Things you usually don’t expect the chef to do to your bowl of ramen in Japan include setting light to it but, at Menbaka Fire Ramen in Kyoto, that’s why you’re there. Here’s everything you need to know to join in the fun.
I arrive at the small Kyoto restaurant famous for fire ramen a bit cold and damp. A drizzly day in Arashiyama had turned into a torrential downpour by the time I got off the bus a short walk from the restaurant at 4.45 pm on a Saturday afternoon.
A small queue greeted me, but they don’t take reservations here and I didn’t want to miss out on something I’d spent five years thinking about, so rain, snow. or hail I was getting in that restaurant.
If you came here from my post on Unusual Things to do in Kyoto, you know this story, but otherwise, I first heard about fire ramen about a week after I returned from a trip to Kyoto in 2018.
I spend months researching odd things to do in places and so I was gutted I’d missed it, but, I figured not to worry, I’d be back in Japan soon enough – well, we all know what happened next don’t we?
As more and more things I’d written about closed in Japan I wondered if I’d ever get to ooh and ahh in front of my firey dinner, but, Menbakaichidai Fire Ramen (to give it its full name) has been in Kyoto long before the tourists found it and so, when Japan reopened, they were ready with, an, erm, warm welcome for everyone!
What to Expect at Kyoto Fire Ramen
When you arrive at the restaurant you take your seat against the U-shaped counter that surrounds the kitchen. Your order is taken and, then, the fun begins.
If you arrive for the first seating as I did, there’s a bit of a wait between seating and the ‘show’ as, they not only have to get everyone’s order ready but also position 10 phones in the row of selfie sticks that sit upon the pot shelf – after all everyone here wants a memento of the day the chef set their dinner on fire!
When the time comes for your ramen to be served, you’re given an apron to put on and a few safety procedures are mentioned.
You’re shown a list in English that includes advice like no photos, no screaming, hands behind your back, keep the apron on, don’t touch the bowl until after the fire, and avoid touching your clothes so they don’t get stained.
The fact that the safety of your wardrobe seems to be as much of a concern to the staff as the fact that they are about to unleash a foot-high flash of flame in front of you might sound misguided but as the note says they’ve been doing this for 30 years and no-one has died yet!
As I try and shuffle my chair a little further back from the counter, I’m spotted and asked to move it back in – you’re also told to sit with your hands behind your back holding on to the back of the chair seat.
At first, you think this is so you don’t get burned, but only after the dish is served do you realize that it’s so you don’t lean too far back and fall off the chair.
And then this happens…
Looks like you might scream right?
The fact is, that the amazing sight is actually scarier when you see it being delivered to those around you than when your own bowl is set on fire.
Then it’s weirdly just nice and warm – that’s me in the first pic looking all smiley despite the fact that I yell at Mr Differentville when he’s grilled sausages too quickly in case the grill goes up!
There’s also a video right toward the end of this post if you want to see delivery in action.
Once everyone is served the chef takes a picture of you pretending to eat noodles – it’s not flattering! It’s only on here as I don’t have enough pictures because I was too excited/hungry!
Finally, the bowl is cool enough for you to tuck in.
The owner and chef fire wrangler is super lovely. He looks pretty stern when he’s getting you all ready beforehand, but that’s just because he’s making sure everything is safe.
Once he’s served the ramen he comes around and has a little chat with everyone. He speaks excellent English and even helps point you toward the quickest way back to your hotel. And definitely read the little tour book he gives you as there are some great secret Kyoto sights in there.
What Does Fire Ramen Taste Like?
This type of ramen is commonly known as green onion ramen and it uses a thin broth of fish, pork, and chicken filled with noodles and slices of pork. You can also order extras like eggs and seaweed to customize your bowl, and if you want an extra serving of pork that’s available too.
The whole point of setting the dish on fire is to enhance the taste of the soup. The fire occurs because there is a layer of oil on top of the bowl, when this is lit it effectively chars the pork and onions on the top of the bowls giving everything a delicious smokey taste.
Can You Order Anything But Ramen?
You can but they aren’t going to set that alight! – and also see the ‘one person, one ramen’ rule below.
They offer sets that include side dishes like fried rice, fried chicken, and gyoza dumplings. I was very tempted by the biggest one of these as they come with a badge, but, I just couldn’t eat that much food solo.
It’s a pretty hefty serving of ramen let alone the side dish.
The drinks are also pretty big – the couple next to me ordered large lemon sours and they were huge!
How Much Does it Cost?
A basic bowl of fire ramen costs 1380 yen. That’s pretty good considering a standard ticket-machine ramen of this size would run to about 1000 yen – and you don’t have the added entertainment!
You can then either order side dishes separately, or, book the sets which work out at better value. The biggest set includes ramen, gyoza, fried chicken, and fried rice for 2260 yen.
Do note that everyone has to order a bowl of ramen, you can’t share a bowl (but you can share the sides). So go hungry.
Can You Get Vegetarian Fire Ramen?
They offer an option that is based on a vegetable broth so you can enjoy the fun too. I have also seen vegans saying they have eaten here, but I don’t know exactly what is in the vegetable broth.
They can also make no-pork ramen for those who don’t eat pork.
The one thing they can’t do is remove the onions, so, if you’re allergic to green onions I’m afraid it’s a no-go.
Are Children Welcome?
There were some older children there when I visited and they got their own bowls of ramen. I’d guess they were about eight or nine.
With smaller children, you’d have to judge if they’d be able to stay still when the fire is close to them – it could be dangerous if they start jumping or waving their hands about, plus, there’s that no screaming rule!
They do have a high chair but they ask that any children that small are sat behind you partly for safety, but also so they don’t take up a seat at the counter as the place is pretty small.
Where’s The Video of You Then?
Okay, here it is…
Can You Make a Booking?
No. You just have to turn up and queue. I got there about 15 minutes before the 5 pm opening and the queue was about 10 people deep which meant I just got into the first sitting.
Note they do lock the door between sittings so people don’t walk in while the fire action is happening, so if there isn’t a queue when you turn up but you can’t get in, don’t worry – so long as you can see them inside and you’re between the opening hours of 11-3 pm and 5-9 pm, any day but Tuesday (when they are closed), you’re good.
If there is a queue, then they try and get people in and out within 30 minutes to keep the queue moving. It’s not a place you’re going to spend the whole evening lingering over a beer.
Where is Menbaka Fire Ramen?
The exact address is 757-2, Minamiiseyacho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto, 602-8153, Japan.
It’s not in an area you’d necessarily be in sightseeing, but, it’s very easy to get to via the buses in Kyoto.
If you do want to combine it with your sightseeing, the No93 bus stops pretty much outside the door – and that comes from Arashiyama.
You could also get on the 204 bus from Kinkaku-Ji (the Golden Temple) and get there in 20 minutes.
If you’re coming from Gion or Higashiyama, then jump on the 202 bus or, take the train at Higashiyama or Sanjo Station and get off at Nijijo-Mae and walk from there
It’s an easy walk from Nijo Castle and about a 20-minute walk from the International Manga Museum.
So, I think that’s everything you need to know about where to try Fire Ramen in Kyoto and, what to expect when you do get there. It really is a fun way to spend an hour in Kyoto.