was going to be. Boy was I wrong, and now this is the ramen that has me stalking their Facebook page to jump whenever they have it next.
The broth is creamy and slightly smoky. It’s not fishy, but you can taste the fish, like a lightly smoked haddock. This umami-rich soup is made with Japanese Madai, Nodoguro, and Amadai fish and accompanied with thin ramen noodles. Topping the soup are ingredients that transform the dish from delicious to delightful.
The thin slices of home-smoked ham further accentuate the smokiness from the broth. While the little pad of wasabi when mixed into the soup transforms it into some sort of amazing liquid sushi concoction. The minced yuzu, sprig of wild celery, and dash of Kampot pepper elevate the flavors even further. I’ve never experienced any ramen like this…
Please save me a bowl.
What makes ramen amazing?
In my opinion, there are 3 things that can make a bowl of ramen great: the noodles, the soup, and the meat toppings (I’ll try vegetarian ramen someday–probably not soon). All 3 of those things have to be great or else you’re going to have ramen that’s “meh!”.
Menya Itto gets all 3 of these not only great they get them amazing. Let’s start with the noodles.
These noodles are made Italian style–not pulled like the Chinese style noodles. But they are different in that they are made with alkaline water which prevents the pasta from sticking. Menya Itto makes their ramen noodles in house every morning with an exclusive imported Japanese flour blend accented by wheat bran. You can taste the wheaty flavor. There are 3 types of noodles that are made each day.
Inside Scoop: Are you on a keto diet or counting your carbs? Menya Itto has a secret menu option that allows you to swap out their flour-based noodles with homemade noodles made from konjac root for an additional 120 baht!
The largest batch is the thick egg noodles for the Tsukemen Ramen which after boiled and shocked in ice to create a chewy and bouncy texture perfectly suited for their concentrated, thick soup.
Noodles for the Shio Ramen are made much thinner with no egg, and much wetter which requires a powdering of flour to keep them from sticking together.
While the third type of noodles are used for the Noko Gyokai Ramen (not covered in this article). These medium-thin noodles are made dryer and cooked al dente so that they coat well in rich “Kotteri” soup made with chicken and 6 different types of seafood.
The keystone to good ramen is its soup. Mess that up and it won’t matter how good the noodles or meat toppings are because they may as well be sitting in hot garbage. The two most important factors for making a good ramen soup is using quality ingredients, and getting the right timing to balance the flavors of the ingredients whilst pulling out most of their umami flavors.
Regarding ingredients, Menya Itto is on another level when it comes to maximizing umami flavors in their soups.
Bring on the umami!
For rich umami flavor, Menya Itto uses Karebushi instead of Arabushi. What’s the difference? Karebushi uses cuts from larger fish, has a milder savory flavor, and takes much longer to process. The key to these results is the molding process that Karebushi receives that breaks down the dried fish to convert the amino acids to the umami flavor.
Another level-up step that Menya Itto has taken in the kitchen is their use of Saishikomi shoyu hand-carried from Japan. This is the darkest kind of soy sauce with the highest amount of umami flavor. To make it, twice as much of the raw ingredients are used and the fermentation period is also twice as long as the all-purpose soy sauces.
Menya Itto also uses 4 different kinds of salts: Himalayan Pink, Black Himalayan (slightly sulfurous), and 2 different Mo Shio (a Japanese salt boiled with seaweed) a light one from Seto Island and a dark one from Awaji Island.
These soy sauces and salt are used to make Menya Itto’s in-house kaeshi sauces which are aged for a month before use: a base sauce, shio, tsukemen, and their clam shoyu.
Timing is everything…
It takes time to make a great ramen soup. The Shio and Noko Gyokai ramen soups take 8 hours while the Tsukemen ramen soup takes a whopping 18-24 hours to come together. But when it comes to making great ramen it’s not just the time, it’s the timing of when to add the appropriate ingredients. Too early and you risk losing the flavor (it falls flat). Too late and the soup flavor will be too strong and lacking in umami.
