The first-ever Ramen Yokocho Festival in San Jose arrives at McEnry Convention Center in San Jose for two weekends starting Friday (Oct. 3-5 and Oct. 10-12) with 16 ramen chefs from across the globe.
Thousands of ramen fans are expected as 16 chefs from Tokyo, Sacramento, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Hawaii showcase their ramen recipes.
The soupless “burger ramen” from NY chef Keizo Shimamoto and a clam-based ramen from Ramen Sea in San Jose are a few of the many unique takes on the classic dish that will be at the festival.
Festival attendees can also expect fresh noodles with a variety of broth options, such as tomato, clam, beef, chicken, jukusel spicy, toyamama black shoyu, kurume tonkotsu and many more.
We spoke with ramen festival organizer Tomoko Dyen over the phone from her home in Los Angeles for more details on the festival.
Ramen festival is coming to San Jose for six days over two weekends. Is ramen really that popular in San Jose?
It’s getting there. With the Bay Area, in general, it is very popular. We have been to different ramen houses in the San Jose area and people were lining up before the doors were even open.
Would you say more people in San Jose like ramen than LA, where you are only hosting a one-day event?
No, I don’t think so. I can’t really say that, but LA is already reached close to the peak. There are so many ramen houses opening in LA. In San Jose, people are getting more interested in ramen so I think we can bring in more options. Most of the ramen in San Jose area that I saw are pork based.
How many people are you expecting to attend the event?
I think we are expecting about 25,000 to 30,000 per weekend. That is our largest estimate. A lower estimate is probably 18,000 to 20,000.
How many bowls of ramen do you expect to serve at the festival?
At least about 1,000 bowls a day per vendor. It has to be produced really fast to keep the balance between the people and the time.
Why do you think people love ramen so much?
I think it’s fun to eat, isn’t it? People generally like noodles and people are looking for something new. Sushi has been very popular in the U.S. and the world and we are hoping that ramen will be the next thing. It looks like we are getting there.
It’s tasty and, basically, it is a hangover cure food for the Japanese people. It is like a burger for us in the U.S. Japan doesn’t have a good hamburger like the U.S. so we eat ramen.
What is the process for selecting chefs?
Two of the other organizers go back and forth in the U.S. and Japan. They eat all over and throughout Japan. One time, one of the organizers ate like nine bowls of ramen in a day.
The organizers select what is popular and what is trending in Japan. They are very closely tied to the Tokyo ramen show in Japan, which is the largest ramen event in the world.
We try to balance the ramen by putting maybe two seafood, chicken, beef and vegetarian options. We have quite a long process. We also import most of the ingredients from Japan, and that takes a few months.
What are some of the highlights we should look out for?
You’ve heard of the ramen burger, right? It sounds like a joke but it is one of the new styles of ramen in Japan. I saw a picture and haven’t tried it yet, but it looked ridiculously good.
The noodle is something you cannot ignore. Every vendor has a different recipe for noodles and everything is custom made from the vendor.
The Tokyo tonkotsu style is a little lighter than the regular tonkotsu from Kyushu where it originated, and it is hugely popular in Japan. Our Tokyo tonkotsu chef has been a ramen hot spot over 20 years and there are still lines during lunchtime. I am really looking forward to having them, and it is their first time in America.
I would say come and find something that you like. There will also be seafood noodles, which will be fun to try. I think everything is our feature player.
What, in your opinion, makes the perfect bowl of ramen?
I want the soup and noodle to come together really beautifully. Some places, you feel like the noodle is just in there and it doesn’t go well. Maybe the oil ratio or the texture of the noodle is not right. When the two go together perfectly like spaghetti and meat sauce—it makes a really good bowl of soup.
Can we expect any unusual variations at the festival?
The clam-based ramen is popular in Japan, but not in the U.S. because not many people see it. Basically it is seafood-based ramen and they stir fry lots of vegetables on top. That is something you don’t see often. I’ve never seen it in LA or NY.
Beyond ramen, what can we expect at the festival?
We are bringing in Japanese animation that the Japanese kids love. We are trying to show those videos while people are eating just to entertain because there are many kids coming. Also, over the weekend we will have a couple Japanese movies to show.
There will also be interviews with the ramen chefs on video that we will show. People can actually listen to what the chefs think while they are eating ramen. I think those videos will be very educational but also entertaining.
Entry to the festival is $5 and each bowl of ramen is priced at $8 (Children 12 and under are free). Express Lane Passes are $20 and include admission to the event and a pass for the Ramen Express Lane where there is no wait. VIP tickets are $60 and include one-hour early admission on Friday, two ramen tickets, a pass for the ramen express lane and a special souvenir from Ramen Yokocho. More info.
Ramen photos courtesy of Ramen Yokocho: