Ramen is traditionally stereotyped as a male thing, the heavy, meaty, carb loaded meal of men young and old. Although some ramen shops like Afuri have sought to attract a more gender diverse audience, Bario (バリ男) goes in the complete opposite direction. As the character 男 implies, it literally is ramen for men.
There are a several branches of Bario in Tokyo, but the one I went to for lunch recently is in Toranomon. It’s counter seating only, with maybe about 15 seats available. A long line quickly snakes out of the shop by noon. And yes, all of the customers were salarymen in their white button-down shirts and dark slacks. Even the kitchen staff (all men) wore black T-shirts featuring a Superman-like logo with 男 (“male”) written inside. Playing in the background was something that sounded like Japanese style 1960s Motown, which was quite fitting for a place like this.
While many other shops try to craft an aesthetically pleasing bowl of ramen, Bario impresses you by simply piling a ton of stuff into one bowl. Their most popular ramen option consists of a hearty soup made from a blend of tonkotsu (pork bone) and soy sauce broth. It is then loaded with thick, firm, and chewy noodles (kind of like udon only much denser), slices of roast pork, poached egg, bamboo shoots, lots of garlic, and a mountain of bean sprouts topped with a sprinkling of black pepper. On top of this you can add even more garlic, more pepper, and as much spicy chili powder as your taste buds can stand.
I usually can eat a lot, but I was completely stuffed by the time I finished my “regular-sized” Bario ramen. It’s gluttony in a bowl — there is so much food per cubic inch that I wonder if there’s any space for the soup, and it just sits in your stomach like a cannon ball. The guy sitting next to me ordered a bowl with an even bigger Mount Fuji of bean sprouts and assorted fixings. I wondered how he would be able to concentrate when he returned to work or whether he would just take a food coma-induced nap.
On top of that, Bario’s ramen is all about bold, smack-you-in-the-face flavor. There is nothing subtle and refined about it. Especially on a warm day in late May, the garlic, chili powder, and all that cholesterol and fat seems to ooze out of your pores. I was even trying to avoid getting close to people for fear of them smelling the Bario in my breath. It sounds a little disgusting, but it’s very delicious and deeply satisfying.
Bario is the kind of ramen shop that guys flock to for a big lunch or to satisfy the munchies after a night of drinking. While most Japanese women seem to avoid places like this, there is nothing that prevents women from eating here. If you are a woman and curious about the ramen, I would encourage you to give it a try. The folks there will probably also be curious to see if you will able to make a significant dent in their super-sized bowl of ramen. And if you do, maybe they’ll be impressed and see you as one of the guys.Bario Location: Toranomon: 1-21-1 Nishi-shinbashi, Minato, Tokyo. Jinbocho: 3-2 Kanda Ogawamachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. Nihonbashi: 2 Chome-9-2 Nihonbashi, Chūō Business Hours: Toranomon: Monday-Friday: 11:00am-10:00pm, Saturday-Sunday: 11:00am-3:00pm and 5:00pm-9:00pm. Jinbocho: Monday-Friday 11:00am-11:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 11:00am-9:00pm. Nihonbashi: Monday-Friday: 11:00am-10:00pm, Saturday-Sunday: 11:00am-3:00pm and 5:00pm-9:00pm; Getting There: Toranomon: Tokyo Metro (Ginza line) to Toranomon station, take Exit 1 and walk about 5 minutes. Jinbocho: Take the Tokyo Metro (Shinjuku, Mita, or Hanzomon lines) to Jinbocho station or the JR to either Jinbocho or Ogawamachi stations. Nihonbashi: Take Tokyo Metro (Ginza, Asakusa, or Tozai lines) or JR to Nihonbashi station.