We found a ramen shop named 止 by the side of the road just outside of Niimi in Okayama Prefecture. This single kanji means “stop” in Japanese and reads Tomare, a very short name for a great ramen place and one kanji every one should learn since it’s featured on every stop signs in the country.
Ramen Tomaru is pretty much hanging from the side of a mountain on route 180 between Niimi and Takahashi. If you don’t have a car, this shop is out of reach, but hard to get places seem to be the norm in this car loving country. The shop is actually located a couple of minutes away from Ikura-Do, a gigantic cave which is 1200m long and can be easily visited.
The restaurant is an old wooden structure wedge between a waterfall and the mountain. The parking is a tight squeeze. The whole interior is made out of wood, so it’s pretty much a wooden lodge with very well crafted furniture.
The owner works alone and I would probably guess his age at around 80 years old, I was too polite to ask.
As we sat down, he suggested to my wife to order shio-ramen, he told her that’s what women eat, but my wife was set on eating miso ramen. We ended up ordering miso ramen for me, the regular ramen for her and some gyoza. The menu offers ramen, shio ramen, shoyu ramen and miso ramen. That’s pretty much it.
Before preparing our ramen, we were given a big bowl of home-made kimchi to nibble on. The kimchi was simple, not too spicy, yet not bland.
My miso ramen had a very rich and deep taste, a man taste like the owner said. The pork was particularly delicious and the noodle had a nice bite. Bamboo shoots, green onion and wakame completed the topping. Sea weed is not a standard topping, but it all made sense.
My wife ramen was somehow way more interesting than my miso ramen. What is described as basic ramen is actually a whitish pork based tonkotsu soup with a very strong chicken under note. That broth was complex and surprising. I could not stop trying her broth.
The gyoza were perfectly executed and I spent most of my time marvelling about this rustic ramen shop which falls right in my “dirty place” type of guilty pleasure.
The restaurant is not as much dirty as unchanged for years and sporting the patina of time. The pepper can looked like they were bought before WWII!
I am definitely going back to eat both the regular ramen and I want to give the shio and shoyu ramen a try.
I truly appreciated his slow dedication to making mouth-watering ramen. Ramen Tomaru is slow food dictated by the speed of it’s chef , but where else can you gaze outside and see a beautiful water fall.
All I can say is hurry up, the owner might not be around for years and years.