Photos by Francesca Furey
A Yokohama native brings authentic Japanese fare to Midtown Kingston with Tanma Ramen, a reservation-only spot with a curated menu.
Youko Yamamoto misses traditional ramen. Those heaping bowls of broth topped with colorful fishcakes, seaweed sheets, soft-boiled eggs, and cuts of meat that we’ve all become accustomed to are not the real deal. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, Yamamoto grew up in the bustling port cities of Yokohoma and Hiroshima, where ramen was simple: the broth was light, the vegetables were fresh, and it was “nutritious and healing,” she says—as opposed to the aesthetic and often overzealous versions we’re served in Japanese restaurants. (And don’t get her started on instant ramen—that’s a hard pass.)
On a bustling Broadway corner in Midtown Kingston, Yamamoto serves up the very ramen she’s been craving since leaving her homeland. The eatery would be right at home on any side street in Tokyo—there’s a classic seven-seat bar where you can peer into the kitchen and have your ramen handed to you directly. Just beyond the bar’s curtains, you’ll find a moody tavern setting with a selection of imported spirits.
This “little portal to Japan,” as Yamamoto calls it, isn’t her first restaurant: for nearly a decade, she cooked up traditional plates and noodle dishes at cult-favorite Gomen-Kudasai in New Paltz. After it closed in 2018, Yamamoto mapped out plans for a dedicated ramen shop and opened Tanma in December 2021.
The reservation-only spot offers a curated dinner menu of her favorites. Start with small plates like avocado sashimi, hiya-yakko (tofu with ginger and mackerel flakes), and Manchukuo-style gyoza. The gyoza is Yamamoto’s father’s recipe from when he lived in China before World War II; the dumplings are filled with organic pork and cabbage, braised, and then steamed. Pair your small plates with Itoen iced or hot teas, Kimino sparkling drinks, beer, or chilled sake.
The main event is, obviously, the ramen. At Tanma, choose from two bowls: the best-seller miso or vegan-friendly shio. The miso ramen has a misodashi (miso broth) made from seven different types of miso paste and a combination of 17 secret seasonings. It’s then diluted with equal parts clear broth, bone broth, and a special “carnibroth.” She tops it with yellow noodles, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, wakame seaweed, scallions, and pork belly chashu. (Cooking the chashu, by the way, is a 10-day process.) Like true Japanese ramen shops, there’s an “extra toppings” option, where you can spend a little more for additional vegetables, chashu, and noodles (called “kaedama”).
Quite possibly the coolest perk is that Yamamoto will show you how to eat her ramen the authentic way. First, don’t mix your ramen—everything is placed in specific sections of the bowl for optimal flavor. Take your spoon and enjoy some of the broth. Then, scoop up a generous helping of noodles, dunk into the broth, and slurp it up—don’t be afraid to make some noise!
In Japanese, “tanma” means to call “time-out” during a childhood game. Yamamoto hopes for Tanma Ramen to be an escape from work and stress, as well as introduce customers to authentic Japanese cuisine. “We all need to take a break and switch directions from where we are headed—hopefully with a healing bowl of noodles,” she says.