Translated by Lester Somera
Know Your Noodles - The Uniqueness of Hakata Ramen
Hakata ramen is a local variety of Japanese ramen. This article describes the special characteristics of Hakata ramen and its unique ordering quirks.
Written by Hiromasa Uematsu
These days, ramen has become the representative food of Japan. Recently, ramen chain restaurants have been stepping out onto the global stage.
Original "local" ramen varieties exist in areas all over Japan, and these regional specialties are beloved by residents and visitors alike.
Have you heard of the local variety Hakata ramen? The well-known restaurant Ichiran actually offers Hakata ramen, which is a regional specialty that now enjoys popularity overseas.
Most Hakata ramen shops have 博多ラーメン written on their signs, so they are not difficult to spot.
This article will introduce Hakata ramen's unique qualities and what sets it apart from other varieties, in addition to explaining some peculiarities of the ordering system.
First, Let's Take A Look At Hakata Ramen
This is a typical bowl of Hakata ramen.
This bowl is garnished with the barest minimum of toppings: just green onions and char siu (boiled or roasted pork). While the price may vary by restaurant, generally you can have one for between 500 to 700 yen.
"Hakata" is the name of a business district in Fukuoka Prefecture. While it was named after its place of origin, now Hakata ramen shops are all over Japan.
Many ramen shops also offer additional toppings such as extra char siu or a boiled egg for an additional 100 or 200 yen.
The Characteristics of Hakata Ramen
Hakata ramen differs from other ramen varieties in several ways.
1. A Cloudy Soup Broth, Made From Pork Bones
Whether it is made by boiling down chicken bones or seafood, flavored with soy sauce, or some other method, the way ramen soup is prepared varies from shop to shop.
In the case of Hakata ramen, pork bones are carefully boiled until the soup reaches a cloudy white color. The characteristic result is a smooth taste that is almost like milk, while also allowing for the flavors of the pork and soy sauce to really come through.
2. The Noodles Are Thin And You Can Choose Their Firmness
The noodles in Hakata ramen are known for being thinner than regular noodles. This was devised for the benefit of busy market vendors, so they could quickly cook noodles to completion.
Since the noodles are thin, it is easy to get them cooked to your preferred level of firmness, and you can choose when you order. The levels and their names vary from shop to shop, but many places divide them up as seen above: barikata (extra firm), kata (firm), futsū (medium), yawa (soft) and bariyawa (extra soft).
Whether you prefer chewy noodles or something a bit softer, you can choose the level that is right for you.
Choose the firmness when you order from the menu. Next time you get a regular ramen, try asking for barikata.
3. The Unique "Kaedama" System
Since the noodles are thin and they absorb liquid quickly, they can become too soft.
Most Hakata ramen shops do not have the option to supersize noodle portions, since they could become mushy during the extra time needed to eat them. Instead, they have a "kaedama" system, where you can receive extra noodles after your initial order.
When you want more noodles, tell the staff "kaedama wo onegaishimasu" ("Please give me a second serving."). As shown here, the kaedama (second serving) will be given to you in a separate container.
Put them in the soup! If you're willing to pay, you can order as many kaedama as you want.
Most shops will have a bottle of ramen tare ("ramen seasoning") on the table. Adding a second serving of noodles will make the soup a little watery, so adjust the taste with a few squeezes from this bottle.
4. Original Toppings
Ramen restaurants usually have free toppings on the table. Hakata ramen shops also have their own unique toppings available.
This is karashi takana. It consists of pickled leaf mustard greens, with red peppers added for some kick, diced up and fried in oil. The oil's depth and the heat of the peppers give the soup a more stimulating taste.
This is beni shōga, pickled ginger root, and it packs a characteristic acidity and mouth-numbing spiciness. Beni shōga adds some zing to the mild-tasting soup of Hakata ramen.
Try to find your favorite topping!
Some shops have garlic and bean sprouts available as free toppings, as well.
Give Japanese Hakata Ramen A Shot!
This time we have explained some basics about Hakata ramen. The quirks like choosing your own firmness level and the kaedama system might be a bit difficult for people visiting Japan.
Just remember this article, and give Hakata ramen a shot!