Niboshi Iwashi Ramen En: Hachioji's hidden discovery
Hachioji, in the western reaches of Tokyo, is historically known for its own unique style of ramen Hachioji Ramen, which evolved over the past 50 years. It's defined by a simple shoyu base, the thin layer of oil on top and—most distinctively—its chopped onion topping.
Whilst every local Hachioji shop serves its own slight variation, there are over 50 shops dotted around the neighbourhood built up around the station area, making Hachioji quite a well-known battleground (激戦区 / gekisen-ku) on Tokyo ramen maps.
One particular Hachioji shop manages to set itself apart from the crowd, Niboshi Iwashi Ramen En (煮干鰮らーめん 圓), which has garnered rave reviews from critics ever since exploding onto the scene in 2009, not to mention ranking well in Tokyo Ramen of the Year (TRY), an esteemed industry publication widely seen as the leading authority on all things ramen.
En is a small 7-seater ramen shop on the backstreets of Hachioji, with an exterior so modest you might not necessarily notice it if you were just walking by unawares.
They serve a very simple yet powerful bowl of Niboshi Ramen (¥780), a Hachioji-style shoyu ramen with a difference. Niboshi are dried sardines, which help deliver an intensely flavour-packed soup with an abundance of smoky, umami notes. Their soup is made from sardine, chicken and kelp, served with handmade wholewheat noodles, fatty pork char siu, bamboo shoots, green onions and a perfectly cooked ajitama egg.
Complementing the main bowl, En also serves a salt ramen and the Mukashi-nagara ramen – essentially a stronger shoyu version of the original dish. You can also grab from a choice of fresh eggs (duck, Araucana or Nagoya Cochin) to serve raw over rice (from ¥250) – if you are feeling like a local!
En is a good 8 minute walk north of Hachioji station – it's on a quiet backstreet but you can't miss the blue signage outside.