• Satoko Morimoto is leading the charge to make ramen accessible to both men and women in Japan. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
The Ramen Girls Festival is all about breaking through the glass ceiling, one bowl of noodle soup at a time.
By
Chloe Sargeant

27 Mar 2019 - 1:11 PM  UPDATED 1 Apr 2019 - 12:01 AM

Ramen is becoming increasingly popular across the globe so it might be surprising to hear that it's long been considered 'men's food' in Japan.

Japanese women have been typically alienated from ramen because they are expected to enjoy lighter and healthier food while ramen can be seen as fatty and heavy.

Many ramen restaurants have also been owned and patronised almost exclusively by men, which some women have perceived as intimidating.

In addition, anecdotal posts on Japanese forums say women often prefer to sit and enjoy their meal while having conversations. But ramen is typically seen as 'fast food' with suited salarymen quickly slurping down noodles after beers with colleagues before they head home for the day. 

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However, there's recently been a move away from this culture with Japanese women enjoying ramen too, and one particular woman is at the forefront.

Satoko Morimoto, a ramen fanatic, is the founder of the Ramen Girls Festival. Since 2015, the festival has been held during a string of Japan's national holidays known as Golden Week.

There are plenty of ramen festivals in Japan like the enormous Tokyo Ramen Show or the Ecopa Ramen Stadium in Shizuoka. But it's only the Ramen Girls Festival that puts particular focus on encouraging women to enjoy the noodle dish too. 

"I wanted to create a new culture which helps women go to a ramen shop by themselves and enjoy the experience comfortably."

The festival serves up 10 different regional varieties of the noodle soup, and Morimoto travelled through Japan to handpick them for the festival. 

Morimoto, who says she's consumed approximately 600 bowls a year over the past decade, has eaten ramen across the country to learn about the differences between each region's signature bowl. 

She is so deep in ramen territory, she could tell you the subtle nuances between a broth made with mackerel and another made with bonito, and exactly how thick Hakata noodles are compared to their Okinawa counterparts. 

Some festival participants are well-renowned restaurants and ramen masters who serve up beloved broths from their hometown. Others are up-and-coming ramen chefs who simply serve up phenomenal bowls of noodles.

Among the talented chefs are women, and Morimoto is determined to help them break the 'glass noodle' ceiling.

One is Akane-san who owns ramen bar Akane No Mai (麺匠 茜ノ舞) in Ikebukuro. It specialises in Hokkaido miso ramen, which is rich, thick and slightly sweet.

Another bar leading the charge is Due Italian in Tokyo Chiyoda ward, which – although the head chef is male – is dedicated to creating a ramen bar with a majority female clientele. They serve a unique, mysteriously light cheese, salt ramen, that Satoko refers to as "a masterpiece".

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Another is Abri, which has stores in both Kanazawa and Ebisu in Tokyo. The clear and delicate fish-based broth, made with bonito or blackthroat sea perch from the Sea of Japan, is not served with toppings that Western ramen fans are used to, which makes the flavour of the broth and tare (seasoning) really shine. The female owner says she's completely self-taught, and also brews craft beer in-house.

It's passionate women like these that encourage Morimoto to continue her work, which she says is helping change the culture in Japan. 

"Now we have more sophisticated, relaxing ramen shops like cafes. There are a wide variety of ramens available too and more women [have] started enjoying ramen," she says.

Morimoto says one day she hopes to bring her festival to other countries, so women around the world can experience the diverse world of ramen.

"Having the Ramen Girls Festival outside Japan is my dream," she says. "I'd like to meet ramen girls in Australia!"

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