‘Nabeyaki Ramen’ Shop Owner Spent 10 Years Recreating Taste from Memory; Helped Bring Back Nostalgic Showa Era Dish

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mayumi Okumoto poses for a photo in front of her ramen shop in Susaki, Kochi Prefecture.

SUSAKI, Kochi — For almost 30 years, “Mayumi no Mise” has been serving up a nostalgic local specialty ramen in earthenware pots. The ramen shop is in Susaki, the central part of Kochi Prefecture, about a 20 minute walk from JR Susaki Station near a historic timber port that dates back to the Showa era (1926-1989).

The words “nabeyaki ramen” are displayed in front of this shop. The word “nabeyaki” usually reminds Japanese people of udon, but in this town it’s ramen noodles that are stewed in an earthenware pot.

Mayumi no Mise opened nearly 30 years ago, calling itself a nabeyaki ramen specialty shop.

When the shop opened at 11 a.m., regulars from the area and businessmen in suits flooded in, filling the 20-seat restaurant.

“Sometimes people start lining up even before we open,” said Mayumi Okumoto, 75, who was wearing a red headscarf.

Mayumi and her eldest daughter, Fumie Kubota, 46, deftly placed the earthenware pots on the gas stove as soon as they heard orders coming in, including “large nabeyaki,” “curry nabeyaki and rice,” and “kimchi nabeyaki.”

They added thin slices of chicken and special soy sauce, then poured the clear golden broth into the pot.

The broth was brought to a boil over high heat, and the thin noodles were dipped into the hot water for a few seconds before being added.

An egg was gently cracked on top of the ingredients, green onions and chikuwa fish paste were added, and the lid was placed on top.

After the soup started boiling again, it was served to the customers along with pickled daikon radish as a palate cleanser.

One serving costs ¥850. When I opened the lid, I could hear simmering and watch steam rising from the bowl.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nabeyaki ramen

When I went for my chopsticks, Mayumi told me: “It’s hot. Don’t burn yourself.”

A regular customer in his 50s blew into the pot and began to slurp up the soup in a hurry. “The ingredients are simple, but it’s so rich and delicious,” he said.

‘Never forgot the taste’

Nabeyaki ramen is also a taste that Mayumi  has fond memories of.

The ramen was originally served in a back street restaurant run by an elderly couple just after World War II, but that shop closed more than 40 years ago. The dish is said to have been invented when they delivered ramen to the port still in a pot to keep it from getting cold.

Mayumi said she “never forgot the taste” of the first nabeyaki ramen she ate with money she earned herself after graduating from junior high school.

Even after she married her husband Masakatsu, now 76, at the age of 25 and opened an okonomiyaki eatery about 40 years ago, she couldn’t forget the taste of the ramen. While raising her three children, she became obsessed with re-creating that taste from memory.

She knew that chicken was the base of the broth, with its deep and rich umami taste and clean aftertaste, but she had no idea what else to use.

Though she tried various vegetable combinations, she couldn’t replicate the flavor.

She repeatedly served her husband and acquaintances the ramen she prepared and asked for their opinions. “My mother often served ramen at home. I loved it, no matter the flavor.” Fumie said.

A local delicacy

One day, at a ramen tasting, the workers at Masakatsu’s ironworks business looked at each other and said, “You did it!” It had been 10 years since she started the trial cooking.

When she started serving the ramen at her shop on a trial basis, people who missed the taste of nabeyaki ramen served by the elderly couple began to visit. In 1997, Mayumi turned the restaurant into a nabeyaki ramen specialty shop.

Four years later, the shop was featured on a national television show that highlights unique ramen and its popularity exploded, attracting 500 customers a day.

With two stock pots of soup being prepared in turn, “my shop had a continuous stream of customers even after 10 p.m. We didn’t have time to eat,” she said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mayumi puts noodles in a pot.

It was Fumie who swooped in to save the day. “When I was busy, she quit her job and came to help me. I was so happy that I cried,” she said.

She had nothing to teach Fumie, who had watched her make ramen from a young age, she said.

In the 2000s, a group of supporters from an economic group began to promote nabeyaki ramen as a local delicacy. The number of eateries serving ramen of this kind increased, and now there are 28 in the area. Mayumi’s shop is one of the oldest and continues to be well-loved.

“[The ingredients] for the soup are secret, except for the chicken broth and onions,” she said with a smile.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Soup made from chicken stock, onions and secret ingredients.

Looking at Fumie, who took over the restaurant two years ago, she whispered, “I’m so grateful to know that the restaurant’s unique flavor will continue on.” I think the earthenware pot ramen will continue to make memories for people.