'Ramen' done right, in Myeong-dong
R-A-M-E-N. Notice there was no “y” in that. No “o” either. Shin may be fine for a hungover morning, but this is the real stuff, the stuff you might find in a cramped little joint in Tokyo. This is Kenzo Ramen.
Kenzo, just off the busiest street in Myeong-dong, serves Japanese-style ramen in big bowls. The place opened in 1999, and has garnered a following judging by the white autographed pages taped up in its little window.
Their specialty is authentic ramen, different from instant ramen (or “ramyeon” here in the ROK), in the emphasis on high-quality broth. Their menu gives a brief explanation of how their broth is made: “Put in chicken bone, meat, many vegetables… simmered for a long time.”
The different ramens at Kenzo are differentiated mainly by their respective broths; one is miso-based, another is soy-based. The bowl we tried was “tonkatsu ramen,” made with stock from pork bones. The broth was rich and milky, mouth-coating, opaque (you know that’s always a good sign). It is the star of the dish. The actual noodles are there, but they take second stage. The tonkatsu ramen (“hit!”) came garnished with a few cabbage leaves, a slice of slow-cooked pork belly, and many bean sprouts. The cabbage leaves, swallowed up almost immediately by the thick, porky broth, turned out to have a negligible effect on the taste of the dish. The noodles, too, were secondary. The bean sprouts provided a major contrast in textures. They were crunchy, where the noodles were fairly soft and the broth silky.
The restaurant is much taller than it is wide. The first floor is where the cooking takes place, and the kitchen takes up most of the space down there. There are a few stools around a little bar, but the 25-seat second floor is roomier and has a nice view of the street below. It was crowded the few times we visited, and the sounds of slurping/tissues being ripped from boxes filled the space.
The restaurant is owned by Lee Kipil, a small, wiry man who speeds around the place wearing a denim apron, delivering plates of food to his customers.
Kenzo also serves Japanese-style curry, fried chicken and donkas. The curry comes with little bits of friend things, oysters for example. All the menu items are below 10,000 won.
Kenzo Ramen is located on the main shopping street of Myeong-dong. To get there, turn left out of Myeong-dong Station, exit six. Walk about 250 meters down the main shopping street. Keep going straight after it intersects the other large shopping street. Kenzo is on the right past McDonalds and KFC. If you pass Jamba Juice, you went too damn far.