Ramen yatai (carts) are a rarity in Tokyo nowadays, so imagine my surprise and curiosity when I saw one outside the east exit of Suidobashi Station.
I first ate at this humble yatai last September, but I was too shy to keep up a conversation with the owner, even though he looked very jovial and friendly. Then I stopped seeing his cart for several months, until, finally, I saw that distinctive red lantern again a few weeks back. When I ate there again yesterday, I was finally able to talk to the owner, Mr. Watanabe, and I said that I’d love to blog about his yatai.
Although Mr. Watanabe’s cart has no name written on it, he said that its name is Yukitora (雪虎), or “snow tiger.” He’s been in the ramen yatai business for 30 years now, and even though he has to carry that heavy cart all the way from his place, he enjoys his business. “If I didn’t, I couldn’t keep this up!”
Yukitora’s ramen bowls are reasonably priced – about the average price for ramen. Its menu lists regular ramen (600 yen), garlic ramen (700 yen), egg ramen (700 yen), chasyu ramen (800 yen), and boiled egg, garlic, and leek ramen (700 yen). This being a ramen cart, your order is prepared right in front of you, which adds to the appeal of eating ramen from a cart.
While preparing my order, Mr. Watanabe struck up a conversation with me, asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Tokyo. My impression of Mr. Watanabe as a friendly person wasn’t far off, as he, in turn, responded to my questions (in limited Japanese) with much enthusiasm. I learned that when there are events around the area – Suidobashi is near Tokyo Dome, where concerts and baseball matches are held – he can get about 50 customers a night, and that he wasn’t around for several months because of an illness. Thank goodness that he’s all right now, though.
After a few minutes, my order – regular ramen – was ready. The serving was large, although I must say that the ramen tasted average. Even so, I enjoyed the ramen, especially since it kept me satisfied after a long day of classes and part-time work. Some ramen can leave me feeling bloated – perhaps due to the oil – but Yukitora’s ramen left me full without feeling heavy, as its broth was not too thick or overpowering.
So, if you’re in Tokyo, I recommend paying Yukitora a visit. I’m not sure if Mr. Watanabe speaks English, but he said that he’s happy to have international customers (he apparently gets a lot of Taiwanese customers). Mr. Watanabe said that Yukitora doesn’t have fixed business hours or even days, which is a disadvantage, as you just might have the bad luck of not being able to catch him. However, generally, as long as his health is good and it’s not raining, you should be able to see his cart from around 8 pm onwards, right in front of the Suidobashi Station (Chuo/Sobu Line) east exit.
Don’t expect artisanal ramen here; rather, expect some good old comfort food made with enthusiasm. And of course, there’s the appeal of eating at a ramen yatai, a dwindling sight in Tokyo (and probably even most of Japan).
Some Japanese fans of Yukitora have also made a Facebook page. The posts are in Japanese, but if you want to see more pictures of Yukitora, go ahead and like it: https://www.facebook.com/yatai.yukitora