Eating in Japan has been an adventure. The foods are amazing and the restaurants are super specialized. A ramen noodle place is different from an udon noodle place which again is not the same as a soba noodle shop. We went to a solo seating ramen restaurant in Kyoto, and we loved it so much that we came back a second time. Here’s a quick run down of how it works: go to the machine at the entrance of the restaurant and select the type of broth you want, and extras like soft boiled egg and sliced mushrooms and push the buttons as you would in a vending machine (an average bowl is about 1200 yen or $12). Then you pay the machine and out pops a small printed ticket.
The waiter directs you to your spot inside. You sit on a stool in a long room facing a narrow counter partitioned off from your neighbors to your right and your left. A water dispenser and ceramic cups are to one side. An opening in the wall in front of you is covered by a bamboo blind. To your right is a packet holding blank forms and a pencil. Take a blank form and fill it in. You select the richness of the broth, the amount of garlic and spice (on a scale of 1 to 10), and other stuff. You put your ticket and the filled form on a designated spot on the counter and press a button. Your waiter appears on the other side of the bamboo blind, raises it, greets you, collects the paperwork and lowers the blind. Meanwhile your party sits at their own stools along the same counter. You’re separated from each other by wooden partitions on the counter. Some times the partitions are hinged and can be folded back to allow interaction with your neighbor.
After a while the bamboo blind is raised and a steaming bowl and ramen and extras are placed in front of you on the counter. The waiter says something in Japanese that I didn’t understand and then bows deeply from the waist but his working space is narrow so he has to bow sideways. Given the geometry of the opening you just see the top of his head as it is lowered to counter height. Then the blind is closed and you are left to contemplate your ramen. Slurp well and enjoy.
Jo described this to a friend who said “like a prison visit”. I guess it is, but tastier.