Tsukemen is a noodle dish derived from ramen. It is an established theory that tsukemen came out of staff meals of the ramen restaurant Tai-sho-ken in Tokyo in 1955, and has kept growing in popularity ever since.
The noun “tsukemen” is formed by the nominalized word of the Japanese verb “tsukeru,” which in this case means “to dip,” and the Japanese noun “men” which means “noodle.”
The Difference between Tsukemen and Ramen
You probably are already familiar with ramen, which is a hot noodle dish of Chinese noodles in soup, topped with sliced roast pork, soy-simmered bamboo shoots, and other toppings.
Tsukemen is another noodle dish of cold noodles accompanied by hot or cold soup for dipping (its flavor is thicker than the usual ramen soup). You must dip the noodles into the soup aside. The portion of noodles is also usually bigger than ramen.
Tsukemen noodles are thicker than ramen noodles, and have a firm chewy texture, because they are tightened in cold running water after being boiled. The Japanese have a propensity to be particular about the natural taste and texture of the ingredients, and this method of cooking reveals the original flavor and texture of the noodle itself.
How to Order and Eat Tsukemen
First, you need to find a good tsukemen joint. There are shops specialized in tsukemen, and ramen shops that also serve tsukemen.
Hot spots for tsukemen and ramen in Tokyo are concentrated in the Ikebukuro, Nakano, Shinjuku, and Takadanobaba areas.
Inside the shop, you will usually find a ticket vending machine near the entrance. You first need to purchase a ticket corresponding to what you want to eat, and then give it to the staff.
Nowadays, many shops display pictures or English on their machines, and the staff might come to help you, but just in case, here are some useful words if you are stuck in front of the machine not knowing what to push!
ラーメン: Ramen つけ麺: Tsukemen チャーシュー: Sliced pork
並: Regular size 中: Medium size 大: Large size
In some places, you may need to choose between hiya-mori (cold noodles) or atsu-mori (hot noodles). For your information, “hiya-mori” is standard.
Insert cash into the machine then push the menu buttons to get tickets. Some machines won’t accept large bills (5,000 yen and 10,000 yen), so make sure to have 1,000-yen bills with you.
Take the ticket and hand it over to a shop staff behind the counter. In some cases, you put the ticket on your table, then a shop staff will take it to pass the order to the kitchen. Then, just wait for your tsukemen.
When your dish arrives, taste the soup a little. Then feel free to add the seasonings or toppings that you can find on your table or on the counter. Now, pick up some noodles and dip them into the soup. Toss it well with soup then eat with a slurping sound! This is considered proper manners when eating Japanese noodles.
If the soup is too spicy, eat the noodles with toppings. It will milden the spiciness.
After finishing your noodles, ask a shop staff for “suupu-wari.” It is some soup stock to pour in your bowl for you to drink!
Did you like your tsukemen? Then, leave the shop saying, “gochisosama-deshita,” to the shop staff.