If you can’t resist a steaming bowl of ramen, you’ll want to try the real deal on its home turf. Head to Fukuoka, the heart of tonkotsu territory to see what all the fuss is about. It may look like a simple bowl of noodles, but no joke — it takes over 50 pounds of pork bone and days of simmering to develop the rich, creamy soup base.
What also distinguishes Hakata ramen is the thin noodles — bouncy and absorbent, they soak up the savory flavor with every bite. You’re likely to find a few chain tonkotsu ramen shops in Hong Kong, but we’ve found some hidden gems in Fukuoka that are certainly worth the trip.
Among the top-notch Hakata ramen shops in Fukuoka, Hakata Issou sees queues out the door most days. Made from premium pork from local farms, Issou’s white, rich and silky tonkotsu broth has been nicknamed “pork bone cappuccino” by local ramen lovers. The chef’s recipe calls for firm noodles topped with green onions, seaweed and chashu (sliced braised pork belly) and then slow-cooked for hours with a perfect proportion of fat and meat. Don’t worry, the wait is definitely worth it.
3-1-6 Hakataekihigashi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, Japan, (+81) 92-472-7739.
This one-of-a-kind restaurant in Nakasu showcases stylish timber interiors across three floors. But the design is only the start: you can enjoy both mentaiko (marinated cod roe) and ramen in this sophisticated address. Mentaiko is another Fukuoka’s local specialty, and Ganso provides the best of both worlds: a mentaiko set that comes with both rice and tsukemen (where ramen and soup served in two separate bowls). Dip the noodles into the spicy mentaiko soup, and the result is out of this world. To top it all off, the owner has set up a beautiful glass wine cellar boasting a great selection of European wines, which makes for a surprisingly pleasant pairing.
810-0002 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, Japan, (+81) 92-725-7220.
Have you ever had ramen in a theatre? Located in the Yakuin area, Mengekijou Genei has come up with an interesting concept of noodle theater. It’s open for business if you see the “開演” (meaning “show is on”) sign hanging on the wooden entrance. The place seats just 15 customers and the set up is like a theater — all tables face the front stage (the kitchen) and the chef makes ramen in front of his customers. The menu is short and simple, featuring only four types of ramen — each with an innovative twist to set it apart from traditional Hakata ramen. Mengekijou Genei is best known for its shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, but if you’re keen to try something spicy, go for the tan tan men. It’s made with the restaurant’s own spicy sesame sauce in tonkotsu soup base. That’s not the end of the show, though: a raw egg yolk atop a bowl of fluffy Japanese rice will wrap up your noodle theater experience.
810-0022 Fukuoka, Yakuin Chuo 2-16-3, Fukuoka, Japan, (+81) 92-732-6100.
No time to go on a wild goose chase for that perfect bowl of ramen? Visit the Ramen Stadium in Nakasu Canal City where you can try eight ramen restaurants in one stop. Of the options, Shodai Hidechan Ramen (初代 秀ちゃん) in the complex offers a good bowl of Hakata ramen. The family closely guards its recipe for delicious tonkotsu broth — and it’s not hard to see why. Try your hand at slurping up your ramen as a way to show appreciation to the chef. Order some gyoza (fried dumplings) or fried rice if you want more variety, and don’t leave without devouring a soft-boiled egg, the best ramen companion.
812-0018 Fukuoka, Hakata Ward, Sumiyoshi, 1−2−22, 5/F, Canal City Hakata, Ramen Stadium, Fukuoka, Japan.
A must-do for every traveler? The Yatai stalls along Fukuoka canal, where you can sample a mix of local street food. The stalls are set up every evening and removed in early morning, leaving an amazingly clean empty space as if nothing existed the previous night. Hakata ramen is served in most Yatai stalls, but you can always poke your head in to see what they’re serving up. Have a fun night chit-chatting with friends and the chef over a few brews while you enjoy a bowl of sizzling ramen together with other local food cooked right in front of you.
Along Fukuoka canal in Nakasu area, Fukuoka, Japan.