The world of Michelin-starred dining has historically been one of rarified air, where teams of trilingual waiters serve well-heeled guests elaborate dishes that could in some cases be confused with works of art.
It came as some surprise last year, then, when Tsuta—a very affordable ramen joint in Tokyo, the world's Michelin star capital—became the first to earn a coveted star. Now, it has a peer: Nakiryu, another Tokyo ramen restaurant, has slurped its way to success and earned a star in this year's guide.
Nakiryu, which is just a short walk from Tsuta, is known for its tantanmen, which is like a ramen variation of dan dan noodles, the spicy Szechuan noodle dish. Dan dan noodles are already legendary in their own right, but when combined with ramen, a whole new frontier of flavour is unlocked. When Japanese news site Rocket News 24 went to try out a bowl the day after the honour was announced, they were "blown away." Not bad for a bowl of ramen that costs $6.99 and is purchased with a press of a button from a ticket machine.
Tsuta and Nakiryu are part of a recent democratizing of the Michelin guide that has seen more affordable and casual eateries earn stars. A few years ago, the Hong Kong dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan earned a star—a VICE reporter who "ordered enough to feed two or three people" there spent a total of $9.25. Earlier this year, a Singapore food stall called HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle that serves $1.50 noodles won a star.
For now, you'll still have to go to Tokyo and wait in line—maybe for hours, now—with everybody else if you want to try Michelin-starred ramen.
But if a plane ticket to Japan isn't in your future, some of these restaurants are planning offshoot locations, such as a New York outpost for Tim Ho Wan and a global empire in the making for HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle.
Globalisation may be fraught with concerns for some, but the spread of Michelin-starred food that costs less than ten bucks probably isn't one of them.