A TASTE OF TOKYO WITH IVAN ORKIN

He’s the “crazy American” who dared to open a ramen joint in Japan. Join the New York-based chef and restaurateur as he revisits favorite Tokyo haunts.

It was the early 80s, and long before he had any aspirations of being a chef, New York-based ramen master Ivan Orkin decided to fly to Tokyo after taking up Japanese in college. “When the plane was landing, I remember I had a real feeling of coming home, which I thought was strange but it was a really strong emotion.” Here was this brash Jewish American thrust into a magical, neon-lit,
hyper-efficient city halfway across the world, inexplicably struck with a feeling of belonging. “Everything was so clean and organized and efficient, everybody was so helpful and kind… I was in love immediately.” Thus began his enduring love affair with Tokyo, and a life-changing passion for ramen.

Go ahead, take a bite

A DAILY MASTERPIECE

For one of the most dynamic, densely populated cities in the world, there’s a sense of zen that pervades the everyday.
At Shinjuku station, Tokyo’s busiest hub, witness an urban symphony: a state-of-the-art complex occasionally punctuated with animé, tiny schoolchildren hand in hand, salarymen slurping noodles at record speed at ramen stands, trains punctual to the second, a crush of commuters somehow mindful of personal space … it’s a daily masterpiece.“Tokyo is constantly evolving, more than any place I’ve ever been to.”

Tokyo on ANY BUDGET

Everybody thinks Japan is expensive. I'll say, ‘Are you crazy? It’s the half the price of New York,’” exclaims Orkin.

Kamachiku(Nezu)

Udon shop in academic town of Tokyo

2-14-18 Nezu Bunkyo Tokyo

“You can have a white table cloth 3-course meal for $15 in Tokyo; and for 80 bucks, you can eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch.” He recommends Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgrois in Shinjuku for beautiful French cuisine featuring Japanese ingredients.

Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgrois(Shinjuku)

Michelin two-star French suisine at Park Regency Tokyo

2-7-2 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo

Orkin relishes fancy “washoku” restaurants as much as back alley izakayas or sushi expeditions in Tsukiji. He still drools at the memory of Tenho, a hole-in-the-wall that served the best gyoza he’s ever tasted.
“For the restaurant to be open for over 20 years, and sells only two kinds of dumplings... that’s crazy from an American point of view.”

Gyoza Tenho!(Minamikarasuyama)

Old couple making and serving only two types of Gyoza for decades

6-29-7 Minamikarayasuyama Setagaya Tokyo

Fueled by RAMEN

After a serendipitous trip back to Japan sparked a fascination with ramen, Orkin decided to open his own restaurant in Setagaya, Tokyo. He boldly jumped into the fray with his own revolutionary tomato-infused broth and handcrafted noodles, a gamble that would propel him from a gaijin rookie curiosity to ramen celebrity. And in his intimate, 10-seater restaurant, he learned all about making diners happy.

Japan’s fanatical obsession with ramen has spawned commercial stands and avant-garde counters galore. At the modern Mensho, Ramen master Tomoharu Shono’s approach is so artisanal and intellectual, Orkin likens it to an “almost crazy religious experience you’re having with ramen.”

Mensho(Gokokuji)

Makes noodles on site, starting noodles by themselves with special dipping sauce. Geeky, intellectual and artisanal.

1-17-16 Otowa Bunkyo Tokyo

For a classic bowl, Orkin suggests Harukiya Ogikubo, an 18-seater diner that has been serving its famed version of “Tokyo-style” ramen with its unique nishiboshi (dried sardine) broth since 1949.“It’s considered the place that the Itami Juzo used as his inspiration for Tampopo”, tips Orkin.

Ogikubo Chukasoba Harukiya(Ogikubo)

Inspiration for Tampopo, old-school shoyu ramen with 50-year-old legacy

2-14-1 Honmachi Kichijoji Musashino Tokyo

For a classic bowl, Orkin suggests Harukiya Ogikubo, an 18-seater diner that has been serving its famed version of “Tokyo-style” ramen with its unique nishiboshi (dried sardine) broth since 1949.“It’s considered the place that the Itami Juzo used as his inspiration for Tampopo”, tips Orkin.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

“Tokyo is one of the few places in the world where you can skip off a cosmopolitan street and stumble into a place where time stood still.”

Kayaba Coffee(Yanaka)

First kissaten egg sandwich in Showa Era, also serving very good old-school coffee

6-29-1 Yanaka Taito Tokyo

Nihon Saisei Sakaba(Shinjuku)

Standing-bar izakaya, served with grilled pork products

3-7-3 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo

Classic, cool, contemporary, efficient and eclectic, Tokyo is as complex and multilayered as a bowl of Orkin’s favorite ramen, everything coming together for the ultimate sensory delight.

Kirakutei(Kugayama)

Fine Washoku Dining

5-7-9 Kugayama Suginami Tokyo

“You can start your trip at a five-hundred-year-old temple, and then go to the fanciest French restaurant or a little funky alley to get some chicken on skewers, with cold sake in tiny little glasses. And then you can go to a public bathhouse and have a soak—it is like bouncing back and forth between old-fashioned and the modern.

BEST EUROPEAN CUISINE IN THE WORLD

The Japanese have an uncanny knack for pursuing something they’re passionate about and taking it to the next level. “I find this particularly true when it comes to non-Japanese cuisine in Tokyo."

Pizza Studio Tamaki(Minamiazabu)

Some of the best pizzas in the world is in Japan

1-24-6 Higashiazabu Minato Tokyo

“The Japanese do western dishes and wrap them in Japanese-ness, so it’s very tasty.” Case in point: L’Effervescence, where Shinobu Namae infuses exquisite French cuisine with an esoteric Japanese touch for an ethereal experience.

L'Effervescence(Nishiazabu)

Top French dining

2-26-4 Nishiazabu Minato Tokyo

29Rotie(Otsuka)

Tandoori Pigeon, Biodynamic wine, Italian Shokuri

1-23-8 Minamiotsuka Toshima Japan

IN BETWEEN EATS

“I personally think Japan’s department stores are the best in the world.”
Orkin’s own favorite “depaato” (department store) is the sprawling Isetan in Shinjuku.“Every trip, I go to the basement food arcade, there’s just all kinds of things to eat and taste—they have chocolate rooms, sausage bars, a whisky tasting counter… Every single time I go, I’m amazed.”

Isetan Department Store(Shinjuku)

Basement food mall with chocolate rooms, sausage bars, whisky tasting counters etc.

3-41-1 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo

Who says Tokyo is just about shopping and eating? At least once a year, Orkin goes to the Kabuki-za (kabuki theater) in Ginza to watch a traditional Japanese dance-drama.“I encourage everyone who has never been to Kabuki, to go see it. Get the ¥10,000-¥12,000 ticket, sit close, and it’s beautiful.”

THE UMAMI OF TOKYO

For all its diverse attractions, it’s the undercurrent of cooperation that give you the real flavor of the place. “I think Tokyo is everything crazy, all kind of little surprises and kindness.”

Orkin has since moved back to New York, taking his restaurant Ivan Ramen with him, but still craves the hyper yet harmonious Tokyo vibe. “It’s possibly the best place to visit in the whole world.”

Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin

US-born chef and restauranteur who operates multiple restaurants, including ramen noodle restaurants, in New York.
Mr. Orkin formerly ran a ramen noodle restaurant in Rokakoen, Japan, and is familiar with Tokyo's charm as seen through a foreigner's perspective, as well as through the rich food culture of Tokyo. He has also appeared on the Netflix original show "Chef's Table".

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