BANGKOK — By the time the lunch rush at Menya Itto in Chitlom begins, Auntie Ui has been making noodles behind the counter since morning.
As the Thai branch of one of the most popular ramen shops in Tokyo turns two, its small but powerful menu continues to impress. Yes, it’s 230 to 350 baht for a bowl. But the taste puts passionless mall ramen to shame, and you walk away filled to the brim with umami broth.
“If you want seafood broth, go to Fujiyama Gogo. You want your broth rich, go to Bankara. If you want a light taste, come here,” Nicholas Lam, a partner at Menya Itto Bangkok said. “I really shouldn’t be talking about my competitors, but Bangkok is really a microcosm for different types of ramen.”
Menya Itto serves three types of ramen, whose toppings can be customized. All three types are made with varying levels of chicken and seafood broth, without pork broth.
The star dish is undoubtedly the Chashu Itto Tsukemen (350 baht), whose thick, chewy cold noodles are dipped into a condensed, umami broth with a deep scallop taste. The broth coats the fat noodles well, while the chashu, or pork slices, are generous – putting paper-thin pork slices at cheaper ramen places to shame. We recommend it over the Itto Tsukemen (270 baht), which comes with only one pork slice.
A little placard on each desk explains how to eat tsukemen if you’ve never had it before. After finishing the noodles, feel free to add hot broth from a flask on the table to the residual condensed broth to create a warm soup.
Don’t feel like dipping noodles? Try the Chashu Noko Gyokai Ramen (240 baht), whose broth leans towards chicken with undertones of seafood. It’s topped with more chashu and filled with thinner noodles than those found in the tsukemen. The restaurant’s thinnest noodles are found in the Shio Ramen (230 baht), whose clear broth swings towards seafood notes. It’s topped with a spoonful of very fragrant scallop oil.
The Shio Ramen will even be served on first-class Thai Airways flights between Thailand and Japan through October.
Auntie Ui, or Orsa Kunaphat, 55, has been cooking at the branch since it opened. Each morning, she mixes Japanese flour and handles a machine that pumps out noodles.
The chicken and pork at Menya Itto are free range and sourced from Khao Yai, while the seafood is imported from Kyoto. Although the restaurant previously used CP SPure meat, it abandoned it due to the taste not being up to standard. They go through 130 kilos of chicken bones a day to make broth.
Depending on the availability of imported Australian beef, beef ramen specials pop up from time to time.
The owner of the Menya Itto brand is Yukihiko Sakamoto, whose sensei trained under the inventor of tsukemen himself, Kazuo Yamagishi. Menya Itto means “one light,” Sakamoto’s tribute to past senseis and his hope to illuminate a path for others with his ramen. He focused on creating lighter broths that he thought would be popular with women.
Menya Itto’s Thailand branch opened in July 2017, and was met with hungry queues curious about the ramen and tsukemen ranked No. 1 in Tokyo from 2017 to 2019 on the Tabelog website. Menya Itto has branches in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Menya Itto is open for lunch from 11:30am to 3:30pm and for dinner from 6pm to 9pm on weekdays. On weekends and public holidays, it’s open all day from 11:30am to 9pm. Menya Itto, reachable by BTS Chit Lom, is located on the basement floor of the Erawan Bangkok a few steps away from the Erawan Shrine.
This review is unsponsored and was based on a hosted visit.