A few rays of sunlight broke through late February's wet wintry winds just long enough for me to hop and my bike and go find some warming miso ramen. I wanted something smooth, hearty, and satisfying, and Sapporo Junren hit the spot. I had passed by this Waseda-dôri shop a bit west of Baba station before, but the line had always been huge - no small wonder, since it ranked in the top three miso shops in Tokyo in countless year-end ramen wrap-ups. Founded way back in 1964 in Hokkaido's biggest city, Junren has a nationwide reputation as one of thee classic purveyors of Sapporo ramen. The Takadnobaba shop was the first branch in Tokyo, and has had a pretty much continual line since opening a couple years back.
Today though, I managed to split the uprights between the lunch rush and the dinner rush and snagged a seat as soon as I walked in. Nice and light, with blonde wood and a large open central counter area, Junren is the kind of place where the kitchen is hidden in the back - all the better to protect the secret miso recipe. When I slid open the door, I was almost bowled over by the aroma - sweet, rich, salty, and one of the best-smelling ramen joints I've ever entered.
Although I was tempted to go with the classic, I always have a hard time turning down the offer of spicy miso, which is what I went with. To put the shit before the cart, Junren's greatest flaw is its pricing scheme - 850 for a basic bowl, add 100 for spice, 100 for an egg, and you end up topping 1000 yen, which is not such a cheap lunch. But Junren's is easily the best bowl of miso in the neighborhood (even compared to the legendary Ezogiku), and possibly the best bowl of miso I've ever tasted, so are you really going to miss the extra 200 yen?
Put briefly, Junren (the name comes from an obscure writing of "Sumire" meaning "violet", the name of the original store) serves noodles that are the shiznitobamsnipsnapsam. The broth is rich as fukk, almost to a fault. Rolling your tongue in pork marrow soup mixed with god knows how many kinds of miso paste for 15 minutes tends to overwhelm the taste buds a bit, yknow? No garnishes tableside except for a small shaker of pepper, but none are needed, because this shit is LOADED with flavor. Even "spicy" isn't too spicy, with just a bit of hot oil and something resembling Korean kochujang paste. In addition to the creamy pork miso taste, Junren's broth is ever the slightest bit sweet, with hints of ginger in the mix.
Toppings were definitely better than average - a nice runny egg with a nearly-red yolk, a bit of cabbage, bamboo shoots, and best of all, naganegi, "long onions" that are sweet cousins of leeks. Plus the mysterious red shrimp-antennae vegetables. The noodles themselves are definitely chewier, eggier, and much yellower than average, almost shockingly so. Good shit. Junren is damn pricey, damn tasty, and damn worth your business.