Menya Itto makes their ramen soups every day for use for the next day. Their kitchen is lined with massive 100-liter pots (and smaller pots for the limited batches). For their meat-based soups, they use a French clarification method of minced pork, chicken thigh, and egg whites heated slowly. I was told the result is “like pouring soup through a meat filter.” It made me hungry. Speaking of meat…
Forget those ramen places that serve you thin slices of pork that’s more fat than meat. Menya Itto won’t disappoint you. They ensure their hormone-free local pork supplier provides pork belly that is more than 50% meat. Then after trimming the pork belly, it is seasoned only with salt and shoyu so that the meat flavor stands out then boiled to keep it tender. It’s sliced super thick but it still melts in your mouth!
Their pork collar is cooked with a salt and shoyu blend sous vide for 4-5 hours until it reaches 63 degrees celsius. It’s then chilled on ice to prevent further cooking. Once chilled it’s lightly smoked with organic rice straw. The result is so delicious that the process has become the gold standard cooking practice now implemented at their Menya Itto Tokyo branch.
Their organic chicken is seasoned with salt and cracked pepper and cooked slowly sous vide. Thick, juicy, tender cuts are then served in their ramen bowls.
A chat with the owner…
During my visit, I had a chance to chat with one of the proprietors, Nicholas Lam, who gave me a brief history of Menya Itto. Menya Itto was founded by Yukihiko Sakamoto in Shinkoiwa, Tokyo on June 18, 2010. Sakamoto-san began his culinary career in French Haute Cuisine at the famous Apicius Restaurant in Paris. But having a passion for ramen, he diverted his cooking path and began working with the world-renowned chef, Tashiro Kouji (who was a student of the inventor of tsukemen, Kazuo Yamagishi). Menya Itto’s tsukemen stands out from the original ramen in that it is lighter yet still intensely flavorful as it strives to balance the tastes of both land and sea.
Menya Itto lands in Bangkok!
Hailing originally from Singapore, Nicholas has spent his F&B career all around the globe with kitchen tours in Singapore, Australia, Bali, Spain, Belgium, and New York City. In 2010 he landed in Bangkok to be the Executive Pastry Chef for Rocket. After a career in kitchens, he was ready to branch out on his own, and Japanese cuisine (especially ramen) was a passion he wanted to pursue.
Nicholas’ business partner, Ben, was so impressed with the ramen at Menya Itto in Tokyo that he returned with Nicholas so that he could experience it. Both ramen aficionados recognized that this ramen would be a huge hit in Bangkok, especially with the hot climate. It was serendipitous that the owner, Sakamoto-san’s sensei, Kouji-san, was also living in Bangkok.
They approached Sakamoto-san and he was on board with establishing a branch in Bangkok. He personally spent 3 months training the staff in the ways of ramen making. In July 2017, Menyo Itto opened its doors to enthusiastic ramen fans. Interesting fact, they’ve managed to retain all of their original staff members.
To be clear, the Menya Itto in Bangkok is not a franchise of the Menya Itto in Tokyo. It’s a partnership. Nicholas and his partners are given free rein to exercise their creativity when developing new special ramen dishes and Sakamoto-san also brings his experience to the table. Nicholas’ says, ” We want our customers to experience a luxury that’s affordable.”. For a ramen enthusiast living in Bangkok, this is an exciting kitchen to watch!
I’m hungry. Where is it?
Menya Itto is located at the sub-ground level of the Erawan Bangkok Shopping Mall facing Phloen Chit Road (next to the Erawan Shrine). It’s an easy 110-meter walk from the Chit Lom BTS station.
On weekends they are quite busy, and it’s not uncommon to find a queue of folks waiting for a table. It’s recommended that you make a reservation (especially if you plan to dine with a larger party of guests). You can do this directly on their Facebook page (and like/follow them to stay in the know of their special ramen opportunities!).
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to experience Menya Itto I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram (and feel free to like/follow these pages if you want to learn about more foodie gems). However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!