There’s a very distinctive ramen joint in Kyoto called Menbakaichidai that serves what they call “fire ramen.”  It’s essentially ramen flambé — they finish your bowl of ramen with a small inferno of burning oil that goes up in a spectacular burst of flames.

It’s a popular place — I showed up at around 2:00 PM assuming there’d be some kind of mid-afternoon lull, and I still wound up waiting about half an hour.  They have a system where you take a number and then can wait in a heated tent, though even that was packed.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

Aside from the various side dishes, there’s just one thing on the menu here: the fire ramen, which is a basic shoyu (soy sauce) ramen topped with slices of pork and a whole bunch of green onion.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

You’re not allowed to take pictures of the flambéing — they had a series of phone-holders hanging from the ceiling, which allowed everyone to get their own video of the fire (most people took them up on this, including me).

They also make you wear a full-body bib, and insist that you lean back with your hands behind your back during the flame-application; I just figured they were trying to make a bigger show of the whole fire thing.  But no, it’s basically a mini explosion in your face, so if you were leaning forward and trying to take a picture, a hospital visit would be in your immediate future.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

And after all that?  It’s fine, I guess.  I’ve certainly had worse ramen, but the flavour of the broth was pretty basic, and the noodles were just average.  I’m really not sure that the fire does all that much, though there is a pretty big pile of green onions on the soup and they had a really mild flavour; I’m guessing the mini inferno very quickly burned away the rawness.

Menbakaichidai in Kyoto, Japan

Still, it’s pretty clear that this place gets by mostly thanks to their gimmick.  It’s a pretty great gimmick, though.  It’s a hell of a show.

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