Ramen that far surpasses your Oodles of Noodles is a reality in Germany
Stars and Stripes January 12, 2023
To think of ramen solely in terms of a square puck and a flavor packet is to live a life of sadness sheathed in a dumpling wrapper of despair.
Am I being too harsh? Then you’ve probably never had good ramen.
The instant variety did sustain me through my early adult years, and I’m not above turning to it in a pinch for a snack.
But a good bowl of freshly made ramen transcends that. It’s the difference between just getting by in a dorm and living the life in that sweet apartment downtown.
Unfortunately, most restaurants in the German hinterlands serve bland Asian food that resembles a parody of the Starcourt Mall food court circa 1984, complete with that highly questionable chop suey font on the signs.
But head to Germany’s cities and you’ll find islands of authenticity. Dusseldorf and Frankfurt have sizable Japanese communities, and they do not abide lesser attempts at their go-to comfort food.
There are at least three ramen restaurants worth eating at in Frankfurt, which is close enough for service members living in Wiesbaden or day-tripping from the Kaiserslautern area.
If I had to choose one on the merits of its food and atmosphere, it would be Muku. My first thought after eating the food here was how this place is good enough to thrive in Japan.
It turns out that it does. Muku opened in Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen district in 2010 and years later opened branches in Kofu and Kamakura. Its food is also served in Japan Airlines’ first class and business class lounges in Frankfurt.
Muku has an industrial chic feel, with lots of wood and intimate lighting serving to counterpoint the high ceiling and gunmetal-gray walls. The ramen prices are reasonable for Germany, at 13 to 16 euros per bowl, and the dish comes in five varieties.
During three visits, our dining party consisted of Japanese people and your faithful reviewer, who lived for nine years in Yokohama, where ramen in its popular form was invented.
The short version is that we enjoyed everything we ate. The majority vote for winner among the varieties was the Muku ramen, a soy-based broth with pork, spinach, spring onion (which can be easily removed if you’re like me) and firm noodles.
The broth had a complexity and heft you don’t find in store-bought soup. The soy sauce base isn’t usually my favorite style, but this had savoriness without tasting oversalted.
The pork-bone broth, or tonkotsu, ramen was another winner among the heavier bowls; I’d add a soft-boiled egg for this. For something lighter, the yamatani ramen and its combination of chicken and pork with bamboo shoots is a good option.
You could easily stick with this and have an affordable lunch or dinner. However, Muku also serves tapas, which is Spanish for “small plates of food that empty my wallet but don’t fill my stomach.”
Many of the decidedly seasonal Japanese tapas cost as much as or more than the ramen. They’re also very hard to say no to if you like fresh hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi, plus-size oysters in ponzu, fried chicken with accents of sake and mirin, spring rolls and a host of things you just don’t normally see in Europe.
The presentation of the food, which is a big part of Japanese cuisine, is painfully authentic for those feeling nostalgic for the country. There is a wide variety of pricey nihonshu, more popularly known as sake, but I’d suggest a half-liter mug of Asahi beer if you’re going to imbibe.
So what’s not to like about Muku? Getting a reservation will make you feel like a lottery winner.
While lunch is first-come, first-served, you’re probably not getting dinner without calling ahead, and forget about weekends.
The service is prompt, the staff is very friendly and kids can be provided with crayons if they get antsy, but all that attention comes at the cost of picking up the phone sometimes.
It took a few days of calling before someone picked up and took down our first reservation.
If you can’t get through and still want authentic ramen in Frankfurt, there are pretty good options.
Ramen Jun has two locations and a waiting list at the door that moves fairly quickly if they’re busy. Among its several offerings, I’d suggest the cold ramen on a summer day or the spicy ramen if you like the heat.
If the Westend location of Ramen Jun is closed, Takumi is a two-minute walk from there. Vegetarians will be happy with their miso ramen.
Whichever ramen you choose, eat it while it’s hot and feel free to slurp those noodles. It’s polite in this setting.
You may not want to go back to the instant ramen in your cabinet too quickly after getting the good stuff. But don’t worry. Those squares and cups of noodles have plenty of shelf life.
Address: Dreieichstrasse 7, Frankfurt
Cost: Ramen, 14-16 euros; tapas from 10 to 35 euros.
Hours: Thursday to Sunday, noon-2:30 p.m., last order 2 p.m.; Wednesday to Sunday, 6-10:30 p.m., last order 10 p.m.
Information: Phone: +49 (0) 69 4844 5153; Online: muku-ramen.com