The build-you-own bowl concept has finally come to ramen with Midtown’s newest noodle shop.
Menya Jiro went from a simple three-ingredient bowl at its first location in FiDi to options for every step, from the broth to the protein and 25 different toppings at its new shop next to Grand Central Station at 156 E. 45th St.
“The food culture between Japan and New York is very different,” he says. “New Yorkers want to customize their food depending on their preferences,” says chef Jiro Anma, who also has four shops in his native Kagoshima prefecture.
“Of course It is important to share real Japanese ramen with New Yorkers, but I think localizing and fusing is more important to enjoy the ramen.”
The concept is a first in New York, and possibly beyond. The base soup starts at $14-$15 including a choice of Anma’s “two-taste” broth made with tonkotsu (pork) base steeped with chicken bones, or a new vegan option, one protein (pork cha siu, shrimp, teriyaki chicken, tofu, fish cake and salmon), plus bean sprouts and scallions.
Additional proteins are $2.50, while toppings range from corn and kimchi to spinach and kikurage (jelly-ear mushrooms) for $1, or avocado and the super traditional takowasa (raw octopus marinated in wasabi) for $2. There are also eight unlimited condiments like pickled ginger and dried bonito.
For the coming warm days, the shop also serves Mazemen, which is basically a bowl of ramen without broth. Instead, the noodles are tossed in various oils (four at Menya Jiro) with the toppings arranged poke-style on top, a popular preparation in Japan.
Anma has spent 10 years working out a solid, simple bowl of soup that works perfectly. The ramen needs little else besides that signature broth, rich without overwhelming you with fat, paired with those perfect slices of pork char siu. They’re stewed for seven hours then allowed to rest for three days to make the meat tender and wildly flavorful — smoky, slightly sweet, a little bitter from the soy and umami for days.
Anma came to New York in 2016 for the annual Japan Fes ramen contest and won, which is what got the attention of BentOn Cafe owner Toru Furukawa, who invited him to share his spacious FiDi restaurant.
In Midtown, they split the hours, with BentOn’s customizable bento box concept on deck until 4 p.m., then Menya Jiro taking over at 5 p.m. through midnight.
Furukawa is also inclined to take a little credit for Anma’s radical shift in concept. “He got inspired very easily,” he says.
Menya Jiro started out in the Financial District just seven months ago. But Anma is already plotting his next opening in Downtown Brooklyn, with an expanded menu of appetizers like gyoza, and something else that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.
“I would like New Yorkers to be more happy through ramen and our service,” says Anma. “At the next store, we will be serving liquor. That, I think, will make customers more pleased, so I'm looking forward to it.”
Menya Jiro is open at 156 E. 45th St., Monday-Friday from 5 p.m. to midnight.