The arrival of two big Japanese international noodle chains is sparking a ramen war in Auckland's Newmarket.
Ajisen Ramen, a chain with 840 restaurants across 15 countries, this week opened its first Auckland store in Kingdon St.
It follows the opening of another world-renowned noodle house, Ippudo, and local ramen chain Daruma inside the new $790 million shopping complex Westfield Newmarket.
Ajisen's international chief director Osamu Honda, who came from Tokyo for the pre-opening, believes the New Zealand ramen market is ripe for the taking.
"New Zealanders are now well travelled and many now know the taste of true Japanese ramen, so we believe the time is right to have Ajisen here," Honda said.
"Our flavours are very tasty but not too strong, and I believe it is very well suited to the local market."
Ajisen was started in Japan 51 years ago with its first eight-seat ramen restaurant in Kumamoto, but has since expanded across the globe with more recent openings in Helsinki and Panama.
"Ajisen is a family-friendly restaurant, so although it is modern and trendy, we are welcoming to families with children as well and that is where we differ to some other ramen stores," he said.
Besides ramen, the store also serves a range of donburi rice bowls, gyoza dumplings and Japanese side dishes.
Honda said response to its soft opening trial week in Auckland has been overwhelming.
The store will close for a week from Monday, October 21 before being officially opened on Labour Day, October 28.
But the ramen chain is entering Auckland just months after Wagamama, a global Asian-fusion franchise that also served ramen, shut its New Zealand stores including one in Newmarket.
While popular in England and the United Kingdom, the chain had struggled in the New Zealand market since opening here in 2008.
However, Ippudo's New Zealand general manager, Ivan Teoh, says business has been brisk, with the store serving more than 800 bowls of ramen on its opening day.
As a promotion, the store at the Rooftop on Broadway also offered free bowls of ramen to the first 100 customers on its first two days October 10 and 11.
Angelo Cheung, general manager Ippudo Australia who has flown in to support the Newmarket store opening, said Ippudo's New Zealand expansion was part of a company goal to reach 100 million customers.
"This is our 14th country, and the latest before New Zealand was Vietnam and Myanmar."
The first Ippudo store was opened in Hakata, Japan in 1985 and arrived in Australia in 2012.
"The mission for us is to take our ramen to countries that haven't really had a real ramen experience...what makes Ippudo different to others is our offering of what we call 'ramen dining'," Cheung said.
"Apart from just ramen, customers can come in for drinks - sake, wine and tap beer - and also a variety of sides, and they can do a drinks, entree, ramen kind of concept."
Cheung said Newmarket was chosen for its first Auckland store because it was considered "one of the trendiest parts" of the city.
"We're not too worried about the competition, because I think our ramen offering is quite unique and different and the market is big enough."