Mamezen is another Kyoto culinary treasure and if you are into noodles and, or soymilk dishes, you should definitely put Mamezen on your list of places to ‘foodie’ when you visit Kyoto. Mamezen serves ramen in a unique soymilk broth: Mamezen Soba. I like the ‘omakase set’ which is soymilk ramen and yuba donburi ricebowl.
Mamezen is the creation of a young Kyoto chef named Minoru Yonegawa. His family owns a very nice yudofu (simmered tofu hotpot) restaurant in Kyoto called Toka. Toka make their yudofu in a soymilk-based broth, which is very unusual, creating a very ‘Kyoto’ luxurious and rich broth with which to simmer your tofu in.
Chef Yonegawa worked at his family’s restaurant for several years and noticed that local Kyotoites really don’t come to yudofu restaurants, even if you make your broth with soymilk! He wanted to serve food that was in keeping with his roots, being based on soy but also something that would appeal to Kyoto people. Of course travelers are welcome too. While he had never seen or heard of tonyu (soymilk) ramen, he thought that he ought to be able to pull it off and that Kyoto people would like to eat it regularly. He was right, he started out serving it privately just to friends and then soon realized that he had to open his own restaurant!
Developing Soymilk Ramen Recipe
When Chef Yonegawa was developing his soymilk ramen recipe his wife was pregnant with their first child and the recipe is quite informed by that time in their life.
Japanese ramen is usually very salty and very high in calories. It is often said that you should not drink the soup after you finish the noodles. Children, pregnant women and elderly are told not to eat ramen as it is really not very healthy and their bodies cannot take the extremes of the dish. Mamezen Soba, on the other hand is made with a deeply flavored but gentle Kyoto dashi broth and rich, healthy soymilk, so drink it up!
Mamezen Soba: Ramen or Soba?
Ramen comes from the Chinese, la mian. Soba is an indigenous Japanese word. Originally, in Japan ramen was called chuka soba, lit. Chinese noodle. Today, ramen is the most common term for this dish in Japan, but chuka soba is still quite common. Ramen and chuka soba are the same dish.
I have only been to Mamezen for lunch but they do offer a dinner menu that includes the Mamezen Soba dishes and a limited number of soy-based a la carte yummies as well and quite a good selection of Japanese beer, shochu and sake, among others. Refreshing Chinese tencha is served. Tencha is the Japanese name for this tea which is made from rose buds. It has a subtle sweetness but is only very slightly flowery.
I ordered the set lunch that includes Mamezen Soba and a donburi of yuba and ankake over rice. The donburi was quite good and unlike the kumiage yuba donburi that I am familiar with.
How Did Mamezen Soba Taste?
Very good! I hadn’t been to Mamezen for quite awhile, about a year, and realized that I would be going there more often now.
Soup: This being Kyoto, we must be dashi crazed and Mamezen is right on target. Chef Yonegawa starts by making a very rich katsuo dashi broth and then adds soymilk and simmers it down until it is thick, rich and silky. It is a very unique soup for Kyoto. I recall the soup being lighter in flavor previously. I asked the boss about it. He said that he might be simmering it longer as it thickens up the taste and density. If you like your soup stronger and richer, just ask for ‘koime’. The overall taste and feel of the soup is wonderful, I can’t think of a dish that combines the rich and pungent (dashi) with silky smooth (soymilk).
Noodles: The noodles used are very thin, something like angelhair pasta. They contain egg but I couldn’t really taste that. Personally, I am not really into thin noodles, I like them thicker and meatier. Chef Yonegawa’s choice of thin noodles is to be subtle and delicate, like Kyoto. Though not my fav, I have to agree with his choice. He might offer customers a choice to thick or thin.
Garnish: The dish is garnished with scallions, nama yuba, simmered shiitake and a bit of umeboshi. In the winter and spring, when nanohana (rape blossom) is in season, Chef Yonegawa uses it too.
Donburi: The donburi rice bowl was very interesting because it features a thick ankake sauce that is made with, you guessed it, Kyoto dashi and starch for thickening. Several sheets of namayuba is layed on top of the rice and then it is smothered in ankake with some ground fresh ginger on top.
This was a very interesting take on yuba donburi for me, which I liked very much. However, I like kumiage yuba donburi perhaps a little better. I would love to see how Chef Yonegawa would do that dish.
Veg or Vegan: The dish does use katsuo (bonito), that’s a fish, in the dashi. The noodles contain eggs. By request the dashi can be made without katsuo. Of course the egg cannot be removed from the noodles.
Do Not Miss: I have added Mamezen Soba to my Do Not Miss list in Kyoto. Rich and pungent (dashi) and silky smooth (soymilk) is something not to be missed! However, I do have a caveat. It might be a bit too ‘Zen master’ for those who are not really into Japanese and soy cuisine. The restaurant is a bit out of the way and if you really just want a delicious, but more ‘meaty’ ramen, you would probably be more satisfied with the restaurants on our Great Ramen Shops in Kyoto list. If you are sure you are into the kind of taste described here, by all means, make the trip to Shimogamo! (Twenty to thirty minutes from the city center by bus.) Also, the restaurant is closed often, call first to confirm that they are open when you plan to go.
Some headgear there! It makes Devo look uninventive. His flute master name is 菊水流尺八道準師範米川翠月. That is a long name indeed! And, many Japanese probably can’t read it.
Mamezen is located in the historic Shimogamo neighborhood of Kyoto, a bit north-east of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shimogamo Shrine. Mamezen is a very small and personable restaurant. Owner chef Yonegawa is a really, really nice guy. His wife helps run the restaurant and his two beautiful young children poke their heads in regularly. In addition to being a chef, Yonegawa is also a bit of a Zen master and is a master of the Japanese shakuhachi bamboo flute.
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Mamezen in English
English Menu: yes
English Website: none
Service: Warm-hearted and friendly
Price: 1,000-1,500 yen
lunch: 11:30-3:00 pm (2:30 pm last order)
dinner: 7:30-11:00 pm (10:30 pm last order)
closed: Wed, Thurs and some other days (Zen master chef isn’t a salary man), call the mobile number listed below before you go.
Location and Access: Shimogamo neighborhood. Best accessed by bus, taxi, bicycle or on foot. Nearest bus stop is on Kitaoji Street.
Address: Kyoto-shi, Sakyo-ku, Shimogamo, Higashi Takagi-cho 13-4 (京都市左京区下鴨東高木町13-4)
Near Sightseeing Spot: Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These shrines are older than even the ancient capital!
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