If you’re the type who wouldn’t think twice about getting on a plane for really good ramen, you’re not alone. This ramen obsession led restaurateur, chef and food writer David Chang to devote the entire first issue of the now-defunct food rag Lucky Peach to the popular noodle dish. It included a timeline of ramen’s history as a Chinese import in the early 1900s, to its ubiquity as a post-war meal all over Japan, to Momofuku Ando’s ground-breaking invention of instant ramen in 1958 and the development, for better or for worse, of Nissin’s Cup Noodles in 1971.
Among the most popular variations of this globally beloved dish is tonkotsu ramen, also known as Hakata ramen, after Fukuoka’s business district from which it originated. Here’s why it’s such a hit.
On the menu of things to avoid eating on a first date, ramen is right up there with spaghetti and tacos — you’re constantly running the risk of getting half of it on your shirt, and conventional thinking suggests that the more you relish eating it, the less attractive you look and sound.
Enter Fukuoka-based global ramen chain Ichiran, which specializes in tonkotsu ramen. Ichiran devised what it calls the Flavor Concentration System, a private dining system that involves eating in a carrel for one, blocking out everyone else and effectively freeing yourself from judgment on how much you eat and how you eat. It also allows you to focus solely on the food.
Here’s how it works: In your booth is a checklist that allows you to customize your bowl for quantity and flavor. Once you’re done, the screen in front of you lifts a few inches and a pair of hands takes the form. Minutes later, you get your bowl of ramen, put together according to your specifications. Not a single word needs to be uttered.
The company claims to have originated a few other practices that figure in the local ramen culture, and for a deeper immersion in all things ramen, head over to Ichiran no Mori — a manufacturing plant, museum and dining outlet all in one — where they spill everything but the secret in the sauce. Among the superfans who have made it to this six-year-old shrine to ramen in the hills of Itoshima is ’90s supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Small, open-air food stalls called yatai — serving everything from grilled skewers to tonkotsu ramen to beer, and typically open from 6pm to 2am — are a Fukuoka hallmark, and therefore an important highlight to tick off your travel list. You’ll find at least 20 of these to choose from, all in a row in Nakasu Island, in the middle of the city.
Discover Northern Kyushu with JR Kyushu’s Northern Kyushu Area Pass (JPY10,190 or Php4,785 per adult, valid for five days). The pass gives you access to JR Kyushu’s large network of Shinkansen, local and limited express trains. With frequent trips to most destinations, you’ll have greater control over your schedule and more time to enjoy the view. https://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/