Being an expat in Osaka can be lonely, even if you’re married to a lovely local, as I am. With far fewer Westerners than Tokyo or even Kobe or Kyoto (at least proportionally), and with Japan’s obsession over uchi/soto (inside/outside, or who’s part of the “group” vs. who’s just some strange anomaly talking too loudly and blanching at the site of natto), Osaka can feel isolating.
So I was thrilled when I met H, another Bostonian. I was double-thrilled when I found out we had gone to the same university (although we never met there). Then triple-thrilled when I discovered H was marrying a man from Osaka, so we could giggle and commiserate over the adventures of gaijin wifehood.
But I was truly over the moon when I found out that H’s intended runs Kansai’s famed Kinryu Ramen. For me, a woman who goes week-kneed when her husband whispers “reservations,” a new friend with “insider” access to 24-hour dining is like hitting the mother-lode. Of course, intellectually I know that “insider” access doesn’t actually mean anything, since anyone can order a bowl of ramen anytime at one of Kinryu’s five locations. But inside my own little fantasy world, the idea of entering a restaurant and having the Maitre-d’ recognize me as “in” is immensely exciting—never mind the fact that Kinryu has no Maitre-d’ and, being Japanese-language impaired, I probably couldn’t communicate with him even if it did.
In fact, Kinryu is one of the most laid-back eateries you could find. But—and here I swear I’m speaking not just as a friend of the fiancé of the son of the owner—what it lacks in red-carpet potential it more than makes up for in soup. And perfectly cooked, tender-but-still-firm noodles. And spiced-to-make-your-tongue-dance kimchee.
On one of our first new-friend-night-outs, H took me to one of Kinryu’s two Dountonburi branches. We sat crossed-legged on tatami at an informal, open-air table. Then I met her charming fiancé, whom I liked immediately, especially since he was holding steaming bowls of ramen, heaped with fresh garlic and kimchee.
As we feasted on hot, delicious soup, he told us about Kinryu. His father, of Korean descent, first opened the chain in 1982. The name means golden dragon (which explains the huge green and gilded figure jutting out from the roof above us, a favorite among picture-snapping tourists). Kinryu’s specialty is its broth, which is lighter than traditional ramen to complement the strong flavors of the restaurant’s kimchee, a “secret family recipe.”
The menu is simple: Tonkotsu ramen with pork broth (¥600) and Chashumen (¥900), featuring extra pork meat on top. Then there are the three free, unlimited toppings: fresh garlic, Kinryu’s specially-sauced hakusai kimchee, made of cabbage; and mira kimchee, uniquely spiced chives.
"The noodles are made on site,” H’s betrothed tells us. “We don't let the fire run out on the stove; we add the broth from the night before to the new soup, so the ramen gets thicker and thicker. We also cook the pork right here,” he tells us.
H and I listen, launching our chopsticks again and again into our bowls until we’re scraping the bottom with our spoons. When we’re done, I lean back, holding my knees for support. I look at H and her fiancé and think that, despite how hard it sometimes feels to live in Osaka, I’m lucky for the many treasures I’ve found here: new friends, the adventures of a land a hemisphere away from home, my loving Osakan husband, and luscious bowls of ramen, which you can slurp and savor, 24/7, under a magical golden dragon.
The main Kinryu Ramen branch is at 1-7-13 Midosuji Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Namba (Namba Station - Exit 14)
It’s other four locations are at:
· 1-1-18 Doutonbori, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Namba
· 335 Ebisubashi, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Namba
· 1-7-26 Doutonbori, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Namba
· 1120 Nambasennichimae, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Namba