We walk along the very narrow alleyways of Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Tokyo looking for Nagi Ramen until we recognize the signage. A young male employee in a Barbour jacket is standing at the entrance of the narrow stairs that lead to the ramen shop upstairs. I say to him "ramen?" and he asks if we speak Japanese. T tells him "sukoshi." He then tells us to please head upstairs to buy our ramen tickets first and then gestures us to join the line of customers after purchasing the tickets. We look in the direction of his hand gesture and see what we did not even realize before: a line of customers standing in a very dim alleyway so narrow that it only has space for a single line. The existence of the alleyway is not intentional; it happens to be a tight space between two buildings.
We walk up the rickety and narrow stairs to the ramen shop, each step of the stairs is not wide enough to rest the entire foot on. We get to the top and buy our ramen tickets from the vending machine (it is common practice to "order" and pay for your ramen through a vending machine so that the chef does not have to handle change). Then we walk down the stairs and join the line in the alleyway.
About 30 minutes later, the young man standing by the stairs gestures us upstairs to get seated. Ramen shops in Tokyo are generally tight spaced and Nagi Ramen is literally a hole in the wall. We have no complains, it adds to better socializing atmosphere for us at this 10-seater ramen shop. Once we're seated, we don't even think about moving about. We are there just to enjoy the ramen moment
Nagi Ramen specializes in tonkotsu broth flavored with sardines. The broth is pungent and the sardines flavor is strong. The taste is unlike anything we've had before. We've had quite a lot of tonkotsu ramen but when pork bones and sardines come together in the Nagi way, it transforms the broth to a whole new flavor. Behind the counter are two employees; one prepares the ramen and the other serves the ramen over the counter.
Preparing ramen has to be precise. For each batch, the noodles are placed on a weighing scale to get the right amount of noodles. Then, the noodles are placed in boiling water and the timer starts. Having the right amount of noodle with the right cooking time ensures consistency in reaching the ideal noodle texture. We get the special niboshi ramen and the tsukemen (dipping ramen). The noodle has an addictive chewy texture that shows that the noodle is freshly made. Each bowl has a few sheets of thin and slightly wide "noodle" that is very reminiscent of gyoza skin which I like very much. The pungent broth makes it the most memorable ramen we've had, and probably one of the best we've had.
One of the employees behind the counter asks if we are in Tokyo for vacation. He then says to us, "Working?" (at least he didn't mistake us for being students). We tell him yes, and he makes a guess and says "Engineer?" A wild guess definitely but far from accurate. We tell him it's our second time in Tokyo and the city is tanoshii. He smiles and agrees with us. I point to my bowl of my ramen and say "Best." He nods happily and the other employee preparing the ramen overhears and smiles to himself.
We are more than satisfied after our meal and as we carefully walk down the narrow stairs, the employee who is still supervising the line downstairs surprises us by saying "Take care."
Shinjuku Golden-gai (G2 street) 2F, 1-1-10, Kabukicho