Until just a few months ago, on the corner of Via Ostiense and Via Pellegrino Matteucci stood a very sad and tired stationary shop. Eventually, the signs in the window offering cheap photocopying were replaced by closing down notices and the doors shut for the final time.
Later, building supplies and other signs of life began to appear. Old fixtures and fittings were removed, walls repainted; and simple, modern décor brought in. Instead of shelves for stock, a kitchen was installed and enough tables and chairs for 55 covers. On July 2 this rejuvenated and contemporary space opened its doors as Ramen Bar Akira.
On the menu at Rome’s only ramen bar is ‘Iekei Ramen’, a style created by the Yoshimura family in Yokohama in 1974. It’s characterized by Tonkotsu: a rich pork-bone broth paired with Futomen noodles.
Diners at Akira can choose from three types of Ramen, all with the Tonkotsu broth and Futomen noodles as a base. The white Shio version is the lightest, the classic black Shoyu bowl includes soy sauce, and the red bowl is spiked with a healthy dose of spicy miso.
The man behind the restaurant is the eponymous Akira Yoshida. The 30-year-old entrepreneur came to Italy as a soccer-playing teenager before creating an agency for soccer players and later exporting Italian fashion accessories to the Japanese market. After successfully taking Italy to Japan, Yoshida wanted to introduce Japanese culture to the Italians.
“In truth, I wanted to do something in the European market as my clients were all Japanese. I was thinking which business could launch the Japanese culture in Italy,” he explains. “We decided to do ramen because it’s fashionable now and in Europe it’s starting to become very popular. In Rome, there were no ramen bars so we wanted to be the first.”
In order to ensure authenticity and quality, Yoshida found a team of kitchen staff who travelled all the way from Japan to work at the restaurant. “Everyone in the kitchen is Japanese, and the waiters are Italian. So we care a lot about the taste and about making a real dish with real authentic flavor. Everyone says it’s difficult to take [Tonkotsu] to foreign markets because it’s difficult to maintain the quality. If you cook it wrong, you have to throw away 50 liters of broth. You have to stir it for 10 hours because if you burn it, it ruins the whole taste.”
If you visit the restaurant you will indeed get to see the cauldron of Tonkotsu broth steaming away in the kitchen, with one of the chefs stirring the mixture every so often as part of its 10 hour cooking process.
This time-consuming and meticulous process results in an intensely flavored broth, and consequently an incredibly moreish ramen. The slightly rough texture of the Futomen noodles (which are also made on site) allows the soup to cling to them well, ensuring a consistent taste in every slurp.
From the three options available, I prefer the red spicy bowl and the contrasting flavor provided by the heat of the chili. I also find this fieriness helps to cut through the fat of the sliced pork.
Ramen can be embellished further with additional toppings, such as egg, seaweed or extra pork belly. You can also choose Tsukemen in which the noodles are separate and dipped in the soup by the chopstick-ful.
As for the rest of the menu you’ll find a selection of Japanese dishes, such as fragrant Gyoza pork dumplings; Ajitama eggs seasoned with seaweed, leek and chili; and the confusingly named Pork Vans – soft bao-style buns filled with pork, mayonnaise, and teriyaki sauce.
The main event at Akira though is, of course, the ramen. Whether you order a black, white, or red bowl you’ll leave satisfied and having tasted an authentic dish that originates over 6,000 miles away in Yokohama, Japan.
Yoshida reflects on his journey so far. “Lots of people that come here say they didn’t think they could eat [in Rome] what they’ve eaten before in Japan. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Via Ostiense 73, 00154
+39 06 89 34 47 73