15 June 2016

The (Fukuoka) Ramen Diary

As a big fan of ramen, the fact that Fukuoka is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen made spending a couple of weeks there an attractive proposition. Tonkotsu broth, where pork bones are boiled for hours to create a rich, creamy broth, is definitely my favourite kind of ramen. Back in London there's been an explosion of ramen restaurants in recent years, many of which serve the tonktosu-style dish (such as Shoryu Ramen) but of course when I came to Japan, and specifically to the Kyushu region, I simply had to try the real thing.

Ramen restaurants are popular all over Japan as a quick and easy place to grab a bite to eat: and it's one of the cheapest meals you can get. A bowl of filling ramen for 600 JPY (around £4) is not uncommon. In London I think you'd struggle to find a bowl for under £10. As I stayed in Fukuoka for the last couple of weeks of my holiday between winter and summer jobs, when my bank balance was starting to look less than healthy, ramen was a great go-to option for a cheap meal.

Below is a run-down of the ramen I tried in the Fukuoka area. I only wish I'd had the time to try a few more!

When researching ramen in Fukuoka, I'd read about a place called Ramen Stadium, located in Canal City, a shopping mall in Hakata. This seemed like a good place to start my ramen journey, as it has a variety of different vendors serving ramen from around Japan, including quite a few from the local area. The ramen 'food court' is a convenient way to have a variety of choices all under one roof. The day I went it was raining torrentially all day, so going to a shopping mall and eating ramen seemed like a sensible option!

The entrance to Kanada-ya, with vending machine to buy your meal ticket

After looking at a few of the different Kyushu-based ramen shops, I gravitated towards Kanada-ya, mainly due to the promise of a broth made from 100% black pork bones, which I'd never had before. I did immediately wonder if it was the same Kanada-ya that can now be found in London. And it turns out that it is! Kanada-ya was actually one of the ramen shops in London I never got around to trying, so it was great to try it for the first time, in situ in Japan.

Original ramen topped with charsiu pork, spring onions, nori, wood-ear fungus, soft-boiled egg

First up, this was definitely the most delicious broth I've ever had in a ramen. It was ridiculous rich and creamy, unctuous with the fattiness of the pork and full of the savouriness of those long-boiled pork bones. I could drink the broth alone for days. The noodles, which I ordered hard (I find if you order them regular or soft they simply don't have enough bite as they continue to cook a little in the hot broth) were cooked to perfection. The boiled egg was a bit too strongly flavoured for me. It was one of those eggs that is marinated in a soy-based sauce. I prefer an unseasoned boiled egg in my ramen so you can just enjoy the texture of the soft boiled egg as it soaks up the main flavour of the broth. But all in all an incredibly satisfying bowl and one that I would order again and again.

Ippudo is one of the most popular ramen chains in Fukuoka, and I visited the branch in Hakata station. It's actually in the huge commercial complex attached to the station, Amu Plaza, whose 9th and 10th floors are dedicated to restaurants: a good destination for the hungry traveller.

Although we did have to queue for a seat, the queue disappeared quickly and we were served in the hasty style you expect from a proper ramen joint. I went for the Shiromaru Classic for 720 JPY, the original tonkotsu ramen of the brand. The broth is cooked for 18 hours and then left to infuse for a further 24 hours to enhance the flavour.

Although the broth was very flavourful it didn't compete with the smooth richness of Kanada-ya's (although it did have a greater depth of flavour). The plain soft boiled egg was much more to my liking although a little on the runny side, so that the yolk escapes immediately into the broth upon delving into the egg, never to be seen again. It was a solid bowl of ramen, but not particularly memorable, nor one I would bother queueing for again. Given that Ippudo is hyped as one of the best ramen restaurants to hail from Fukuoka, and with its first branch opening in 1985, before I was even born, it was slightly disappointing. Like Kanada-ya, Ippudo is now a chain with branches around the world.

Manichi Gold Label
This ramen restaurant is actually in the city of Kurume, a stone's throw away from Fukuoka, which apparently is the original birth place of the tonkotsu ramen. Manichi is also a long-established brand, originating in 1953. The branch I went to was in Kurume station. Ramen restaurants are often located in stations, I suppose because it's something you can eat quickly in 10 minutes before catching your train.

I ordered the ramen bowl with spicy miso and black garlic oil. I love a plain ramen but sometimes it's nice to throw in some toppings with a little kick, to counteract the richness of the tonkotsu broth. These toppings did just that without overpowering the entire dish with their flavours. The bowl arrived with the toppings adorably assembled to look like a smiley face.

The restaurant served the best charsiu pork I've had in a ramen: beautifully melt in the mouth and rich in flavour. However, there wasn't very much of it (it's barely visible in the photo above! I think it's hiding under the miso. There was a misleadingly generous amount of pork depicted on the photo menu, as always). The soft boiled egg was the perfect texture, so I could enjoy the yolk without it disappearing into the broth. The only downside I have for this ramen, and it is a big downside, is that there was simply not enough broth! One of the primary reasons to have ramen is the broth, and I love the moment when you have finished the noodles and can simply savour the remainder of the broth. But there was so little in this bowl, that it was pretty much absorbed by the noodles by the time I was finished. I'm not sure if this is common in this restaurant or whether my server was being particularly stingy. Nonetheless, it was a memorable bowl which I thoroughly enjoyed... I just wish it had lasted longer.

That's it for my delving into the world of Kyushu's regional tonkotsu ramen, in Hakata and Kurume. For ramen lovers such as myself, I strongly encourage further reading in the form of Lucky Peach's Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan.

How do you like your ramen? Do you have a favourite broth or topping?


  1. OMG Steph I am so hungry! Kanda-ya in London is the best. There's also an Ippudo across the road but I don't like it as much and the vibe is a bit corporate. I cannot ait to eat all the ramen. Ramen and sushi plus a Kobe beef burger in KObe is pretty much all I want to eat.

    1. Yeah, there's just so much good food to eat in Japan... there's a reason why most people gain weight when they move to Japan, haha. As well as restaurants, make sure you check out the convenience stores (like Lawson's, Family Mart etc) as they have loads of great, often seasonal / limited edition snacks and treats :) I'm currently obsessed with the oreo soft cookie lemon cheesecake... imagine a mini whoopie pie with cheesecake and lemon syrup filling - so good!