Beef bowl ramen! Japan’s number-two gyudon chain gives us incentive to skip trains when traveling

A special menu item only available at special Matsuya branches.

Next to their names on their signs, a lot of Japanese restaurants will also write whatever it is they specialize in. For smaller and lesser known restaurants, that makes a lot of sense, but it can also seem unnecessary for major chains that everyone is already familiar with.

For example, pretty much everyone in Japan knows that Matsuya is a beef bowl chain. After Yoshinoya, they’re the second-most ubiquitous beef bowl brand in Japan, so we really didn’t need this Matsuya branch’s sign to inform us that they sell “gyumeshi” (牛めし), one of the ways to say “beef bowl” in Japanese. We didn’t really need the “yakiniku set meal” (焼肉定食) part either, since that’s also been part of the Matsuya lineup for decades now.

But what we wouldn’t have known, without the sign telling us, is that this Matsuya also serves udon (うどん) and soba (そば) noodles.

These aren’t on the menu at regular Matsuya locations, but here was their branch in the Nihondaira Parking Area on the westbound Tomei Expressway in Shizuoka Prefecture, telling us to come on in for some Matsuya noodles…and even then it turned out that they were hiding the biggest surprises of all.

▼ The parking area also has a Ministop convenience store, but we were going to have to save it for another day.

Stepping inside the rest stop building (which, as is the standard in Japan, was brightly lit and impeccably clean), we walked over to the order terminal, ready to try Matsuya’s take on soba or udon…

…until we noticed that they also have ramen!

This now jumped to the top of our must-eat list. 690 yen (US$4.60) will get you a basic bowl of soy sauce-broth ramen, but for just a little more, 790 yen, you can get the Gyuniku (Beef) Ramen, so that’s what we ordered.

The Gyuniku Ramen has the same soy-base broth as the basic ramen, but it’s the topping that makes it special.

That’s because instead of just a few basic strips of meat, you get the same stewed beef and onion that’s used as the topping for Matsuya’s beef bowls!

▼ Plus some green onion

So how does it taste? Exactly how you’d expect it to. If you’ve ever eaten soy-broth ramen and also Matsuya’s beef bowls separately, you’ll be instantly familiar with the mix of meaty, salty, and subtly sweet flavors in Matsuya’s Beef Ramen. In other words, it tastes very, very good.

We should mention, though, that combining ramen and beef bowl toppings doesn’t unlock any heretofore hidden qualities to either of their flavor profiles.

But again, though this combination doesn’t result in deliciousness-multiplying synergy, putting these two great-tasting things together is a fantastic idea. Don’t think of it as something so humdrum as 1+1=2. It’s more like 100+100=200.

▼ And yes, you can get soba and udon with Matsuya beef bowl topping too.

The only negative thing here is that Matsuya’s Beef Ramen is only available at a limited number of branches, all of which are located within expressway parking areas. Currently, the list of ramen-serving branches is:

● Akita Prefecture
Hanawa Service Area (both directions)
● Miyagi Prefecture
Kasuga Parking Area (both directions)
● Kanagawa Prefecture
Hodogaya Parking Area (Tokyo-bound)
● Shizuoka Prefecture
Kakegawa Parking Area (Nagoya-bound)
Nihondaira Parking Area (Nagoya-bound)
● Aichi Prefecture
Togo Parking Area (both directions)
● Shiga Prefecture
Ibuki Parking Area (Tokyo-bound)
● Hiroshima Prefecture
Nanatsukahara Service Area (both directions)
● Fukuoka Prefecture
Nogata Parking Area (northbound)
Kurate Parking Area (southbound)

We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that Matsuya’s noodles start making their way to their regular branches soon, but for the time being their being available at expressway parking areas is at least a nice concession prize for everyone who’s traveling by car now that the JR rail pass has gotten so much more expensive.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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