Is there such a thing as a perfect bowl of ramen? Who knows. We say the pursuit of true ramen happiness is going around trying them all and finding which one works for you. In any case, here's a roundup of our favorite spots in the city that put the AMEN in ramen.
Love it or hate it (yeah, those queues do suck), much-hyped Hong Kong import Butao burst onto the scene this year in a big way, serving just 300 bowls a day – that rich, porky broth is a labor of love, apparently.
The flavors here range from classic tonkotsu (pork bone broth), super spicy (below), black garlic, and even a green pesto flavor. Prepare for a brisk-moving line – the worst we've braved is around 20 minutes – and be sure to add on extras like soft-boiled egg, nori seaweed sheets etc.
A newcomer on the scene, Ramen David hails straight from Tokyo, the brainchild of 80s era popstar-turned-ramen-chef David Ito. Here they serve three types: tonkotsu, shoyu (soy sauce) chicken broth, and shio (salt) chicken broth.
Both shoyu and shio offer a lighter alternative to the opaque creaminess of tonkotsu, and come with delicious, thick, yellow noodles instead of thinner pale ones used in tonkotsu. Order spicy mustard leaves for a peppery addition to your bowl.
Should you finish your noodles prematurely, Ramen David offers a free kae-dama (noodle refill), so be sure to leave some soup for that. Sides worth ordering include the chashu-studded egg fried rice, and you could also treat yourself to a pint-sized whisky highball or frozen Asahi while you're at it.
Another Tokyo export to have spread across Asia in recent years, Ramen Nagi's first Shanghai branch in K11 Mall offers a similar selection of flavors to Butao, including black garlic, spicy red, green pesto and of course the obligatory tonkotsu. Argubly, the broth is a little lighter than Butao, though this place has the benefit of allowing you to choose between thick or thin noodles (get thick!)
Like Butao, anticipate paying for extras. Think RMB10 for soft-boiled egg, RMB6 for woodear mushroom slivers and nori. There may also be a small queue, but nothing life ruining.
Cheap, dependable and open late, Ramen Samurai Ryu is often our go-to place in Shanghai. The chicken, pork and fish or black garlic ramen here are a welcome change from garden variety tonkotsu, and the latter two pack a rich, pungent punch. Avoid getting the 'extra thick' soup when filling out your order sheet, unless you like it very heavy indeed.
Extras like the crisp and juicy gyoza dumplings here are a firm favorite, we particularly like them drizzled with tobiko-laced Kewpie mayonnaise, AKA the single most gross and delicious condiment God put on this green earth.
One of the quirkier ramen joints Shanghai has to offer, Ramen Shop offers six unique bowls: red (spicy), white (tonkotsu), black (garlic shoyu), yellow (curry), 'Tokyo classic' and vegetarian. Some of the bowls come with veggie toppings like corn, zucchini and cilantro.
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We particularly like the thick noodles that come with the latter two. Sides here are something of a strong suit, be sure to order the chilled tofu with avocado and cherry tomato salad and Japanese style fried chicken.
On the top floor of Joy City Mall in Hongkou, Ramen Arena is a deposit of over 10 ramen shops brought over from Japan. Delegations from Hokkaido, Tokyo, Yamagata, Kyoto and beyond are all represented, and the experience offers adventurous eaters the opportunity to expand their palates beyond the garden variety tonkotsu available in Shanghai. Particularly famous is Ebisoba Ichigen (shop no.1) from Hokkaido, which specializes in a rich crustacean broth, though the chicken ramen at Takeichi (shop no.5) is also very tasty.
See a listing for Ramen Arena