Young and Hungry

Japanese Ramen Is Pricey. Deal With It.


 One of the recurring complaints about Ren's Ramen in Bethesda, which I reviewed this week in Young & Hungry, is that its soups, starting at $10 per bowl, are way too expensive. A sample quote from Ren's Yelp page:

Bowls start at $10 (!) with just one slice of pork, some bean sprouts, and one leaf of egg, no corn, no butter, no nothing! If you get a properly loaded up bowl, it would cost you at least $15. For ramen.

Without any prompting, Kaz Okochi, the chef behind Kaz Sushi Bistro, told me last week that it can be expensive to make the Japanese soup. Every ramen house is different, of course, so it's impossible to know exactly the process that Ren's follows to prepare its soups (particularly because, like noodle houses in Japan, the owners prefer to keep it a secret). But I do know that Ren's imports custom-made ramen noodles from Japan.

Now allow me to speculate: Those noodles are probably more expensive than the 5-for-$1 instant ramen you bought in college.

What's more, the roast pork, the pork bones and fat used for the stock, the soy sauce, the house-made miso-paste....all of these ingredients cost real money. Plus, as Okochi pointed out to me, you have to figure in labor costs. "It's a lot of labor to make ramen," he says.

It's interesting, but Okochi tells me that people in Japan seem to understand that ramen houses don't make much money per bowl, which is why customers and business owners almost have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to the soup. They eat it fast, Okochi says, not only because they want to slurp those noodles before they get soggy, but also because customers know that ramen houses rely on volume, volume, volume.

Something to keep in mind, you indignant, budget-minded Yelpers.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Raul

    I hear what you're saying, but $10 is generally expensive for ramen. 500-700 yen ramen in Japan is pretty ubiquitous. Two years ago, when I lived there, that a little less than $5-7. Keep in mind that no one tips in Japan because the service cost is included in the price of the food.

    Naturally, ingredients are going to be more expensive here because many have to be imported, but I've had great ramen, udon, and soba in other parts of the US for less than $10-15. Ren's Ramen is in Bethesda. Bethesda tends to be pricey. That's the nature of Bethesda, but $15 for a bowl of noodles is silly (plus tax, plus tip). Would you pay $10 for a hotdog in Japan?

  • Samantha

    I'm going to have to agree with Raul. There's no need to sell Ramen at $10 a bowl. When I lived in Japan, a fully loaded bowl of Ramen was only 500 yen (roughly about $5 US) The portions were huge the food was amazing and insanely inexpensive, compared to US pricing. And I have had less expensive ramen and udon in the states since my return. I know where to find a $7 bowl of udon in DC that'll fill you for two days. I just don't think that blaming the price on autheticity or the ingredients is right. Because there are plenty of authenitc places that serve of a bowl of ramen that is just as good if not better for much cheaper than what these people are selling it for. Perhaps it is a location thing but look at it this way, wouldn't it draw more customers into the restuarant if they had fairer prices? Given the state of the economy people aren't willing to pay $10 for a bowl of broth and noodles. People would want to come out to that resturant because the food is affordable and the taste is authentic.

    So the end I'm siding with Raul and my experience in Japan. Ramen shouldn't cost that much. I'm sorry.

  • Josh

    Have to agree with the article. Quality necessary ingredients cost a lot here in the states. Even in Japan now the average ramen price is about 800 yen now. Ingredients are more readily available because of the demand in Japan, therefore you can get quality stuff cheaper. Think of it this way, a burger can be good and cheap here in the US, and a good quality burger in Japan will run you $20 (and by the way, a $13 burger is not unheard of around here either, if not becoming the norm). Compare it to some of these $14 and $15 spaghetti and pasta plates with not much toppings on them here in NY. Call it Italian and we have no problem paying that, add soup broth and call it Japanese and al of a sudden we are whining about paying the same price, even though that ramen will probably fill you up even more if you are a quantity over quality kind of guy. Perspective... We also don't have a culture of eating quickly which allows Japan to expect a very fast turnover, hence a lower price point than here as well.

  • Pingback: cozy cove

  • Pingback: divorce lawyer in maryland

  • Pingback: hearthstone arena guide

  • professorbooty

    Yep, pork hock bones, pork back fat and packaged noodles are so expensive. Plus you have to just let it boil for hours and hours inattentively!

    No seriously, the components for the broth are cheap and not labour intensive. Most places around here aren't making fresh noodles either, and if they did, its not hard to do (we do it at home). Prep time for the broth is about 5 min to wash bones and fill a stock pot, and roll up some pork belly to boil to be slicked later. If you are making fresh noodles it takes considerably more time to roll the dough through a pasta maker, but your material cost is next to nothing (eggs, flour water, and salt).

    Considering a bowl of ramen that comes with the toppings you are supposed to get costs closer to 13-15 bucks, they should be making considerable profit. West coast ramen isn't nearly as pricy as east coast.