Do you accept this Ramen Challenge?

    Before you head to this tiny outpost that begat the empire of knock-off Ramen Jiros, you must be prepared to face a challenge that you may not win. If you approach the experience with arrogance and an assumption that all of your previous ramen expertise will guide you to victory, you’ve already lost. If you think you’re just there to have a nice bowl of ramen and walk away unscathed, you are in for a rude awakening. But it’s just ramen you say, how hard can it be? If that’s your attitude and you refuse to bow down before the ramen shrine, then there’s still time to walk away.

    Still here? Then you’re ready my friend. First, prepare before you arrive: rule #1 – come hungry even if it means skipping a couple of meals prior. You’ll also want to bring your own napkins and possibly a change of clothing (definitely needed in the summer) as you’ll sweat enough to fill your own bowl of pork broth. Finally, tie your hachimaki tight and get in line (and there’s always a line) with the other sadists ready for their servings of rich, fatty torment.

    Once at the ticket machine, choose wisely and make sure you know what the buttons mean. There are only a few choices: small or large with varying degrees of pork. But if you’re a Jiro virgin, do yourself a favor and get the small with pork (don’t push the double pork button – you’ll regret it). No one will judge you for it – the Ramen Jiro crowd is a supportive one and the veterans know that the smart ones always choose the small bowl. Once a seat opens up, you’ll be up close and personal with the legendary Yamada-san, who opened the original Ramen Jiro in 1968 and still shows up every day to lord over bubbling vats of fatty pork broth. The space is tight with all seats facing Yamada and steam from the massive pots of broth and noodles will give you a nice facial steam bath (incredibly pleasant in the humid summer).

    You’ll know whether you’re going to survive the Ramen Jiro challenge in the first few bites of the thick, chewy noodles and slurps of the fatty, lard-based pork broth. You’ll have good days and bad days. On the good days, you’ll get to the bottom of the bowl and win cheers from the other patrons and even a congratulatory “arigato” from the man himself. On bad days, you’ll barely make a dent in your small bowl, feel nauseous and be in desperate need of a bathroom. But even on those bad days, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, craving more and wanting to redeem yourself.

    Whatever the outcome, don’t be too hard on yourself. Whether you win or fail, you have now been initiated into the Ramen Jiro cult and have lived to tell the tale.