A dimly-lit ramen shop on a lonely corner in Osaka’s west end serves happiness by the bowl.
In small neighborhoods like Nishikujo, all activity centers around the train station, where commuters grab supplies or a quick bite to eat before heading home after work.
However, just a block from the station, the activity drops dramatically as shops and restaurants give way to homes and small apartment buildings. On a dark corner in the limbo between these two worlds is a small ramen shop lit by single light bulb that barely keeps the creeping shadows at bay.
Not many find this beacon in the sea of darkness that blankets Nishikujo’s streets. When you take a seat the shop’s small counter under a tattered awning, you share a knowing look with the others who have also wandered out of the shadows to this ramen shop’s shores.
The menu is simple and straightforward– just ramen, gyoza, and your choice of beer or sake. What more do you need?
We order a bowl of Shiawase Ramen, or “Ramen of Happiness”. In the shop’s tiny kitchen, a trio of ramen chefs wearing crimson tenugui on their heads dance around boiling pots of water and each other as they expertly craft each bowl of ramen.
The ramen chefs clearly know what they are doing. The noodles are cooked to perfection– soft yet toothsome, with just the right amount of bite. The ramen’s broth has been slowly simmering for hours and is now rich and flavorful, with the tiniest hint of miso lingering on your tongue after each spoonful.
The thick slices of slow-roasted pork in the ramen are so tender, they literally melt in your mouth. The bright orange yolk of the boiled egg is surprisingly flavorful and pairs perfectly with the pork.
Of course, this ramen shop serves gyoza, but not just any gyoza. Here, you can get shiso gyoza, whose refreshing yet slightly bitter flavor is highlighted by the dual dipping sauces and kim chee served on the side.
We wrap our hands around the warm ceramic cups and sip hot tea before leaving this outpost on the edge of darkness and heading back into the shadows. Some head toward home, while others make for the train station to continue on their journey, but there’s one constant for those who stop at this ramen shop for a bowl of happiness– we all leave with a smile on our face.